‘Savage’ tales await visitors to landmark

Ryan Connor, of Edlington, has his head in the stocks as executioner Gilbert Savage nails his ear to the stocks at Meet the Executioner event at Conisbrough Castle. Picture: Andrew Roe

Ryan Connor, of Edlington, has his head in the stocks as executioner Gilbert Savage nails his ear to the stocks at Meet the Executioner event at Conisbrough Castle. Picture: Andrew Roe

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Visitors to Conisbrough Castle’s first enactment event of the season were lucky not to lose their heads when they met renowned executioner Gilbert Savage!

Gilbert returned to the landmark with cautionary tales of medieval crime and punishment.

Conisbrough Castle was once again home to a set of gallows, marking a return of the hanging equipment which were first installed at the castle in 1250, along with a host of other tools of the trade of a medieval executioner, from thumb screws to the axe used to chop off heads.

Gilbert regaled visitors with stories of the crimes – brutal and sometimes relatively minor – that would have led citizens to face execution in the name of the king.

“In medieval England, there was no such thing as a caution – even the smallest crimes warranted a severe punishment,” explains English Heritage’s regional events manager, Jon Hogan.

“For example, for theft of something valued less than a shilling (approximately a week’s wages for a farm labourer), punishment for the first offence would be a period on the pillory or stocks, after which your ear would be nailed to the wooden frame and you’d have to tear yourself loose – that’s the origin of the phrase ‘ear-marked’.”

Conisbrough had a set of village stocks right up until 1810, when they were taken out of use as a means of punishment and re-employed as gateposts!

For subsequent offences, the punishment would be more severe – branding, flogging, removal of an ear or even the slitting of the nose for a second minor theft, and if you were caught a third time, the gallows awaited!

“This wasn’t just a punishment for adults – children as young as seven could receive this punishment, even execution, so there really was no escaping medieval justice!” adds Jon.

The next event at Conisborugh Castle is Dad’s Sword School, Saturday June 16 - Sunday June 17. You will be able to join a trio of medieval sword masters with demonstrations and interactive hands on sessions for all dads and junior knights.

Visitors can handle a variety of swords and see thrilling hand-to-hand combat displays. Visit www.english-heritage.org.uk/conisbrough