In Leicestershire, along a minor road to the village of Bilstone. A little unknown piece of local history has stood for over 200 years. A Gibbet. Used only once for a rare, tragic murder in the village.
Located along Gibbet Lane, just outside Bilstone Village. It is standing by the side of a little lay-by. It can be easily missed if you’re not looking out for it.
What is a Gibbet
A Gibbet refers to the use of a gallows-type structure from which the dead or dying bodies of executed criminals were hanged on public display to deter other existing or potential criminals. It fell into disuse in the UK in around 1830.
Born in 1750, John Massey Lived at Keeper’s Cottage, just a few miles south of Bilstone. He was a farm labourer and also a wrestler (who went be the name of Topsy Turvey, as he could lift a man above his head). He was generally held to be a hard- drinking, short-tempered man.
His first wife, Sarah had died in 1797. He had remarried, with his new wife Lydia, already having a 10-year-old daughter. Having returned home drunk one night, he started violently arguing with his wife.
Tragically, after physically assaulting Lydia, he threw her into the river, in which she later died of her injuries. The daughter tried to intervene, and was also thrown in, but escaped unharmed. She later testified against him.
John Massey was arrested, charged with murder, and sentenced to be hanged.
John Massey is executed
The gibbet was erected in March 1801 to hold the corpse of John Massey. He was executed at Red Hill, Birstall (very close to where the petrol station stands today), outside Leicester, on the 23rd March that year.
The body was brought to Bilstone the day after the execution. It was then wrapped round with chains and hung from a metal ring fixed to the top of the post. And it stayed, as a dreadful warning to local people and passers-by, year after year, until being removed in 1818. At which point only a partial skeleton remained.
The gibbet today
On a sunny, summer afternoon in the tranquil countryside. With bird song being the only sound. It would seem a pleasant enough spot.
But 200 years ago it must of been a disturbing site. Being close to the village, teenagers would often tell ghost stories and travel to the gibbet, to see how close they dared get. Especially at Hallows Eve.
Today the post is worn and worm-eaten, about six feet high, with some ancient iron bolts still embedded in it. I recommend visiting in the evening as it creates an unsettling feeling.
If you are interested in the darker side of Leicester’s history then check out this book on Amazon. (Click on the image or link below)
“Within the pages of this book are some of the most notorious and often baffling cases in Leicestershire’s history. From the appalling double murder at Melton Mowbray in 1856, known locally as the Peppermint Billy murders, to the 1953 murderer Joseph Reynolds who killed because he wanted to know how it felt. This book explores the cases that dominated the headlines, not only across the city and surrounding county but also nationwide.”
This post contains affiliate links, meaning, if you click through and make a purchase or sign up for a program, The Leicester Chronicle may earn a commission. This is at no additional cost to you.