1724: Jack Sheppard, celebrity escape artist

9 comments November 16th, 2011 Headsman

“Yes sir, I am The Sheppard, and all the gaolers in the town are my flocks, and I cannot stir into the country but they are at my heels baaing after me.”

Jack Sheppard

On this date in 1724, the hangman finally got Jack Sheppard.

Sheppard was a thief, a romantic hero, a highwayman of the urban proletariat, a Houdini whom no prison could hold.

It had become possible in his time to ride criminal notoriety into celebrity: Jack Sheppard, a mere 22 at his death, proved as adept with that quicksilver element during his personal annus mirabilis of 1724 as he was with a lockpick.

Sheppard’s world had him fitted to wield a hammer better than thieves’ tools — but at about age 20, a young man awash in the illicit liberty of London’s underbelly, he ditched the square carpenter to whom he was apprenticed to live free by his wits.

Peter Linebaug’s The London Hanged finds in Jack Sheppard’s career and his runaway popularity an important marker of the capital city’s “refusal of subordination: — contra Foucaultian discipline, which “makes the rulers of government and society seem all-powerful.”

An important meaning of liberation … [consisted of] the growing propensity, skill and success of London working people in escaping from the newly created institutions that were designed to discipline people by closing them in. This tendency I have dubbed ‘excarceration’ because I wish to draw attention to the activity of freedom in contrast to its ideological or theoretical expressions…

This lithe youth is most famous for his literal talent for freedom: four times in 1724 he escaped from custody in ever more dramatic fashion.

He busted out through the ceiling of St. Giles Roundhouse. He rappelled with a bedsheet rope down the 20-foot wall of Clerkenwell Prison with his lover.

This sort of thing won the enterprising rogue growing folk hero status. The vaunted Sheppard “made such a noise in the town, that it was thought the common people would have gone mad about him, there being not a porter to be had for love nor money, nor getting into an ale-house, for butchers, shoemakers and barbers, all engaged in controversies and wagers about Sheppard.”*

It also drew the unwanted attention of 1720s London’s Jabba the Hutt: “thief-taker” Jonathan Wild, who managed a vast thieving cartel enforced by Wild’s willingness to turn in non-participants in his ingenious cover role as the city’ preeminent lawman. That’s some protection racket.

Sheppard, to the fame of his memory, scorned obeisance to the crime lord as much as to any guild carpenter and worked for no man but himself. A vengeful Wild shopped him to the authorities.

This time, Sheppard was actually condemned to death for burglary but broke prison again, using yet another classic ruse: the “disguised in smuggled women’s clothes.”

Back on the lam, he posted a cocky letter to his executioner “Jack Ketch” giving his regrets at not having joined two fellow-sufferers on the scheduled hanging date. (September 4.)

I thank you for the favour you intended me this day: I am a Gentleman, and allow you to be the same, and I hope can forgive injuries; fond Nature pointed, I follow’d, Oh, propitious minute! and to show that I am in charity, I am now drinking your health, and a Bon Repo to poor Joseph and Anthony. I am gone a few days for the air, but design speedily to embark, and this night I am going upon a mansion for a supply; its a stout fortification, but what difficulties can’t I encounter, when, dear Jack, you find that bars and chains are but trifling obstacles in the way of your Friend and Servant

JOHN SHEPPARD

London’s finest were determined to put an end to this character’s preposterous run of prison breaks, so when they caught him the fourth time Sheppard found himself loaded with manacles and chained to the floor of a special strongroom in Newgate Prison. Get out of that, Jack.

Somehow, Jack got out of it.

On the night of Oct. 14, Sheppard authored the sublimest breakout in Newgate’s voluminous annals. Picking the locks of his fetters with a small nail, our acrobat scurried up a chimney, picked, prised, or otherwise passed a succession of locked doors in the dead of night, paused to rest on the condemned pew of the gaol chapel, forced a grille, reached the roof, and threw another homemade rope over the wall to scamper down to safety.

And then “he promptly went forth and robbed a pawnbroker’s shop in Drury Lane of a sword, a suit of apparel, snuff boxes, rings, &c., and suddenly made a startling appearance among his friends, rigged out as a gentleman from top to toe.”

There’s no doubt but that Jack had showmanship, but at a certain point he could have done with just the tiniest measure of discretion. But then, this was a man writing his own legend. Sure, he could have put his head down and tried to disappear into some nameless Puritan settlement in the New World. (His distraught mother kept telling him to get out of the country.) He traded those dull and toilsome years for the fame of generations: his candle burned at both ends.

