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The Skull and the Cage


On the hill overlooking Dylife near the former drovers road nears Penycrobren, which roughly translates as “Gallows Hill” is the site where many a public execution is said to have taken place. One story goes like this:

'In the 18th century local blacksmith Sion y Gof (John the Blacksmith) became so convinced his wife had been unfaithful that he murdered her. To provide himself with an alibi he went on to murder his daughter and threw both bodies down a mine shaft; spreading the rumour that the pair had fled the area together to explain their absence. When the two bodies were later discovered, Sion was tried and convicted, and given the death penalty for his crime. As per custom at the time he would be executed locally and the body displayed to serve as a warning to others. As the only local blacksmith, it fell to Sion y Gof to make the gibbet that would hold his own dead body. He and his final work were hung from the gallows until the wood eventually rotted away. Over the years the story passed almost into myth status and would have remained so had it not been for two men who were digging in the area in 1938, and who uncovered the cage with a skull inside.'

Another version of the story has Sion y Gof himself having the affair as he works away from home and, surprised by the unexpected arrival of his wife and children, hatches a plan. He will kill them, disposing of their bodies down a disused mine shaft. In the days before letter writing/ news media for ordinary people, it was a possibility that he could get away with it by saying to his neighbours in the new location that they had returned home and to anyone he encountered by chance from his old life, that they had moved to join him. Making the story even more enticing is the claim that the Cnocwyr, small otherworldly miners that inhabit the Welsh mines, found the bodies and drew attention to them by their underground knocking. He was tried and convicted, being hung from the nearby gallows. He excused his actions by saying 'I blame some other woman and the devil'. After being discovered at the execution site in the 30s, his remains - by now just a skull in a cage, went on display in the window of a Machynlleth shop!

Whichever is the case, the skull is now at St Fagan's Museum near Cardiff. Nice...


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