Crime and punishment story at the Ypres Tower

Crime and punishment story at the Ypres Tower


The cage-like object is a gibbet. In the 1700s a gibbet like this was used to display the body of the murderer John Breads for more than 50 years on Gibbet Marsh.    Our exhibit occupies the very cell where he was kept before he was hanged.  Thanks to Ray Prewer for the feature photo and Peter Varley for the one below.

The crime

John Breads was a butcher and the owner of the Flushing Inn in Rye. In 1737 the mayor, James Lamb, fined Breads for cheating his customers with non-standard weights. It seems that Breads nursed a grudge.

Five years later, on 17 March 1743, James Lamb’s son John arranged a dinner party on board a ship in Rye harbour and invited his father along. Breads knew about the dinner, and hid in the churchyard, hoping to surprise James Lamb on his way home. What Breads did not know was that Lamb was ill and the Deputy Mayor, his brother-in-law Allen Grebell, had gone to the dinner in his place.

Late that night, a solitary figure passed through the churchyard. Breads saw his opportunity and stabbed the man in the back. The man was Grebell, not Lamb, but in the darkness Breads did not realise his mistake. He carelessly dropped his knife and ran off shouting, “Butchers should kill Lambs!”

Grebell staggered home and collapsed into a chair where he was found the next morning. He had died of his wound in the night. When the knife was found in the churchyard, the evidence against Breads was too strong to ignore. He was arrested and charged with the murder of Allen Grebell.

The punishmentJohn Breeds skeleton

Breads was held in chains at Ypres Tower until 25 May, the day of his trial. The presiding magistrate was his intended victim, Mayor James Lamb. During the trial Breads said to Lamb:

“I did not mean to kill Mr Grebell. It was you I meant it for and I would murder you now, if I could.”

He was found guilty and sentenced to hang.

On 8 June, Breads was taken from the Ypres Tower to the Flushing Inn for a last drink, then hanged on the Salts outside the Strand Gate. His dead body was wrapped in chains and displayed in a gibbet on Gibbet Marsh, to the west of Rye.

The gibbet, and Breads’ decomposing body, remained there for 50 years.


John Breads gibbet in Town Hall (J Kirkham)

The gibbet

Our gibbet is a replica of the original, which has long been kept in the attic at the Town Hall along with Breads’ skull. It is said that his other bones were stolen by old women who used them to make up a cure for rheumatism. (Thanks to Jamie Kirkham for the photo.)

First posted in Featured, From Our Collection, Ypres Tower Posts on 12th August 2013
Last updated: 2nd November 2013
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