'For the benefit of example': hanging felons at the scene of their crime in the long eighteenth century

Steve Poole (University of the West of England)
27 February 2013

In this talk Poole begins reconsidering popular assumptions about public executions during the long eighteenth century, focusing in particular on the act of hanging offenders at the scene of their crime. The podcast looks into the tradition of hanging felons at the so-called ‘usual place’ - or at the scene of their crime, in high profile cases - following a public procession, using a ladder or cart and drop. Poole details the flaws with this system, including the opportunity for rescue attempts and the ability for the felon to ‘play to the crowd’ and ‘solicit sympathy’. The seminar next looks at the replacement of this process at Tyburn, in which the hangings and processions are replaced in 1783, with a trap door and drop, which was seen as a signifier of modernity. The lack of a geographical pattern in terms of following suit to this new mechanism is noted, with it being detailed that many places changed the mechanism of the drop, though kept the procession and continued to do so at ‘the usual place’ or scene of the crime. With this in mind, Poole notes the paradox in the continuation of hanging felons at the scene of the crime in an age when the modernising and routinizing of hangings was policy. Highlighted are the reasons for this continuation, such as to make an example of the felon or with an aim to induce confession, in addition to the effects of doing so, including added cost.

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