Precisely upon the spot where the shiny new University Hospital of North Durham now sits (the old
) is the site of Dryburn Hospital ’s old gallows. The venue dedicated to the saving of lives these past
several decades was, strangely, once the setting for the violent dispatch of life for many a year. It is
perhaps doubly ironic that the site is also opposite County Hall, the centre of
present-day local government. Durham
The older part of the now largely modern hospital complex was once Dryburn House (or Hall), and in its grounds was located the gruesome place of execution for local ne’er-do-wells. All sorts of folk were sent to their deaths there, including some accused of witchcraft – and others of being gypsies! Much of this happened during the tough old days of the sixteenth century, and one execution in particular stands out from the rest.
It concerns a troublesome Catholic priest by the name of John Boste, who had for years made a damn nuisance of himself by preaching secret masses and making a second home for himself of various priest-holes across the land. Eventually he was collared near
, and sentenced to hang at Dryburn on Durham City 24th July 1594 – not before, however, a spell on the rack in the , where
he refused to renounce his Popish beliefs. Tower of London
He was to be hanged, drawn and quartered, of course, but could not have imagined the horrendous nature of his eventual death. As is often the case with botched hangings, the ‘drop’ was pitifully insufficient, and the poor cleric hung for some time kicking and twisting on the end of the rope – until the executioner cut it and he fell to the ground. As he stood there, gasping for breathe, the hangman pounced on him. He was first castrated, then his abdomen was slashed open, allowing his insides to spill out – and was then polished him off by having his heart cut out. Oh, then his head was removed and displayed to the watching throng.
Then there was the quartering to sort out, too, of course.
Boste was canonised in 1970, and pilgrims still visit the nearby Durham Martyrs’ memorial, which was erected to the memory of Boste and two of his similarly executed comrades.