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A place in history for the fool they couldn't hang

Old Mettle, the legendary Adderbury fool, is to be given a public hanging - more than 150 years after he escaped execution for robbery.

Mettle - real name William Castle - was lame from childhood but became a popular figure in 19th century Banbury. He was frequently the people's choice in Parliamentary elections in the days when few of his supporters had the vote.

But he fell into crime and was sentenced to death at Oxford Crown Court for taking part in a robbery. The people of Banbury protested that he was a well-known idiot who'd been led astray - and the court spared him from the noose.

One account of his eventual demise says he died while putting on his patchwork costume, ready to go out with the morris in Adderbury, the village where he'd been born.

He also fooled for teams from Kings Sutton and Bloxham.

Now he's to be honoured with a place in the new Banbury town museum, which is due to open in the summer of 2001 on a site beside the Oxford canal. Building work is just getting underway.

"We're planning a gallery of Banbury personalities on the ground floor of the museum," says curator Simon Townsend. "Old Mettle an interesting personality from the town's past and a very colourful character."

The existing town museum, by Banbury Cross, already features a print of the old fool, dressed in the academic gown and mortar board he often used when performing - a gift from a well-wisher.

"There's also a painting in our store - a head and shoulders portrait, though not with his mortar board. But space is very tight so we're not sure there's room for it. We'd want to use the original, rather than a copy."

2000 Simon Pipe, Mark Rogers, The Outside Capering Crew

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