THREE or so miles south of Thornton-le-Moor, on the A167, we come to the crossroads with the A61 at Busby Stoop.

The landlord of the pub on the crossroads was Thomas Busby, a crook and a thug, who married Elizabeth Auty, the daughter of Daniel, a notorious counterfeiter. There was increasing bad blood between Thomas and Daniel until one day in 1702, drunken Busby returned to his pub to find his goading father-in-law sitting in his favourite chair and threatening to take his wife back home.

Thomas ejected Daniel from both chair and pub, and later that night crept into the counterfeiter’s house and bludgeoned him to death with a hammer.

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Busby was found guilty of murder and forgery, and ordered to be hanged on a gibbet to be erected on the crossroads outside the pub, his body having first been dipped in tar to prolong its decomposition.

Before the execution, Thomas was allowed a final drink in his favourite chair. As he left for the hangman’s noose, he cursed the chair, saying anyone who sat in it would suffer a premature, painful end.

Busby was hanged and even after his body had rotted, the post remained for decades as a reminder. 

Busby’s ghost haunted his stoop and his cursed chair was implicated in more than 60 deaths – car drivers, airmen, builders, farmers and cyclists all perished prematurely after foolhardily sitting in it. The death toll became so great that in 1978 the landlord gave the chair to Thirsk Museum on the proviso that it should be hung from the ceiling so no one can sit on it.

It has hung from the ceiling for nearly 40 years without fatality, although museum experts were able to examine it and concluded that it was actually made in the 1840s – about 150 years after Thomas Busby was supposed to have sat in it.

IF we stay on the subject of gibbets, we could head a little north of Busby Stoop towards Northallerton, where the A168 meets a lane leading to the village of Thornton-le-Moor. This lane had a wonderfully intriguing name – Thiefhole Lane; it is a name that becomes even more intriguing when you learn that there is a former police house in Thiefhole Lane.

We are indebted to Ian Woods, who lives in the village, for providing two theories about the derivation of the name “Thiefhole”.

Number 1: The A168 is a Roman road and there is still a thicket of trees at the top of Thiefhole Lane. Apparently here, thieves holed up, waiting to rob passing travellers.

Number 2: As we’ve seen at Thinford, in medieval times, gibbets were erected at prominent roadside locations to advertise to travellers that a life of crime did not pay.

The corpse usually hung around for weeks on the gallows until it was eventually cut down. If the criminal’s family had the money or the inclination, they could then take the body away for burial.

But if the corpse was unclaimed, it would be rolled into a nearby hole to rot away – a thiefhole.

A FEW weeks ago on this site, we told of the Thinford roundabout on the A167 south of Durham City, which is famed for having the highest density of fast food outlets per square foot of any roundabout in Britain.

Probably.

It is also famed for being where, on August 15, 1683, mass murderer Andrew Mills was bound and hanged in a metal cage with a penny loaf on an iron pike in front of his face.

Definitely.

This was his punishment for slaughtering the Brass children, Jane, John and Elizabeth, at Kirk Merrington windmill on January 25 of that year.

As Mills died, his beloved peasant girl brought him milk every day and spooned it through the cage to him as he swung. If he wanted anything more substantial, he would have been tempted to take a bite of the penny loaf – which would have driven the pike through his tongue.

He howled in agony and dismay for many days before expiring, and then his body rotted away on the gibbet. When the carrion crows had pecked his skeleton clean, the gibbet remained standing as a grisly reminder.

Charles Waterton, an eccentric explorer from Wakefield, attended a Catholic school at nearby Tudhoe from 1792 to 1796, and wrote in his memoirs: "Betwixt Tudhoe School and Ferry Hill, there stood an oaken post, very strong, and some nine feet high. This was its appearance in my day, but formerly it must have been much higher. It was known to all the country round by the name of Andrew Mills' Stob.

"We often went to see it, and one afternoon, an old woman came up, took her knife from her pocket, and then pared off a chip, which she carefully folded up in a bit of paper. She said it was good for curing the toothache."

Ray Price, who was brought up at North Close near Ferryhill, remembers how he was taken as a child to Kirk Merrington churchyard to see the table tomb in which the three children were buried. Inscribed on the top of the tomb was the fact that they had been “murdered by Andrew Mills, for which he was executed and hung in chains".

It was told to Ray that Mills’ father was so incensed by this wording that he wore away the word “executed” with his walking stick – although it could just be that the stone had weathered over the centuries.

TONY STAINTHORPE of Newton Hall, Durham, also got in touch, only with a less gory story. “The Regent garage in your 1950s picture of Thinford used to be run by the Hobson family from Ferryhill,” he said. “Can anyone remember if there was also a garage just to the south of the Coach and Horses pub a Low Butchers Race?”

  • Any other gibbeted, haunted crossroads of which we should be aware?