William Dargue A History of BIRMINGHAM Places & Placenames from A to Y
Gibbet Hill B73 - Grid reference SP102943
Gibbet Hill lies at New Oscott opposite Oscott College on the Chester Road in the Antrobus Road area. During the 18th century highwaymen were always a danger for travellers. And the Warwick Road, the Coventry Road and the Chester Road, especially in the waste around Sutton Chase, were notoriously dangerous. The infamous Dick Turpin is said to have worked in league with a Sutton highwayman named King who was born somewhere between Sutton and Stonnall. Turpin was hanged in 1739, and King was popularly believed also to have been caught and then burned to death in Sutton Park.
During the 18th century people and property in outlying areas were also vulnerable to armed attack by criminal gangs from Birmingham. Associations for the prosecution of felons were formed in a number of rural districts including in the manor of Perry Barr at the edge of which is Gibbett Hill. This was prominent hill overlooking the main road and an ideal place for a gibbet.
From Anglo-Saxon times hanging was the usual means of capital punishment and it is very likely that the bodies of the guilty would remain upon the gallows as a warning to others. The habit of gibbeting or hanging in chains the body of the executed criminal near the site of the crime dates from the Middle Ages. However, it was not until 1752 that gibbeting was legally recognised. After execution bodies were to be given to the surgeons to be dissected for science and were not to be buried without this being done. The judge might also direct that the corpse be hung in chains. The location of the gibbet may not have been the place of execution. The last man gibbeted in this country is said to have been James Cook at Leicester in 1832 who was executed for the murder of a London tradesman. Cook's body was hung on a gibbet 33 feet high. However, the body was soon taken down and buried on the spot where the gibbet stood because of the disturbances caused by the crowds of people visiting the place on a Sunday.
See also The Tyburn.
William Dargue 24.02.2009/ 02.08.2010
For 19th-century Ordnance Survey maps of Birmingham go to British History Online.