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The gruesome tale of the Snell brothers

As you know, CTL Dental is situated on the corner of Newbiggin in Richmond, North Yorkshire. You might not know however, that next to us is the Old Gaol (jail).

In September 1558, brothers Richard and John Snell, weavers from Bedale, had been locked in the jail for refusing to align to the Catholic ideals of the time. Devout Protestants, the brothers had spent 18 months locked away in such hideous conditions that their toes rotted off. This was thought to be enough time to ‘come to their senses’, and to repent.


The Archdeacon of East Riding and the Rector of Kirby Hill, Dr John Dakyn, arranged a service in St Mary’s church so they could publicly repent, John did so, and was released. Richard however refused, saying he would “rather confess to a dog than to a priest”, and was returned to jail and sentenced.

Distraught that he had denounced his faith and was a traitor to both his God and his brother, after four days, John threw himself into the river Swale by the waterfall, and his body was found four days later underneath Catterick Bridge.

Richard’s fate however was much more gruesome. On the morning of September 9th 1558, crowds gathered to watch the execution. Whilst he was manacled to the stake, Richard’s crimes and heresies were read out by Dakyn, and took nearly an hour. Richard exclaimed “Do your worst false priest” and with that, 4 local butchers lit the pyre which had been laced with tar and gunpowder. Through the flames, Richard could be heard shouting “Christ help me”, and after one final high-pitched scream, he fell silent. The crowd then fell to their knees and prayed for him.

So next time you park your car outside the practice for your check up, you might be parked on the very spot!

If you want to find out more about the history of the gaol on Newbiggin or the Snell brothers, click here.

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