A gallows (or scaffold) is a frame or elevated beam, typically wooden, from which objects can be suspended (i.e., hung) or "weighed". Gallows were thus widely used to suspend public weighing scales for large and heavy objects such as sacks of grain or minerals, usually positioned in markets or toll gates. The term was also used for a projecting framework from which a ship's anchor might be raised so that it is no longer sitting on the bottom, i.e., "weighing
anchor,” while avoiding striking the ship’s hull. In modern usage it has come to mean almost exclusively a scaffold or gibbet used for
execution Capital punishment, also known as the death penalty, is the state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), '' ...
hanging Hanging is the suspension of a person by a noose A noose is a loop at the end of a rope A rope is a group of yarns, Plying, plies, fibers or strands that are twisted or braided together into a larger and stronger form. Ropes have tensile ...



The term "
gallows A gallows (or scaffold) is a frame or elevated beam, typically wooden, from which objects can be suspended (i.e., hung) or "weighed". Gallows were thus widely used to suspend public weighing scales for large and heavy objects such as sacks of g ...
" was derived from a
Proto-Germanic Proto-Germanic (abbreviated PGmc; also called Common Germanic) is the reconstructed Reconstruction may refer to: Politics, history, and sociology *Reconstruction (law), the transfer of a company's (or several companies') business to a new ...
word '' galgô'' that refers to a "pole", "rod" or "tree branch". With the beginning of Christianization,
Ulfilas Ulfilas (–383), also known as Ulphilas and Orphila, all Latinized forms of the unattested Gothic language, Gothic form *𐍅𐌿𐌻𐍆𐌹𐌻𐌰 Wulfila, literally "Little Wolf", was a Goths , Goth of Cappadocian Ancient Greeks , Greek des ...
used the term ''galga'' in his
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Testament to refer to the cross of Christ, until the use of the Latin term (crux = cross) prevailed.

Forms of hanging

Gallows can take several forms: * The simplest form (as often used in the game " Hangman") resembles an inverted "L" (or a Greek/Cyrillic "Г"), with a single upright and a horizontal beam to which the
rope A rope is a group of yarn Yarn is a long continuous length of interlocked fibres, suitable for use in the production of textiles, sewing, crocheting, knitting, weaving, embroidery, or ropemaking. Thread (yarn), Thread is a type of yarn inten ...

noose A noose is a loop at the end of a rope in which the knot tightens under load and can be loosened without untying the knot. The knot can be used to secure a rope to a post, pole, or animal but only where the end is in a position that the loop can ...
would be attached. * The horizontal crossbeam is supported at both ends. * There were even temporary gallows, which were portable, but weaker. * The
Tyburn gallows Tyburn was a manor Manor may refer to: Land tenure *Manor, the land belonging to the Lord of the manor under manorialism in parts of medieval Europe, notably England *Manor house, the main residence of the lord of the manor *Lord of the manor ...
, commonly known as Tyburn Tree, was triangular in plan, with three uprights and three crossbeams, allowing up to 24 people to be executed simultaneously when all three sides were used. Occasionally, improvised gallows were used, usually by hanging the condemned from a tree or
street light A street light, light pole, lamppost, street lamp, light standard, or lamp standard is a raised source of light on the edge of a road or path. Similar lights may be found on a railway platform. When urban electric power distribution became ubiqu ...

street light
. Hangings from such improvised gallows are usually
lynchings Lynching is an extrajudicial killing An extrajudicial killing (also known as extrajudicial execution or extralegal killing) is the homicide, killing of a person by governmental authorities without the sanction of any Judiciary, judicial proce ...
rather than judicial executions. In Afghanistan, the
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goal A goal is an idea In philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about reason, Metaphysics, existence, Epistemology, knowledge, Ethics, values, Philosophy of mind, mind, and Phil ...

s as gallows.



Gallows may be permanent to act as a deterrent and grim symbol of the power of high justice (the French word for gallows, ''potence'', stems from the Latin word ''potentia'', meaning "power"). Many old prints of European cities show such a permanent gallows erected on a prominent hill outside the walls, or more commonly near the castle or other seat of justice. In the modern era the gallows were often installed inside a prison; freestanding on a scaffold in the yard, erected at ground level over a pit, enclosed in a small shed of stone, brick or wood, built into the gallery of a prison wing (with the beam resting in
brackets A bracket is either of two tall fore- or back-facing punctuation marks commonly used to isolate a segment of text or data from its surroundings. Typically deployed in symmetric pairs, an individual bracket may be identified as a ''left'' or ...
on opposite walls), or in a purpose-built execution suite of rooms within the wing.


Gallows can also be temporary. In some of the cases, they were even moved to the location of the crime. In England,
pirates Piracy is an act of robbery Robbery is the crime In ordinary language, a crime is an unlawful act punishable by a state or other authority. The term ''crime'' does not, in modern criminal law, have any simple and universally accepted ...

were typically executed using a temporary gallows, at low tide in the intertidal zone, then left for the sea to wash over them during the following high tides.
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John the Painter
was hanged in 1777 from the mizzenmast of HMS Arethusa for
arson in royal dockyards Arson in royal dockyards was a criminal offence in the United Kingdom The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain,Usage is mixed. The Guardian' and Telegraph' use Britain a ...
, the highest temporary gallows erected in British history. The only surviving New Drop gallows in the UK are in
Rutland County Museum Rutland County Museum is located in Oakham, Rutland, in the old Riding School of the Rutland Fencible Cavalry which was built in 1794–95. The museum, opened in 1969, houses a collection of objects relating to local rural and agricultural ...
. The gallows were portable and were set up at the gaol (jail) when needed. These gallows were first used in 1813 to hang two burglars. The New Drop design was not very effective as the drop was too short to break the neck cleanly.


If a crime took place inside, gallows were sometimes erected—and the criminal hanged—at the front door. In some cases of multiple offenders it was not uncommon to erect multiple temporary gallows, with one noose per condemned criminal. In one case a condemned strangled to death in agony for forty minutes until he finally died from asphyxiation.

Horse and cart

Hanging people from early gallows sometimes involved fitting the noose around the person's neck while he or she was on a ladder or in a horse-drawn cart underneath. Removing the ladder or driving the cart away left the person dangling by the neck to slowly strangle. A noted example of this type of execution in the USA was the hanging of British spy John André in 1780. Later, a "scaffold" with a trapdoor tended to be used, so victims dropped down and died quickly from a broken neck rather than through strangulation, especially if extra weights were fixed to their ankles. During the era of public execution in London, England, a prominent gallows stood at Tyburn, on what is now Marble Arch. Later executions occurred outside Newgate Prison, where the Old Bailey now stands.


* Hangman's Elm * Triberg Gallows

See also

* Capital punishment * Christian cross * Dule Tree * Gibbet * Jail tree * Moot hill


External links

BBC Article about British manufacturer
* wikibooks:A Researcher's Guide to Local History Terminology: Local History terminology. {{Authority control Gallows, Execution equipment