Hello again readers. I am still on the research trail for my first novel and have discovered the most infamous pie vendor of all time! ( No its not Sweeney Todd!) This is another one of my research files and the information here is made freely available to any other writers.
Searching for yet more background and detail for my story, I have been researching UK executioners and I came across probably the most notorious UK hangman of the 19th century . A cobbler by trade William joined other food vendors selling his pies near Newgate prison in London. Sales were always good when there was a hanging or two and it was here he met John Foxton, London’s hangman in the early 1800s. He then took up a new trade, flogging juveniles in Newgate for a fee of ten shillings a week. Flogging does seem to have been a required part of any executioner’s CV! When Foxton died he was replaced by William. His position paid one guinea a week plus an extra guinea for every hanging. He was given additional allowances for dispensing justice with birch rods and cat-o-nine tails. He went into action straight away with the double hanging of Thomas Lister and George Wingfield on 27 March 1829. His first female execution was that of Esther Hibner on April 13 1829.
In a career lasting 45 years William was credited with a total of at least 450 hangings, all of which were carried out via the short drop method. William was either an incompetent hangman or fancied himself as a showman. His victims would usually take a minimum of three minutes to die and sometimes much longer. He was known to clamber below the gallows and hang onto the dangling legs of those on the drop, his extra weight thereby speeding the condemned to eternity. He was also known to sit on the shoulders of those hanging , for the same purpose. William’s trade took him all over England and well into Scotland too. In 1868 a change in the law saw an end to public executions and the grisly trade moved inside prison walls. William was responsible for both the last public and the first private execution in that year. William’s final official duty was the hanging of James Godwin, on 25 May 1874. Born in 1800, William was still working as an executioner in his 70s!
William died at Poole Street in Hoxton on 13 December 1879. In his early days he was known for his fondness for breeding rabbits. Towards the end of his days he was described as “surly and sinister-looking, with long hair and beard, in scruffy black attire and a
fob chain”.He was replaced as hangman by Marwood who went on to develop the long drop method of hanging. However William Calcraft remains as the best known hangman of the nineteenth century……………………………………………..