1771: Henry Stroud and Robert Campbell, for revenge

Add comment 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.”

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Crime,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Public Executions

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1768: Seven coal-heavers to crush the London port strike

Add comment July 26th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1768, a year of tremendous labor agitation in London, seven coal-heavers were hanged near the Shadwell dock.

With food prices surging,* the city’s hard-pressed urban proletariat was at peak militancy — which also lent violent energy the cause of hunted radical politician John Wilkes, who had returned from exile this year to stand for Parliament. Two principal loci of labor insurgency in 1768 were the Spitalfields weavers, whose struggle we have already observed, and the “coal heavers” — the men who did the grueling labor of offloading coal from Thames barges.

Coal-heaving was ill-paid and dangerous, and it was notoriously sensitive to fraud: workers (largely Irish: they’d been imported to hold down wages) being paid by the “sack” or the “vat” fought supervisors at riverside over just how fully loaded with coal such a sack or vat should be. Workers had their own recourse to “indirect Practises,” pilfering a few coals on the side to supplement pay up to within hailing distance of subsistence. The boss would call “theft” this grey-area practice harkening to labor traditions ancient and still-current. The rope would help him define it so.

Peter Linebaugh’s magisterial social history The London Hanged dramatically treats the fraught and violent months of the spring of 1768, when Irish workingmen were “bringing river traffic to a stand-still … [and] stopped the imperialist artery.”

Dockside taverns doubled as fraternal entities and regiments in the unfolding dock war. One John Green, keeper of a pub on New-Gravel Lane (not as scenic as the nearby Cutthroat Lane)

organized scab labour from [his] Roundabout Tavern. It was attacked in April with gunfire. A shoemaker bled to death on the pavement, a coal-heaver took a bullet in the head, ‘dropped down backwards, and never stirred’. The taverns were besieged, their furnishings destroyed. Gunfire was frequent. Green was acquitted of murder. Those testifying for him were mobbed and one witness had her jaw broken. The coal-heavers were as violent in word as in deed. ‘They would have Green’s Heart and Liver and Do for him’; ‘they would have him joint from joint’; ‘they would have his heart and liver, and cut him in pieces and hang him on his sign’; ‘they would hang him over his sign Post & cut him into Beef Stakes’.

Our seven — by name John Grainger, Daniel Clark, Richard Cornwall, Patrick Lynch, Thomas Murray, Peter Flaharty, and Nicholas McCabe — were indicted on grounds that they “with force and arms, with certain guns loaded with gunpowder and leaden bullets, feloniously, wilfully, and maliciously did shoot off at John Green.” Not quite cut into Beef Stakes, but it’ll get the job done.

Though the trials of Green, and then of Green’s assailants, were weeks apart, they concerned the very same disturbance on the night of April 20-21, when Green’s residence had been besieged by angry coal-heavers and Green with others had shot out the windows and killed at least two … but managed to hold his foes at bay during what must have been a harrowing night. Green wasn’t hurt, and gave evidence at the “shooting off” trial.

The London Irish had by 1768 an unparalleled knowledge of arms and armed struggle. They contributed to an insurrectionary impulse within the London working class. At the same time, as a consequence, the Irish had close knowledge of violent death. The intimacy of that knowledge was expressed in vivid euphemisms designed to reduce the terror of hanging. Seven coal-heavers received the ‘cramp jaw’ at the Old Bailey only after a new interpretation was placed upon the Waltham Black Act. The seven danced ‘a new jig without music’ on 26 July 1768. This particular ‘crack neck assembly’ was located in Sun Tavern fields, Shadwell … The move from Tyburn was designed to terrify the poor and working people of the river parishes. The ‘breath stopper’ was witnessed by 50,000 spectators, perhaps the largest crowd at such a scene since the hanging of the Earl of Ferrers eight years earlier. The Government anticipated disorders, if not rescue attempts, when these seven were to dance ‘tuxt de ert and de skies’. From 6 a.m. more than 600 soldiers patrolled the streets of Wapping and Shadwell. The Sheriff ordered all the constables of the Tower and Holborn divisions to assemble at the hanging site and to come armed with their staves. Thomas Turlis, the hangman, had stolen coal from a neighbour’s cellar five years earlier. But, that his work might not be interrupted, the Sheriff quickly obtained a pardon for him. He did his duty upon the coal-heavers, sent ‘a-spinning like a whirligig’. Once they had ‘peacably’ exited the world, many of the spectators may have gone for a drink as was customary:

Wid a facer we coddled our blood
For de wind id blows cold from de gibbett.

… The hanging at Sun Tavern Fields … taught a hard lesson about collective bargaining: attempts to counteract the rise in the price of provisions by improving wage rates would not be allowed. … the insurrectionary vanguard of the river proletariat was broken.

Or, as a more sanguine observer put it, after the hangings “the tumults immediately ceased, and peace and industry was happily restored.” And they all lived happily ever after.

* Bread prices doubled in 1768, leading to work stoppages, hoarding, and food riots throughout the city. Representative slogan shouted by desperate rioters: “We might as well be hanged as starve.” (George Rude, “The London ‘Mob’ of the Eighteenth Century,” The Historical Journal, Vol. II, no. 1 (1959))

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Activists,Attempted Murder,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,Public Executions,Rioting

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