John Thomas – The Rossett Gibbet
Several website Sources suggest that the Golden Lion Public House, Rossett is haunted by a spirit linked to a man hung and subsequently gibbetted on Rossett Green almost opposite the pub. This article looks at the facts behind the haunting.
In 1776, Rossett was in the Parish of Gresford. The Parish of Gresford covered a large area, and included, the modern villages of Gresford, Gwersyllt, Lavister, Llay, Marford and Rossett.
A crime that occurred on 1st December 1776 caught the attention of journalists across Britain, with articles appearing in the Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, Chester Chronicle, Derby Mercury, Leeds Intelligencer, Police Gazette, and the Shrewsbury Chronicle. This was extraordinary coverage for the press at this time.
Charles Ellis was a servant to Mr John Wilson of Llay Hall within the Parish. On the 1st December 1776, Charles Ellis was at the house of Mary Randles of Gresford, from some other accounts this was a public house. Charles Ellis was in the company of another man, John Thomas, also known as John Jeffery. They drank until about two o’clock of the morning of the 2nd December 1776. John Thomas asked Charles Ellis if he was going home and Charles replied that he was going home so both of them left the premises together and started to walk home. They both walked together until they reached a piece of land near to the main road that belonging to the Llay Hall Estate. There they parted and wished each other a good night.
As Charles Ellis entered the field next to Llay Hall he noticed John Thomas coming towards him across the field and was standing near to the gate. Without any words being spoken by John Thomas he knocked Charles Ellis to the ground. John Thomas then attacked Charles Ellis with a stick and a knife. Whilst attacking him John Thomas stole from the pocket of Charles Ellis, a silver watch to the value of three guineas, and one and a half guineas.
In his statement, Charles Ellis described the attack as being “violent” and “barbarous”. John Thomas threatened that he was going to cut his throat and actually tried to do it. Charles Ellis started to cry out “Murder” causing John Thomas to run away.
Later that day, the 2nd December 1776, Richard Manning a Surgeon from Wrexham attended Charles Ellis. He found that Charles Ellis was suffering from the following injuries: a large cut over his left eye and a great bruise on the whole left-hand side of his face; two incision wounds to his wind pipe; a stab wound on the left breast that was about an inch deep; a further stab on the right thigh about one and a half inches deep; a wound across his left hand across his fingers and thumb; and a slight stab to his groin. The injuries sustained by Charles Ellis suggest that the attack on him was extremely serious.
The exact facts about how John Thomas was apprehended for this crime are uncertain, as they are not recorded in the Court records. However, one newspaper, The Leeds Intelligencer suggest that John Thomas was apprehended at Halkyn, Flintshire with the intent that he was going to travel to Holyhead and travel to Ireland. Furthermore, that he was now a prisoner of Ruthin Goal. It is documented that by the 5th December 1776, John Thomas was in custody.
On the 5th December 1776, John Thomas was in the local court before Ellis Yonge, a local Justice of the Peace, who put the facts of the case to him. John Thomas was accused of both robbery and attempted murder. He denied both crimes and it is noted on the record of the examination that John Thomas refused to put his mark on the document.
Between the 7th December and the 10th December 1776 the Courts prepared the case for transfer to the Court of Great Sessions of Wales. To ensure that witnesses attended at Courts they were subjected to recognizances. These recognizances were financial penalties, which would be suffered if the witness failed to attend Court at the appropriate time. The amount of the recognizances was often very high compared to the witness’s income and failing to arrive at Court at the appointed time would have serious financial implications for them.
The victim and the witness, Charles Ellis, entered into a recognizance of £50 to ensure his attendance. Other witnesses, Sarah Hughes and Mary Liversage, also servants to Mr John Wilson at Llay Hall, and Richard Manning, the surgeon entered into recognizances of £40 each. All of these recognizances were taken before the Justice of the Peace, Ellis Yonge.
On Friday 28th March 1777 the Great Session were held at Wrexham. A Judge, The Honourable John Morton, The Chief Justice of the Great Sessions Court of Denbighshire chaired the Court.
John Thomas entered a plea of not guilty. The Jury of the Court of Great Sessions felt otherwise and they found him guilty. The Court Sentenced John Thomas to death by hanging. This sentence was not unusual. This case was heard during a period when the “Bloody Code” formed part of sentencing decisions; from 1660 when about 50 crimes were punishable by death, the number of crime punishment by death increased in number, to around 160 in 1750, to a peak of 288 by 1815.
Furthermore, as was permitted at that time, the Court ordered that after being executed, John Thomas should be hung in chains at Rossett Green in the Parish of Gresford upon a gibbet erected for this purpose.
On the 21st of April 1777 John Thomas was hung. The location of the gallows is not recorded but is likely to have been the usual site of the Denbighshire Gallows at Galltegfa about 1 mile south-west of Ruthin. The time between being sentenced and being executed was unusually long for this era. It has been suggested that this was due to Easter falling within the period when executions were delayed. Records suggest that John Thomas was kept in Ruthin Goal and “dieted” for this period, meaning, that he was placed on rations of just bread and water.
After being executed John Thomas presented in chains on his specially prepared gibbet was immediately put on display at Rossett Green.
The earliest detailed map of Rossett in on the Tithe Map for Gresford dated 1845, some 70 years after the gibbet was placed there. The map shows that the location of Rossett Green has not changed from the time of the Tithe Map to present times. It is very feasible that this was also Rossett Green prior to the earliest map. The location is now a village green containing a child’s play area, bordered by the B5445, Chester Road and the B5102, Holt Road.
Justice having been done, and John Thomas hanging in chains on his gibbet pole on Rossett Green, until such time that his body totally decomposed, the case should have come to an end.
On Wednesday 23rd July 1777, obviously unhappy that her husband was still hanging in chains and decomposing on Rossett Green, his widow, Mary Thomas, also known as Mary Jeffreys, and Ann Jarvis saw down the gibbet pole bringing the ghastly display to an end.
The following day, Elizabeth Catarah of Allington reported what she had witnessed to John Lone, The High Constable of the Hundred of Bromfield. On the 26th July 1777 both of them entered into recognizances of £20 to ensure their attendance at the next Court of Great Sessions.
Mary Thomas and Ann Jarvis appeared before the next Court of Great Sessions indicted that,
“…not regarding the laws if this Kingdom not the said Court to wit on the Twenty-Second day of July…the said gibbet on which the body of the said John Thomas otherwise called John Jeffrey was then and there hanging in chains did unlawfully and wilfully cut down and destroy in manifest contempt and defiance of the Laws of this Kingdom and the order of the said Court to the evil example of all others in the like case offending and against the peace of the said Lord the King his Crown and Dignity”
Mary Thomas and Ann Jarvis both pleaded not guilty to the charge. Following a trial the jury found them not guilty.
What happened to the body of John Thomas is not recorded. It would not have been permitted for him to be buried in consecrated ground and this is confirmed by reviewing the local parish burial registers. It is suggested that he may be buried under Rossett Green.
Source: Written and researched by Wayne Cronin-Wojdat, B.A (Hons.), MSc – Historical Gems.