When next Sheppard was detained, it was towards his apotheosis. It was the only time he would be arrested and fail to escape.

A throng of thousands mobbed London’s route to execution this date, almost universally supporting the ace escapologist. And Sheppard very nearly had for them the piece de resistance in his career of magical disappearances: it was only at the last moment before boarding the fatal tumbril that Sheppard’s executioners found the penknife their prey had secreted on his person, evidently intending to cut his cords and spring from the cart into the safety of the surging crowd. What an exploit that would have been.


Detail view (click for full image) of George Cruikshank‘s illustration of Sheppard’s death for William Ainsworth‘s Victorian novel about the legendary criminal. More of these illustrations here.

This indomitable soul has enjoyed a long afterlife as a subversive hero.

A celebrity in his own time, his execution-eve portrait was taken by the Hanover court painter himself, James Thornhill. Sheppard is a very likely candidate as an inspiration for the criminal Macheath in The Beggar’s Opera completed just a few years after his death; likewise, his abandoned apprenticeship makes him the most apparent model for Hogarth‘s “idle prentice” plates.

A century later, prolific historical novelist William Ainsworth** claimed the convict-martyr for an 1839 retelling. This popular potboiler — read it free online here — came in for a spate of 19th century social panic when it was learned that a notorious servant-on-master murder had been carried out by a young man who had recently read it. A two-decade ban on public plays based on the Jack Sheppard novel ensued.

For as much as Jack Sheppard is romanticized in his remarkable individual characteristics, his story has always had a class undertow that raises the hackles of the powerful — and is celebrated by the people who menace that power. Linebaugh, again:

Jack Sheppard, housebreaker and gaol-breaker, was once the single most well-known name from eighteenth-century England. His fame spread across oceans and the centuries. When the bandit Ned Kelly was alive, the Australian press was full of comparisons between him and Sheppard. At the same time on the other side of the globe in Missouri, Frank and Jesse James wrote letters to the Kansas City Star signed ‘Jack Sheppard’. In England his name cut deep into the landscape of popular consciousness. Henry Mayhew noted that Cambridgeshire gypsies accepted Sheppard stories as the archetype of ‘blackguard tales’. Among English sailors anyone with the surname of ‘Sheppard’ was automatically called ‘Jack’. Within the Manchester proletariat of the 1840s his name was more widely known than that of the Queen herself. One of these lads said, ‘I was employed in a warehouse at 6s. 6d. a week, and was allowed 6d. of it for myself, and with that I went regularly to the play. I saw Jack Sheppard four times in one week.’

The oral history of Sheppard has maintained his memory within human contexts where books were scarce and working-class resources for an independent historiography were non-existent. Moreover, that memory was kept in contexts of social struggle in which a continuity, if not a development, with earlier moral and political conflicts was suggested.

* cited in Andrea McKenzie, “The Real Macheath: Social Satire, Appropriation, and Eighteenth-Century Criminal Biography,” Huntington Library Quarterly, December 2006

** Ainsworth is also known for a novel about Sheppard’s near-contemporary, highwayman Dick Turpin.

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1780: Five for the Gordon Riots

1 comment July 11th, 2011 Headsman

This date in 1780 saw three men and two women hanged at various spots around London for the previous month’s Gordon Riots. They were the first five souls among 19 who would suffer the last extremity of the law for that disturbance.

The eponymous Protestant Lord George Gordon, had inflamed a mob against the 1778 Papists Act, which disencumbered British Catholics of some of their legal disabilities. (In part to pad out the redcoat ranks as the army found itself stretched thin by the American Revolution.)

The Gordon Riots started from Lord Gordon’s march on Parliament to serve it an anti-Catholic petition, and turned into five days of anti-Catholic mayhem before the troops were finally called out to quell it. (The want of a standing professional police force was among the deficiencies London encountered.)


This did not help Britain’s diplomatic overtures towards Habsburg Austria.

But the matter metastasized well beyond a merely sectarian event: a mass rally originating in the working-class Moorfields took an unmistakable class dynamic — assailing Newgate Prison and The Clink, liberating convicts in the process. The latter dungeon would never resume operations. “Crimping houses” for impressed sailors and “sponging houses” imprisoning debtors were also liberated.

