A PENSIONER hopes to solve the mystery surrounding a plank bearing a grisly message.

The plank was found boarded up behind a plaster wall in the town hall in Leyburn, North Yorkshire.

Written on the plank are the words: “Benjamin Walker born May 6 ???? was beheaded in 1852 for preaching the words of God to the Jews.

“He being brought to London caused the streets to be in an uproar to see him.”

The year of the birth is unclear, although it is believed to end in 35.

An illegible name, possibly the author’s, is also visible.

The wood was found about ten years ago when alterations were being made to the building. It is now in the possession of Frank Knowles, whose family previously owned the building, which is now Wray Bros hardware store.

Mr Knowles, 82, said: “I got it out the other day and was wondering if anyone could enlighten me about its history.

“It has probably been there since the hall was built in 1856.

“I don’t know if it has been written tongue-in-cheek and they were having a jolly good laugh about it 150 years ago, or there’s any truth to it.

“I don’t know if they were still beheading people in 1852.”

Mr Knowles believes the wood is mahogany and may have been part of a door frame.

He said that Walker was a common surname in the area.

The two sentences were written in pencil in what Mr Knowles, a former ironmonger and press photographer, described as an educated style.

He said: “I thought it might raise a smile with somebody.”

Beheading was common in Anglo-Saxon times as a punishment for theft. It was reintroduced by William the Conqueror, but became reserved as a punishment for nobility.

The last woman to be beheaded was Lady Alice Lisle, 67, in 1685 for sheltering traitors.

Most beheadings took place at the Tower of London, with the last taking place there in 1747 – that of Simon Fraser, the 11th Lord Lovat, who was convicted of plotting against the House of Hanover.

At his execution, a grandstand built for spectators collapsed, killing 20 people.

As the axe fell, he said “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” – which translates as “It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country”.

Anyone with information about Benjamin Walker or who might have written the message is asked to call The Northern Echo on 01325-505067 or email joe.willis@nne.co.uk