Archive for April 5th, 2015

1766: William Whittle

1 comment April 5th, 2015 Headsman

William Whittle, a Catholic, was executed at Lancaster on this date in 1766 for murdering his Protestant wife and their children in a religious frenzy.

For whatever reason, several years into his union, Whittle took deeply to heart a priestly warning that he was liable to damnation for marrying a heretic. He accordingly ended the marriage by “cleaving his Wife’s Head with an Axe, and ripping her Belly open, and afterwards cutting off the Heads of the two Children, one of whom he also ripped open and took out its Heart.” (St. James’s Chronicle, April 5, 1766)

(The children, Whittle said, had been imperiled in soul by their mother’s taking them to an Episcopal church; in murdering them their loving father had sent them to purgatory en route to heaven, saving them from eternal hellfire.)

Whittle was condemned to be hung in chains for the shocking crime, a demonstration that Catholics understood as aimed pointedly at them. At least of their number replied with like menace in an anonymous letter to the Rev. Mr. Oliver of Preston, the magistrate who committed Whittle to prison.

Sir, I make bold to acquaint you, that your house and every clergyman’s that is in the town, or any black son of a bitch like you, for you are nothing but hereticks and damned fouls. If William Whittle, that worthy man, hangs up ten days, you may fully expect to be blown to damnation. I have nothing more material, but I desire that you will make interest for him to be cut down, or else you may fully expect it at ten days end. My name is S.M. and W.G.

(Letter as quoted in the Leeds Intelligencer, April 22, 1766 — also the source of the newspaper screenshot above)

Mainstream suspicion of Catholics at this time — which was within living memory of the last great Jacobite restoration attempt — was quite deeply ingrained; as one can see from the riposte above, the sentiment was mutual. After all, these were matters of eternal salvation even if Whittle himself “appeared to be a stupid, bigotted, ignorant fellow.”

The shocking family butchery evoked a minor wave of fretting over insidious Catholic-Protestant intermarriages. I think the present-day reader will not have much difficulty recognizing contemporary analogues to this thrust of resulting commentary:

I am likewise persuaded that there are many lay-papists in the kingdom who abhor this fact of Whittle as much as any protestant can do. But if their religion does not give countenance to such doctrines as this alledged by this miserable man, why do they not by some public act disavow their approbation of them? why do they leave suspicions upon themselves and their religion by their silence, when such occasions call upon them so pressingly to explain themselves, and particularly when they are complaining of the severity of the penal laws[?]

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Gibbeted,God,Hanged,History,Murder,Public Executions

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Themed Set: Lancaster’s Golgotha

Add comment April 5th, 2015 Headsman

Lancaster’s harsh assizes earned it the nickname “Hanging Town”, and in its time what is today the verdant grounds of Williamson Park hosted innumerable executions as a result — including those of the Pendle witches in 1612, 15 Catholic martyrs, and various Jacobite rebels.

This was, if you will, Lancaster’s Tyburn: the moor on the city fringes where doomed prisoners were carted to their deaths astride their own coffins, complete with a last-drink stop at the local pub.

(Like Tyburn, the previously outlying locale has also become absorbed into the growing city.)

A copse of houses nearby the hill of executions thereby acquired the interesting moniker “Golgotha”, after the place of Christ‘s crucifixion. And who knows but that those feet in ancient times


Golgotha village in the 1960s or so. (cc) image from Graham Hibbert. Off the frame to the right of this image is the southern boundary fence of Williamson Park.

For the next few days, Executed Today will climb Golgotha to the gallows with a few of its lesser clientele.

* Starting in 1800, executions were moved to the nearby Lancaster Castle. One can tour the tower and its “Drop Room” where it all went down.

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Entry Filed under: Themed Sets

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