The Journey of the condemned

london noose smallAs a crime fiction author, I spend much of my time untangling the stories in my head into tales and finding an appropriate abode. This story, however, seems to warrant some coverage of its own.

The venue

The London gallows moved from the site at Tyburn (modern day Marble Arch) in 1783 and relocated to Newgate where public executions continued outside the prison until 1868.  These were great crowd pullers with people in Charles Dickens’ time even hiring seats at a public house opposite the prison called The Magpie and Stump, so they could get a better view than those in the crowd in the street below.

The Old Bailey now stands on the site of the former Newgate Prison and to this day part of the old prison, known as “Dead Man’s Walk” can still be seen.  This was the route along a gradually narrowing passageway, from the condemned cell to the gallows situated just outside the prison walls.

The last journey

As the ill-fated soul neared the end of the walk they entered “The Bird Cage” which was a space between the walls of the prison and the gallows with netting overhead, from which the prisoner stepped out onto the gallows and faced the crowd assembled to watch him or her die.

The night before an execution a verse would be read outside the door of their cell;

All ye that in the condemned hold do lie,

Prepare you for tomorrow you shall die,

Watch all and pray: the hour is drawing near

That you before the almighty must appear;

Examine well yourselves in time repent,

That you may not to eternal flames be sent.

And when St Sephulcres’ bell in the morning tolls

The Lord above have mercy on your soul.

At the nearby church of St Sephulcres the Execution Bell was rung the night before a hanging.

A prayer of preparation

In earlier times, carts carrying the condemned from Newgate to the gallows that were then situated at Tyburn would stop briefly outside the church whilst a short sermon was delivered, although whether this fortified them as much as the drink they consumed on their last journey is an open question.

The last person to be hanged in public outside Newgate Prison and indeed Great Britain was Michael Barrett in May 1868. A member of the political movement the Fenians . Michael was the last man to be publicly hanged in England, for his part in the Clerkenwell bombing in December 1867.

Executions then took place inside the prison and continued until 1964, When Peter Anthony Allen was hung for his part in the murder of John Alan West.  Although the penalty was not applied thereafter, it was not actually abolished finally until 1998!

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