In 1867, when the foundations for a building were being excavated at Clifton Street, Rotherham, the remains of a gibbet post were found. It was of solid oak and had been embedded since 1792. It attracted a lot of sightseers who, three years earlier, in 1864, gathered to gawp at the remains of the Dale Dyke Dam which attracted 10,000 rubber-neckers. The fascination of the macabre in those days drew large numbers of sightseers which was good business for the local hostelries.
This gibbet was erected for the remains of Spence Broughton whose tarred dead body was suspended from it in an iron cage for 35 years.
Why did Spence Broughton meet this fate? He was baptised in 1744 in Sleaford. He came from a well-to-do family and, at 22 years old, had his own farm and three children. However he turned his back on this “homely” existence and found himself another woman and became engaged in cock-fighting, cards and petty criminal activities.
On his travels he met up with John Oxley, the latter being acquainted with John Shaw who was a receiver of stolen goods. Shaw said that Oxley and Broughton should hold up the mail from Rotherham to Sheffield. The next evening, 28th January, 1791, George (the mail boy from Wentworth), was ambushed by the two men. He wasn’t hurt but they tied him to a tree leaving his horse nearby. They took his saddle bag containing the mail. Broughton and Oxley rode to Sheffield and, on opening the bag, found a French Bill of Exchange made out to J. Walker of Rotherham (an industrialist) value of £123. They went on their way to London and split the money. Numerous other robberies ensued including a £10,000 haul in Cambridge. Oxley and Broughton were eventually caught. Oxley escaped and Broughton was sent to York Assizes. He was brought before Judge Francis Buller. Shaw turned King’s Evidence and Broughton was found guilty and condemned to be executed. Hanging, drawing and quartering had been abolished by then so Broughton was to be put to death by hanging. He was hanged on the 14th of the 4th, 1792 at York. A gibbet was erected at Attercliffe and 40,000 people came to view the body, making the landlord of The Arrow pub a very rich man. The body was covered in tar, lifted and placed in a riveted iron cage. The body was thus displayed as a deterrent to anyone thinking of criminal activity.
Events influencing the gibbet display
Thomas Paine “Rights of Man” was, at the time, a supporter of the French Revolution. What with that, the Irish rising in 1798, the Napoleonic Wars, and the Peterloo Massacre, the establishment was fearful of a similar coup in England. Thus the display of the tarred body was to dissuade potential rebels.
After 35 years Broughton’s body was taken down because a local landlord said it was unsettling for the families living in the area.
It was a very interesting and informative talk.