The closing executions

highwayman.jpg-smallA man called Robert Snooks who is reputed to be the last highwayman to be hanged for robbery died in the best highwayman tradition.  The Judge at his trial directed that he be hanged at the scene of his last crime on Boxmoor, a wild area as it once was near modern day Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire.

The highwayman made his last journey to Boxmoor, apparently in good spirits and stopped at a public house which is still there known as The Swan Inn on Box Lane to have a last glass of ale.  As some spectators on the way to the execution passed by he is said to have called out:

“Don’t hurry – there’ll be no fun till I get there!”.

The final address

Before being hanged Snooks gave a final address to the assembled crowd which was recorded as follows:

“Good people, I beg your particular attention to my fate.  I hope this lesson will be of more service to you than the gratification of the curiosity which brought you here.
I beg to caution you against evil doings, and most earnestly entreat you to avoid too evils, namely Disobedience to Parents – to you youths I particularly give this caution – and, The Breaking Of The Sabbath.
These misdeeds lead to the worst of crimes: robbery, plunder, bad women and every evil cause.

It may by some be thought a happy state to be in possession of fine clothes and plenty of money but I assure you no one can be happy with ill-gotten treasure.
I have often been riding on my horse and passed a cottager’s door whom I have seen dressing his greens and perhaps had hardly a morsel to eat with them.  He has very likely envied me in my station, who although at the time in possession of abundance was miserable and unhappy.  I envied him and with most reason for his happiness and contentment.

I can assure you there is no happiness but in doing good.  I justly suffer for my offences and hope it will be a warning to others.  I die in peace with god and all the world.”

All is gone but the pudding stone

The eloquent Snooks was then hanged and buried in a grave nearby.  Two pieces of pudding stone, which is a particular type of Hertfordshire stone, mark the spot.

Most people will be familiar with the oft quoted line from Shakespeare’s King Henry Vl, namely the remark by the ploter of treachery Dick the Butcher who says:

“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers”.

Many people have enjoyed repeating this. Few people will be aware that the last Solicitor in the British Isles to be hanged was one Herbert Rowse Armstrong who was hanged in 1923 for murder.

It seems that lawyers are universally unpopular.  It is said that the last mafia boss to be electrocuted when asked if he had a final request said:

“Would you please put my lawyer in my lap”.

How unkind.

The mark of our time

The famous artist Andy Warhol said:- “In the future everybody will be world famous for 15 minutes”.

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In this world of short lived media publicity or celebrity of an individual or phenomenon, the prediction rings true but the reality is otherwise.

The overwhelming majority of humanity will be born, live and die in anonymity at least as far as the wider world is concerned beyond their own family and friends. 

The same is true of those who went before us.  Perhaps a faded photograph or two of somebody you might remember as a grandparent but in the photograph looking impossibly young and optimistic.  How did they leave their mark on the world?

The answer in my opinion is very much the same as you or I, by quietly getting on with it, working throughout their lives, supporting their families and when they eventually died leaving behind them only their flesh and blood as an inheritance for their descendants.
No matter how important we might consider that we are, even in this world of instant and mass communication, our lives are essentially no different to theirs in that respect.

In the wider sense of leaving a mark, we are surrounded every day by the marks of our forebears.  In the countryside it is largely manmade and man shaped and in the towns and cities all of which reflect the work of generations which went before us.

As you grow older and have more perspective on life, you cannot help but admire and in so doing honour the memory of all those unsung and largely anonymous individuals who quietly got on with it and did what had to be done before passing on the baton to the next generation that took their place.

They live, locked in our memories, as long as we do and when we pass, perhaps successive generations may at least for a while remember us.  We can hope for no more.

I hope you enjoyed my interpretation of what it means to leave your mark, and honour those before you.

Writing is deliberately taking over

tree-roots.jpg-smallWhat was once an occasional pursuit has slowly and deliberately crept its way into every aspect of my life like the roots of a determined perennial.

I now keep a table at my office especially for my creative endeavours, where from time to time when in need of a change of scene I go and sit down and write a little more of whatever story I am currently engaged with.

I normally write 1,000 – 2,000 words before stopping and then returning to do some of the “day job”. I am often amazed at my ability to jump in and out of a story with ease. However unexpected, I enjoy the balance between the two, the one providing a distraction and even relaxation from the other.

I do of course write at home as well when the opportunity presents itself but again would not normally write more than about 1,000 words at a time.

I often do not know what I am going to write next and in fact that is usually the case.  What I do is make sure I remember the last line that I have written and then think about something else and by the time I sit down to write again my subconscious imagination has had sufficient time to sort things out and the next part of the story comes out. It’s a bit like waiting for the birth of a baby.  It comes out at its own rate and won’t be hurried but if you are patient then it arrives naturally.

I don’t need to go and isolate myself in some silent room or library to be able to write.  I simply think about a story and write about it surrounded by people doing other things, just as you might read a book or listen to the radio under similar circumstances.

I wonder what will be next in my journey.