Vendors set up their carts and booths hours before execution time, doing a roaring trade selling food, drink, souvenirs, even pornographic material, to a frenzied crowd. Minstrels and jugglers entertained the crowd. With the advent of cheap printing in the 16th and 17th centuries, touts created lurid “broadsheets” detailing the supposed history and scandalous crimes of the victim, the precursors to modern day tabloids. These “broadsheets” sold like hotcakes to an excited audience. – The History of Executions in Olde London Towne- Roy Stevenson
Life was cheap in Georgian England as this 1817 broadside attests. Five criminals were executed in March 1817 for forgery, burglary, and robbery. Poor Elizabeth Fricker protested her innocence, but to no avail. Executions were public events, even during Jane Austen’s day, and one wonders if she ever saw a body left to rot on a gibbet, or if she cautiously avoided such sights and averted her eyes. In any event, crowds would gather early at the execution spot to witness the hanging. They came in droves especially if the execution was of a notorious person.
Vendors set up stalls, selling drinks and refreshments to the large crowd, which, as the Hogarth illustration shows, were stacked on top of each other. The atmosphere must have been festive and somber at the same time, for even though there were jugglers and entertainers to amuse the crowd, a certain “execution” protocol was followed. Criminals were expected to speak to the crowd and to die well.
Broadsides, which were purchased for a pittance (in this instance a penny) described the crimes in detail, and were purchased much like programs to sporting events are purchased today. Read the entire broadside here. This particular broadside was printed by J. Pitts of Seven Dials. Like other broadsides, it featured an illustration of the execution. Someone (the purchaser?) carefully penned in the date below the image.
Executions of criminals: more generally known by the uninviting name of “Dying speeches.”. Execution broadside (Andrew Savage, Ben Savage, Thomas Cann, William Kelly, Elizabeth Fricker, James Baker, James Gates)
Harvard Law School Library
09 June 2011
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