Up to 1871 all hangings in Britain used the "short drop" where the prisoner only dropped a few inches and usually died by slow strangulation that could typically take up to 15 minutes. The more fortunate died due to Vagal reflex (pressure on the Vagal nerve) which causes death very quickly. Occasionally the prisoner was later revived even after hanging for half an hour. There are several recorded cases of this where people lived for many years afterwards.

As a result of these incidents a slightly longer drop, of about 12 - 18 inches became normal to ensure that prisoners did not survive. However, this extra drop tended to cause them to suffer a more agonizing death as it was not long enough to break the neck - instead, the force of it tore the neck muscles and sometimes the skin. Hanging using a short drop is still used by some Middle Eastern countries; notably in Iran, Iraq and Libya.

In 1871 hangman William Marwood introduced the "long drop" method which is thought to have been invented by doctors in Ireland. It removed most of the prisoner's physical suffering and made the whole process far less traumatic for the officials who now had to witness it in the confines of the execution cell instead of in the open air. The long drop method was designed to break the prisoners' neck by allowing them to fall a pre-determined distance and then be brought up with a sharp jerk by the rope.

At the end of the drop the body is still accelerating under the force of gravity but the head is constrained by the noose which delivers a massive blow to the back and one side of the neck which - combined with the downward momentum of the body - breaks the neck and ruptures the spinal cord. This is thought to cause instant unconsciousness and rapid death. The drop given was usually between 4 and 10 feet depending on the weight and strength of the prisoner. The actual amount being calculated to provide a final "striking" force of approximately 2200 lbs force (one ton) which - combined with the positioning of the eyelet of the noose normally under the left angle of the jaw (the submental position) - causes fracture and dislocation of the neck usually at the second and third or fourth and fifth cervical vertebrae.

From A NEW HANDBOOK ON HANGING by CHARLES DUFF of Gray's Inn, Barrister-at-Law

Being a short Introduction to the fine Art of Execution containing much useful information on Neck-breaking, Throttling, Strangling, Asphyxiation, Decapitation and Electrocution; Data and Wrinkles on Hangmanship; with the late Mr Hangman Berry's Method and his pioneering List of Drops; to which is added an Account of the Great Nuremberg Hangings; a Ready Reckoner for Hangmen; and many other items of interest.

All very Proper to be read and kept in every Family

(From the Introduction)

Readers of this handbook enjoy a rare privilege in that they have here the only book in the English language which presents a comprehensive statement on one of England's oldest institutions. When the Germanic tribes of Angles, Saxons and Jutes honoured this country in A.D. 449 by invading it, they brought hanging with them as an improtant element in their culture. It was then that the benighted Britons first made its acquaintance. Hengest and Horsa and their colleagues used a very rough and out-of-hand method, but it seems to have worked well enough for nearly a millenium and a half; the complaints recorded are few.

In the nineteenth century the mechanics of hanging came under scientific scrutiny - it was a great age of science - although there was no real demand for it. Certain suggestions and "improvements" were adopted, after which sweeping claims were made that the newly-introduced dislocation trick was a vast improvement on the old method of simple strangulation. It was certainly better for the ireduced company of onlookers, though not necessarily better for the person hanged even if it sometimes speeded up the ceremony. The simple truth is that, in spite of all the progress we have witnessed in science in our own time, it is not yet possible for the greatest physician to define the exact moment when a hanged man ceases to feel pain. The same applies to a hanged woman.

Nevertheless the new method has many advantages, one of them of political importance. Ever since then those who commend hanging as a method of capital punishment have been able to make propaganda with a set of meaningless catch-phrases: such as, for example, "death is almost instantaneous". And they still make this claim too often in the knowledge that the unphilosophical man in the street will swallow the little word "almost" without ever realising that, in relation to hanging, it can allow for a period of time which might be only a couple of minutes, or might extend to a quarter of an hour, or, as has happened, much longer.

And yet, in recent years, a large numnber of people in this realm have grown uneasy about capital punishment in general and hanging in particular. It is no longer uncommon to hear good Conservatives saying, "The whole thing is barbarous," just as if they were red revolutionaries, or as if they were speaking of the behaviour of the Germanic gangs of Hengest and Horsa, who first established hanging amongst the people of this country. I have even heard a Conservative M.P. say that hanging is so barbarous that only barbarians can support it! This is a great change. It means far more than estimates of opinion based on polls, whose value on such a subject as hanging can be shaken from one day to the next by a change in the waves of emotion with which it is beset.

(From the Conclusion)

But enough has surely been said to show that, in Old England at least, hanging is well done from beginning to end. Let us forget the heads occasionally pulled off by bad hangmen, and the strangulation which may happen through no fault of the hangman. All we need remember are those impressive words uttered by the august judges: "To be hanged by the neck until dead." UNTIL DEAD - those are the operative words.

In executing the Judgement of Death, the hangman never fails. Nothing else matters to the State; and the hangman's place in our culture and civilization seems to be solid and assured.

Great Moments in British Hanging

Hanging has played a key role in the Great Tradition of British Executions since the 5th Century. Only given up in 1964, the Big Dangle was a long-standing favorite of judicial executioners, beating out such other hits as drowning, burying alive, boiling alive, hurling from cliffs, shooting, and that other popular method, beheading--all punishments at one time or another for capital crimes. What follows is a list of significant moments in the Rope Arts.

In the aftermath of fifteen hundred years of hanging, some people did have trouble letting go. Hanging comebacks were staged in Malaysia, where a couple of Britons died for drug trafficking, but it never really caught on again. It was a long and historic run, the longest run in execution history. No method of execution by judicial decree will likely ever match it.

In South Welsh slang, this is an adjective that describes something unpleasant or disagreeable. For example, upon encountering a pidgeon with exploded bowels, three days later, one might say 'that's hangin''.

This is opposed to 'lush'. 

Hang"ing, a.


Requiring, deserving, or foreboding death by the halter.

"What a hanging face!"



Suspended from above; pendent; as, hanging shelves.


Adapted for sustaining a hanging object; as, the hanging post of a gate, the post which holds the hinges.

Hanging compass, a compass suspended so that the card may be read from beneath. -- Hanging garden, a garden sustained at an artificial elevation by any means, as by the terraces at Babylon. -- Hanging indentation. See under Indentation. -- Hanging rail Arch., that rail of a door or casement to which hinges are attached. -- Hanging side Mining, the overhanging side of an inclined or hading vein. -- Hanging sleeves. (a) Strips of the same stuff as the gown, hanging down the back from the shoulders. (b) Loose, flowing sleeves. -- Hanging stile. Arch. (a) That stile of a door to which hinges are secured. (b) That upright of a window frame to which casements are hinged, or in which the pulleys for sash windows are fastened. -- Hanging wall Mining, the upper wall of inclined vein, or that which hangs over the miner's head when working in the vein.


© Webster 1913.

Hang"ing, n.


The act of suspending anything; the state of being suspended.


Death by suspension; execution by a halter.


That which is hung as lining or drapery for the walls of a room, as tapestry, paper, etc., or to cover or drape a door or window; -- used chiefly in the plural.

Nor purple hangings clothe the palace walls. Dryden.


© Webster 1913.

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