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.
- 5th Century. Hanging first appears on the Anglo-Saxon execution scene.
- 1196: Sedition brings William Fitz Osbert to Tyburn; he is the first to hang there.
- 1500: People are informed of what they're getting themselves into when a list of eight capital crimes is released. The following become serious no-no's: treason, petty treason, murder, robbery, larceny, rape and arson. Thousands lose their jobs.
- June 1st, 1571: The craze begins to catch on. Tyburn gets a permanent gallows known as the Triple Tree. Grand opening features traitor John Storey, who gets drawn and quartered at the after-party.
- June 23rd, 1649: Britain reopens under new management. Eight carts are required to hang twenty three men and one woman for burglary and robbery. The largest single hanging event of all time, shattering previous records.
- 1671: The Coventry Act makes a sequel to the Capital Crimes list. Waiting around with the intent to put out an eye, cut out someone's tongue, or slit someone's nose becomes punishable by death. The law is based on true events--Sir John Coventry had his nose slit by an attacker in Covent Garden.
- 1686: Alice Molland plays the role of 'Last Woman to be Hanged' in the Witchcraft series finale.
- 1723: In an industry starved for material, the Waltham Blacks Act is introduced. Over a few years, it adds 120 more capital crimes to what had previously been a list of 30. Everything from poaching to blacking the face or using a disguise while committing a crime is added.
- 1759: The Triple Tree comes down, ending an historic era in cart-based handing. It is replaced by a portable, trap-based gallows.
- 1760: The Fourth Earl of Ferrers, Lawrence Shirley, attends the premiere. He killed one of his servants.
- 1783: Tyburn closes for good with John Austin in his farewell performance. Later that year, the new Debtors Door location at Newgate opens.
- 1780s: The bottom starts to drop out when legislation under the Black Act replaces hanging with Transportation for many capital crimes. Australia becomes a new industry hotspot as the beginning of the 19th Century sees a 64% decline in London hangings.
- 1793: Petty treason is declassified as a crime, becoming just another form of murder. People have increasing difficulty getting arrested in this town.
- 1808: Underage children Michael Hammond (aged 7) and his sister (age 11) are executed at Lynn for felony. They are admitted without their parents.
- 1818-1861: Stealing sheep, cattle and horses are dropped from the list, along with sacrilege, letter stealing, returning from transportation, forgery, burglary, rape and attempted murder. Such content restrictions pummel the industry, which finds itself having tons of gallows and nothing to show on them.
- 1861: The noose tightens as the Criminal Law Consolidation Act reduces the capital crimes list to murder, treason, mutiny and piracy.
- 1868: Locations close around the country with the last public hangings in Scotland and Newgate, and the last public hanging of a woman at Maidstone. All that remain are select private hangings.
- 1908: The Children's Act bans the execution of persons under the age of sixteen. It is the end of the teen hangings.
- 1946: William Joyce, aka Lord Haw Haw is the last to hang for treason.
- 1955: The last female of the hanging stage, Ruth Ellis, retires.
- 1963: Scotland sees its last hanging, that of Henry Burnett, for murder.
- 1964: The sun finally sets on the British Hanging Empire on August 13th at 8:00AM with the executions of Peter Anthony Allen and John Robson Walby.
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.