Alongside white sailors and day laborers, London’s emerging black population would feature prominently in this affair. A “copper coloured person,” a former slave named John Glover, was observed at the front rank of those torching Newgate. Peter Linebaugh attributes to Glover the incendiary (and, as it turned out, credible) threat, “Damn you, Open the Gate or we will Burn you down and have Everybody out.” (Glover was condemned to death, but reprieved for likely-fatal servitude on the African coast.)

Three of the five executed in London on this date were hanged at Tower Hill, including both women, Mary Roberts and Charlotte Gardiner. Gardiner, like Glover, was an African; she and Roberts had helped sack the house of an Italian Catholic innkeeper.

Although nineteen folks put to death within a month and a half hardly constitutes giving the rioters a pass, it’s somewhat striking in view of the unabashedly anti-authority conflagration in hemp-happy 18th-century England that the death toll wasn’t greater. And it could have been: in a treatment in the December 1997 History Today, Marika Sherwood reports that fully 326 people were tried for some role in the Gordon Riots. But elites’ sense of the situation may well be captured by Edmund Burke’s remark,

If I understand the temper of the publick at this moment a very great part of the lower, and some of the middling people of this city, are in a very critical disposition, and such as ought to be managed with firmness and delicacy.

Less than two score were actually condemned to death for all this mess, and barely half of them were actually executed.


The 19th century writer Charles Dickens set his very first historical novel,* Barnaby Rudge, during the riots, and has his fictitious lead characters among the crops doomed to the scaffold.

(As we have seen several times, Dickens abhorred public executions, a circumstance also apparent in this passage.)

Barnaby would have mounted the steps at the same time — indeed he would have gone before them, but in both attempts he was restrained, as he was to undergo the sentence elsewhere. In a few minutes the sheriffs reappeared, the same procession was again formed, and they passed through various rooms and passages to another door — that at which the cart was waiting. He held down his head to avoid seeing what he knew his eyes must otherwise encounter, and took his seat sorrowfully, — and yet with something of a childish pride and pleasure, — in the vehicle. The officers fell into their places at the sides, in front and in the rear; the sheriffs’ carriages rolled on; a guard of soldiers surrounded the whole; and they moved slowly forward through the throng and pressure toward Lord Mansfield‘s** ruined house.

It was a sad sight — all the show, and strength, and glitter, assembled round one helpless creature — and sadder yet to note, as he rode along, how his wandering thoughts found strange encouragement in the crowded windows and the concourse in the streets; and how, even then, he felt the influence of the bright sky, and looked up, smiling, into its deep unfathomable blue. But there had been many such sights since the riots were over — some so moving in their nature, and so repulsive too, that they were far more calculated to awaken pity for the sufferers, than respect for that law whose strong arm seemed in more than one case to be as wantonly stretched forth now that all was safe, as it had been basely paralysed in time of danger.

Two cripples — both mere boys — one with a leg of wood, one who dragged his twisted limbs along by the help of a crutch, were hanged in this same Bloomsbury Square. As the cart was about to glide from under them, it was observed that they stood with their faces from, not to, the house they had assisted to despoil; and their misery was protracted that this omission might be remedied. Another boy was hanged in Bow Street; other young lads in various quarters of the town. Four wretched women,† too, were put to death. In a word, those who suffered as rioters were, for the most part, the weakest, meanest, and most miserable among them. It was a most exquisite satire upon the false religious cry which had led to so much misery, that some of these people owned themselves to be Catholics, and begged to be attended by their own priests.

One young man was hanged in Bishopsgate Street, whose aged grey-headed father waited for him at the gallows, kissed him at its foot when he arrived, and sat there, on the ground, till they took him down. They would have given him the body of his child; but he had no hearse, no coffin, nothing to remove it in, being too poor — and walked meekly away beside the cart that took it back to prison, trying, as he went, to touch its lifeless hand.


Gordon himself, an odd duck, had better resources than these poor saps, and repelled a treason prosecution.

However, fate still ordained him a death in Newgate Prison — by illness many years later, after being convicted of defaming Marie Antoinette. By that time, the former Anglican rabble-rouser had converted to Orthodox Judaism, circumcision and all.

* The first of just two historical novels for Dickens; the second, of course, was A Tale of Two Cities.

** We’ve met Lord Mansfield before, articulating the jurisprudence of a slave society. His home was also targeted by Moorsfield rioters.

