Still researching some background detail for my story, I am on the trail of an executioner. There is an execution scene to write about and I have to do it justice ( oh dear another pun!). I always wondered why anyone would choose to be an executioner, I mean its not an obvious career path is it? Well it seems there was no shortage of recruits and for many centuries hangmen were themselves often criminals serving time for any number of offences. They still had to serve an apprenticeship mind, they couldnt just turn up with a long rope! Some started off by flogging fellow prisoners and in so doing ingratiated themselves with the prison management. From flogging they would then proceed to be assistants should there be a multiple hanging or two to take care of. This would give them the chance to learn the dark art via “hands-on” experience. In time they then became fully fledged hangmen and were entirely responsible for the whole process from start to finish.They would be expected to provide their own hemp rope plus a white cap/mask for the unfortunate condemned. Becoming a hangman also brought with it a release from their sentence, and their gaol!
Occasionally a hangman had to be recruited at short notice. It was not unknown for a booked hangman to fail to appear as many had a very serious problem with walking past an Inn or two. In Derby 1705 there was a serious shortage of hangmen. A father John Crossland and his two sons had just been sentenced to hang for horse stealing. After sentence was passed, the bench offered to pardon one if
he would hang the other two; the offer was first made to the father, who
declined, then the eldest son, who also declined, and then to John, the
youngest, who accepted it without remorse; he was afterwards hangman for this
and two or three of the neighbouring counties.
A fee was paid for every hanging which ranged from £5 to £10, a simply huge sum of money in Victorian England. Their remuneration didnt end with the fee. The hangman was also allowed to claim the clothing worn by the condemned at the hanging. This would be sold on to excited collectors and museum keepers for a good sum. The rope / noose itself was also keenly sought and would be cut into short lengths and sold off and then sold on again as a grisly talisman of the terminal event.
Not all hangmen were ex-cons and I will report about one such shortly who started out as a pie -seller…… and became one of Englands best known / notorious hangmen. This is one of my research files, any fellow writer may feel free to use any information here.
So was the executuioner in my story a pie-seller or an ex-con? Well I am sure he was one….. or the the other!