July 8th, 2013 Headsman
On this date in 1771, Henry Stroud and Robert Campbell were hanged at Bethnal Green Road — a pointed message to the Spitalfield working class.
Their hanging was tit for tat in an exchange of deadly violence between the state and laboring Londoners.
Two years before, an anti-union law making it a capital crime to cut silk out of looms had actually been put to use with the hanging of two as part of the suppression of a Spitalfields weavers riot.
This execution provoked in the following months a horrifying mob vengeance against the independent weaver who had testified — falsely, it was suspected — against those hanged men. When said informer, name of Daniel Clark, was recognized walking in the area one day, an angry crowd formed and “stript him, tied his hands behind him, took him to a pond, threw him in, and then threw stones and brickbats at him for some time; then took him out, tied a cord round his neck, and threw him in the pond again, and then threw stones and brickbats at him till they beat out his brains.”*
Snitches get … brickbats.
Justice David Wilmot** determined to hunt out some of this lynch mob he could make an example of, not disdaining to resort to arm-twisting and witness-buying.† Wilmot’s advertisement for leads drew anonymous threats, which the justice scornfully published in newspapers to up the ante.
The writers of these letters … [are] pursuing with insatiable & heart felt revenge, their designs against you should any one person suffer from your busy concern. & know farther that having such connections at all your haunts, and free access at most time to your person, ’til not the whole third regiment of guards that can protect you from the well concerted plan for your destruction.
The result was a chaotic five-day trial, at which witnesses openly flinched at the prospect of popular vengeance waiting outside the Old Bailey doors.
Henry Stroud, nevertheless, was identified by several witnesses as having taken a prominent part in visiting popular justice upon Clark, in the form of two or three hurled bricks that knocked the victim down — while Robert Campbell was reputed to have thrust the bloodied Clark’s head into the pool.
They were pointedly put to death behind a heavily armed cordon near the very spot of the homicide. Stroud, at least, went to his death still vigorously protesting his innocence.‡
“Thus did the alternating pageants of ritual murder come to an end,” writes Peter Linebaugh of this exclamatory execution in The London Hanged. “A hundred bayonets from the War Office protecting the hangman and the magistrates. The scapegoating of the class antagonism concluded with this powerful, official display of power in the streets, where usually the trill of [weaving] shuttles would fill the air.”
* Quoted in Norma Landau’s “Gauging crime in late Eighteenth Century London,” Social History, 35:4.
** Not to be confused with Justice Wilmot, then the sitting Chief Justice of the Common Pleas. Justice David Wilmot’s credentials from this affair and otherwise established him as a hated enemy of the London working class, and consequently his home was torched during the proletarian Gordon Riots.
† viz., testimony of one witness among the several in the Old Bailey transcript who openly discuss payola: “another gentleman offered me fourscore pounds; a gentleman that brought me the summons; he said, you know one Bob Campbell; I said, I did not by name; he said, he would give me fourscore pounds; I was frightened, he said, I see you are a stranger; if you will but swear to the man I will give you fourscore pounds.”
‡ After the days-long prosecution, Stroud’s entire defense case ran two sentences: “I am as innocent of the affair as ever was a child in the world. I neither handled brick, stone, tile, nor anything, so help me God.”
Also on this date
- 1486: Humphrey Stafford of Grafton, no sanctuary
- 1938: Anthony Chebatoris, in death penalty-free Michigan
- 1538: Diego de Almagro, explorer of Chile
- 1839: William John Marchant
- 1999: Allen Lee "Tiny" Davis, the end of the road for Old Sparky