† Dickens is wrong about “four wretched women” being hanged: Gardiner and Roberts, our day’s pair, were the only two. Evidently, though, these two were arresting enough in the public conscience to forge “memories” of entire cartloads of ladies gone to Tyburn. (n.b.: none of the Gordon Rioters were hanged at Tyburn, either.)

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1719: Nicholas Horner, a minister’s son

3 comments April 3rd, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1719, Nicholas Horner was hanged for his highwayman career.

Actually, he was lucky to have made it to his thirties, having dodged the noose thanks to the old man after his first condemnation.

THIS unhappy wretch was the younger son of the minister of Honiton, in Devonshire, and was a very wild untoward child even from infancy. However, his indulgent father, in order to provide for him, bestowed as much learning upon him as qualified him to be clerk to an attorney … but he soon falling into extravagant company, and addicting himself very much to drunkenness and whoredom, ran away from his master before he had served him three years, and betook himself to the highway in order to support himself in the pursuit of those vices. He had such ill luck, nevertheless, in his new profession, as to be taken in the very first robbery he attempted to commit, and accordingly … brought to trial and condemned. However, his father made such interest for him at Court that Queen Anne, who was always known to have a great veneration for the clergy, in consideration of his father’s being one of that order, was prevailed upon to grant him a pardon, upon condition of his being transported out of her Majesty’s dominions, and not settling in any part of Europe for the term of seven years, within six months after his going out of jail.

The Newgate text then indulges a picturesque excursion to the hinterlands, with Horner shipped to India and his English wife being carried off by the Hindoos, then obliged to undergo self-immolation when her Indian husband died.

We rejoin Horner having returned home to find his parents dead. He quickly blew his inheritance and “had again recourse to the highway.”

A slow-moving highway, since his stickup schtick took some time to unfold.

One day, being upon his rambles in quest of prey, and coming up with a rich farmer — “Well overtaken, friend,” said Horner; “methinks you look melancholy: pray what may be your affliction? If you are under any misfortunes by crosses and losses in the world, perhaps it may be in my power to relieve you.” The farmer very frankly replied: “Ah! dear sir, were I to say that I have had any losses in the world, I should be telling a great lie; for I have been a thriving man all my lifetime, and should want for nothing had I but content. But indeed I have crosses enough, through a damned scolding wife at home … Wherefore, could any man tell me a remedy that would cure it, I have a hundred pounds about me in gold and silver which I would freely give him with all my heart for so great a benefit as I should receive by taming this confounded shrew.”

At the mention of the agreeable name of a hundred pounds Horner pricked up both his ears and answered: “Sir, I will first tell you the ingredients which enter into the composition of a scold, and the cause of a distemper being truly known, ’twill be the more easy to complete the cure. You must understand, then, that Nature, in making an arrant scold, first took of the tongues and galls of bulls, bears, wolves, magpies, parrots, cuckoos and nightingales, each a like number; the tongues and tails of vipers, adders, snails and lizards, six apiece; aurum fulminans, aqua fortis and gunpowder, of each one pound; the clappers of seventeen bells and the pestles of thirty apothecaries’ mortars. These being all mixed together, she calcined them in Mount Strombolo, and dissolved the ashes in water taken just under London Bridge at three-quarters’ flood; she then filtrated the whole through the leaves of Calepine’s Dictionary, to render the operation more verbose, after which she distilled it a second time through a speaking trumpet, and closed up the remaining spirits in the mouth of a cannon.

“Then she opened the graves of all newly deceased pettifoggers, mountebanks, barbers, coffee-men, newsmongers and fishwives from Billingsgate, and with the skin of their tongues made a bladder, which she covered over drum-heads, and filled with storms, tempests, whirlwinds, thunder and lightning; and in the last place, to make the whole composition the more churlish, she cut a vein under the tongue of the dog-star, extracting from thence a pound of the most choleric blood, and then, sublimating the spirits, she mixed them up with the foam of a mad dog, and putting all together in the fore-mentioned bladder stitched them up therein with the nerves of Socrates’ wife.”

