Leeds’s grisly past on show at exhibition

Kitty Ross, curator of social history at Abbey House Museum, Leeds.
Kitty Ross, curator of social history at Abbey House Museum, Leeds.
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In 2016, lifetime imprisonment is the highest tarriff a criminal will be sentenced to in Leeds Crown Court.

But, as a new exhibition at a Leeds museum reveals, retribution and justice in our region has changed drastically over the past 350 years.

Kitty Ross, curator of social history at Abbey House Museum, Leeds.

Kitty Ross, curator of social history at Abbey House Museum, Leeds.

The Crime and Punishment exhibition at Abbey House Museum in Kirkstall will show dozens of artefacts involved in the grislier side of Yorkshire’s history.

Among them are a hangman’s noose, used for a real execution in the region, as well as ‘The Scold’s Bridle’ – a torture device used to punish gossips by, quite literally, holding their tongues.

The exhibition opens on Saturday, January 23, and will run for the rest of the year.

Kitty Ross, curator of Leeds’ Museums and Galleries social history, said: “The exhibition gives an overview of how crime and punishment have evolved over the centuries, including some of the darker episodes from the city’s past.”

Kitty Ross, curator of social history at Abbey House Museum, Leeds.

Kitty Ross, curator of social history at Abbey House Museum, Leeds.

There will also be displays of bottles of poison that, until Victorian times, were available to buy over the counter.

The exhibition will look at crimes and misdemeanours that were punishable under law in the past, many of which visitors will find surprising.

Miss Ross said: “Some of them sound silly to us today but are mostly common sense rules about health and safety and consideration for your neighbours.

“For example, it was illegal to keep a pigsty in front of your house.”

One of the cases that is explored in the exhibition is that of Arthur Mangey, a silversmith who lived on Briggate in Leeds.

He was hanged in 1696 for chipping coins – an offence which amounted to treason in the 17th century.

Mangey was the maker of the Leeds Mace, which is still in the city’s civic hall to this day.

There are also artefacts from the Gas Riots of 1890, when striking gas workers threw rocks at policemen around the Wellington Street area of the city.

The riots were dispelled partly thanks to the influence of Colonel Harding, who coincidentally owned Abbey House.

Miss Ross said that there were ethical considerations when curating the exhibition.

She said: “All the artefacts on display are from quite some time ago, some of them are very dark.

“We’re not featuring anything from the crimes of the Yorkshire Ripper for example, and we’re expecting a lot of schoolchildren to visit so we’ve tried to keep things suitable for them.”

Councillor Brian Selby, Leeds City Council’s lead member for museums and galleries, added: “The evolution of law, order and justice is a fascinating subject and this new exhibition shines a light on some of the many ways it has influenced life in Leeds over the centuries.”


Yorkshire has had its fair share of bizarre crime and punishment over the years.

In 1859 Mrs Martha Penny was accused of defrauding the public with her “Wheel of Fortune” lottery on Kirkgate in Leeds.

She was sent to gaol for six months for deception.

In 1770 William Matthews was convicted of the murder of Mr Cook of Normanby and three of his family by poisoning them after mixing arsenic in with their butter.

He was sentenced to death and executed on 5 March 1770, aged 22.

Leeds cook Eliza Stafford’s theft of dripping from her workplace caused city-wide riots when she was imprisoned in 1865.

And in 1920 Arthur Dunn was convicted of stealing dead rabbits from Wellington station in Leeds. He was sentenced to one month imprisonment with hard labour at Leeds City Police Court.

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