“A damned compound indeed this is,” rejoined the farmer. “Surely it must be impossible at this rate for any man to tame a scold.” “Not at all,” continued Horner; “for when she first begins to be in her fits, which you may perceive by the bending of her brows, then apply to her a plaster of good words; after that give her a wheedling potion, and if that will not do, take a birch rod and apply the same with a strong arm from shoulder to flank, according to art; that will infallibly complete the cure.” The farmer, being very well pleased with the prescription, not only gave Horner many thanks, but a good treat at the next inn they came to. Afterwards they rode on together again, and when they came to a convenient place, said Horner: “Will you be pleased to pay me now, sir, for the good advice I have given you?” “I thought, sir,” answered the farmer, “that the treat I gave you in return was sufficient satisfaction.” “No, sir,” quoth Horner, “you promised a hundred pounds, and, d–n me, sir,” continued he, presenting a pistol to his breast, “deliver your bag this instant, or you are a dead man.” At this rough compliment the farmer delivered it to him; but not without a hearty curse or two, and swearing withal that his wife should pay dearly for it the first time he tried the experiment of the birch rod upon her.

Evidently some kind-hearted fellow-bandit, or a target with appointments to keep, or something, helped tighten up Horner’s delivery.

Not long after this exploit Horner met with a gentleman upon Hounslow Heath, whom he saluted with the terrifying words: “Stand and deliver.”

(whew.)

Whereupon the person assaulted gave him what money he had about him, amounting to about six guineas, and said to him: “Truly, sir, you love money better than I do, to venture your neck for it.” “I only follow the general way of the world, sir,” quoth Horner, which now prefers money before either friends or honesty, yea, some before the salvation of their souls; for it is the love of gold that makes an unjust judge take a bribe; a corrupt lawyer plead a wrong cause in defiance of truth and justice; a physician kill a man whom he pretends to cure, without fear of hanging; a surgeon keep a patient long in hand, by laying on one plaster to heal, and two to draw his wound. ‘Tis gold that makes the tradesman tell every day a thousand lies behind the counter, in putting off his bad wares; ’tis that makes the butcher blow his veal, the tailor covet so much cabbage, the miller take toll twice, the baker wear a wooden cravat, and the shoemaker stretch his leather as he does his conscience. In short, ’tis that makes gentlemen of the pad, as I am, wear a Tyburn tippet, or old Storey’s cap, on some country gallows, which all of our noble profession value no more than you, sir, do the losing of this small trifle of six guineas.”

Social criticism of this sort is often put into the mouths of the Newgate Calendar’s evildoers, and in particular its gentleman robbers; note the very close parallel of this last critique to that supposedly uttered by James Withrington.

It is, in fact, essential to the highwayman archetype, and an identity real-life highwaymen intentionally played to — the gentleman thief (mirrored by contemporaries in the Golden Age of Piracy), who here opposes, and there merely parallels, the ascendant order of capitalism.

The complexity of 18th century England’s relationship to the highwayman, filtered through a blossoming mass media, has much exercised later historians: where does a pattern of speech like this fit in its milieu? Can one find in a highwayman’s travesty of bourgeois values, with Linebaugh, an expression of class resistance, or is he merely a failed satirist? Does he truly oppose — or does the futile romance of the road waste genuine opposition on escapism?*

The qualities of resistance, satire and escapism were well-known to the 18th century. That century’s smash theatrical hit, The Beggar’s Opera, staged the noble rogue’s critique to packed houses, and to the dismay of the moralistic element.

Since laws were made for every degree,
To curb vice in others, as well as me,
I wonder we han’t better company,
Upon Tyburn Tree!
But gold from the law can take out the sting;
And if rich men like us were to swing,
‘Twould thin the land, such numbers to string
Upon Tyburn Tree!

Decades later, highwaymen like Paul Lewis were still humming this tune en route to the gallows and self-consciously playing “Macheath”.

Nicholas Horner was hanged before The Beggar’s Opera debuted, but he — either the man or the character — had more sharp words for another keystone of propriety, holy wedlock. Whether this is the voice of the robber or his interlocutor, we may venture (given the shrew-taming digression above), that it’s someone whose domicile was less than blissful.

Horner overtook, beyond Maidenhead Thicket, a young man and a young woman who were going to be married at Henley-upon-Thames, with a couple of bridesmen and bridesmaids.

These he presently attacked … [and] demanded also the wedding-ring, for which the intended bridegroom entreated him yet more earnestly than for his money; but Horner being resolutely bent upon having it, they delivered it to him; whereupon he said: “You foolish young devils, do you know what you are going about? Are you voluntarily going to precipitate yourselves into inevitable ruin and destruction, by running your heads into the matrimonial noose with your eyes open? Do you know it is an apprenticeship for life, and a hard one too? You had better be ruled by me, and take one another’s words; and if you do, you’ll find in taking my counsel that it is the best day’s work you ever did since the hour of your birth.”

Ah, for the days when intercity transit entailed the omnipresent prospect of a gentlemanly robbery.

Let’s conclude on a light note — since we know the end of the story, after all — and picture whether this escaped mugging constituted news-you-can-use for broadsheet readers of a thespian bent.

Not long after this exploit a lady of distinction, being alone in the stage-coach … was informed by the coachman … that if her ladyship had any things of value about her, it would be her best way to secure them as well as she could, for he saw several suspicious fellows scouting up and down the heath … [T]he lady put her gold watch, a purse of guineas and a very fine suit of laced head-cloths under her seat. This done she dishevelled her hair in a very uncouth manner all over her head and shoulders, by which time Horner had ridden up to her, and presenting a pistol into the coach demanded her money.

Hereupon the lady … [acted] the part of a lunatic, which she did to the life, for opening the coach door and leaping out, and taking Horner by one of his legs, she shrieked out in a most piteous and lamentable shrill voice: “Ah! dear Cousin Tom, I am glad to see you. I hope you will now rescue me from this rogue of a coachman, who is carrying me, by that villain my husband’s order, to Bedlam for a madwoman.” “D— me,” replied Horner, “I am none of your cousin; I don’t know you. I believe you are mad indeed, so Bedlam is the fittest place for you.” “Ah! Cousin Tom,” said the lady again, “but I will go along with you; I won’t go to Bedlam.” She then clung close to Horner and his horse, and counterfeited lunacy with such dexterity that he really thought it natural, and asked the coachman: “Do you know this mad b—h? “Yes,” replied the coachman, “I know the lady very well she is sadly distracted, for she has torn her head-cloths all to pieces and thrown them away as we came along; and I am now going with her by her husband’s orders to London, to put her into a madhouse, where she may be cured; but not into Bedlam, as she supposes.” “E’en take her then along with you to the devil, if you will,” said Horner in a passion, “for I thought to have met with a good purchase, and I find now there is nothing to be got of this mad toad.” So he set spurs to his horse and rode away as fast as he could, for fear of being plagued any more with her, for she seemed mighty fond of her cousin, and ran a good way after him; but after he was gone out of sight she was better pleased with his absence than his company, and got safe to London.

* The issues at stake, and the literature on them, are explored at length in Andrea McKenzie’s “The Real Macheath: Social Satire, Appropriation, and Eighteenth-Century Criminal Biography,” Huntington Library Quarterly December 2006, Vol. 69, No. 4, Pages 581–605.

Part of the Themed Set: Selections from the Newgate Calendar.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Outlaws,Pelf,Public Executions,Theft

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1783: John Austin

12 comments November 3rd, 2007 Headsman

On this date in 1783, highwayman John Austin was hanged at Tyburn for robbing and murdering John Spicer on the road to London.

The village Tyburn on the outskirts of London had been used for public hangings dating to the 12th century. Though not the only site of executions in London, it was the iconic one. Situated at the modern intersection of Edgware and Bayswater Roads on the northeast corner of Hyde Park, the distinctive “Tyburn tree” — a triangular gallows capable of hanging over twenty prisoners simultaneously — made a foreboding landmark round which teemed thousands of spectators on execution days. Some 1,200 people were executed on this singular device.

Public executions typically began four kilometers away at Newgate Prison, where the condemned were loaded into ox carts for a two-to-three-hour procession through public streets now at the very core of London, perhaps including stops at public ale houses.


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While Tyburn carved its niche during England’s age of religious bloodletting, its social role had changed significantly by the 18th century. Most of the doomed were offenders against property, often executed for stealing negligible sums or else reprieved for transport to the New World or, later, Australia. Peter Linebaugh’s The London Hanged intriguingly suggests that hangings of this era were an assertion of nascent capitalism, violently throwing off the remains of feudal labor relations. (Summarized more thoroughly in this friendly review.)

Even that formative age was receding. Once a neighboring village, Tyburn had been swallowed up by the city; a generation before Austin’s death, residents of the now-upscale neighborhood had successfully pushed for the removal of the macabre “Tyburn tree”.

Austin was hanged, instead, on a portable gallows, a typical penitent imploring heavenly mercy and taking 10 minutes to strangle to death — the very last execution at that somber and storied crossroads.

Here’s the story of the Tyburn hangings from London writer Peter Ackroyd:

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