The street outside Shire Hall was completely full of people. Many had been waiting since dawn. A large group of women had taken a position in the nearby St Mary’s graveyard and had been there since the early hours; their elevated position afforded an excellent view of the gallows. Every available upper storey window in the street was filled with spectators. Some occupied the roof of any nearby building they could access. The Colwick murderer had drawn the biggest crowd ever to witness an execution at Shire Hall, from all walks of life and from far and wide.
The crowd at the execution, Wednesday, August 7, was immense. It was wonderful to see what countless thousands were packed together. As far as the eye could reach from the scaffold, in front of the County Hall, nothing could be beheld but a sea of heads. Eight was the hour of execution, but every available space was occupied long before it arrived. Occasionally, there came a cry from the mighty surging mass that a man, woman, or youth, was fainting, or being crushed to death; and if the sufferer was fortunate enough not to be entirely bereft of strength, he or she was lifted up, and permitted to walk or creep to the extremity of the crowd on the shoulders of the people.
In the grand jury room, Saville turned to the prison governor Mr Brierley and asked “Is it time”. The governor nodded and the procession formed up. The prison chaplain stood in front of the prisoner by the door and the hangman stood at the rear, holding his coiled rope. The door was opened and as the procession began a huge noise greeted Saville as he stepped outside, holding a white cap in his bound hands. The chaplain led the way, climbing the steps up onto the scaffold. Saville followed, being helped by the hangman. The scaffold was designed to hang three prisoners at once; as Saville was the only condemned man the hangman placed his feet carefully over the middle trapdoor. At this point Saville looked into the crowd and recognising a face in the sea of people, nodded once.
The mob continued with their groans and yells of execration. They had come to see Saville hang but many hoped he would say something in his final minutes.
The hangman then threw his rope over the long black beam and tied it off, being careful to leave a small amount of slack for the drop. He then took the white cap from Savilles hands, tied behind his back. This was the signal for the Chaplain to begin his final prayer. The hangman then quickly left the scaffold, climbed down the steps and scurried beneath the black calico. The crowd were all still and silent now and waited in great anticipation. The Chaplain reached the end of his prayer by saying “In the midst of life we are in death”. This was the signal for the hangman. The time was three minutes past eight. He pulled hard on a long iron bolt and the trapdoor opened. Savilles feet and lower legs crashed through the scaffold, and the rope quickly tightened around his neck. His chest was seen to rise and fall two times and then he too was still.
That there was no speech created a great feeling of disappointment and some in the crowd called “Now for a rush”. Many also wished to relieve themselves of the great pressure caused by the crowd.
Almost immediately after, the mighty crowd broke, as it were, in the middle. The anxiety, deep and general, to witness the spectacle, was succeeded by an equally general and still deeper desire to get away from the overpowering and suffocating pressure. The result was positively awful. The greater portion of the house-doors along the Pavement were closed, and those who were crushed against the wall by the terrific and resistless tide, had no means of escape.
The inhabitants, at the windows on each side the street, observed the overwhelming rush, and foreseeing the consequence, screamed out to those in the rear to stay their progress. The mayor was especially active, and though the almost threw himself out of his window for the purpose of staying the fatal advance, all was in vain: to halt, was to be overborne and destroyed. Heaps of victims were thrown down and trampled upon on the Pavement, and then the pent-up tide found an outlet at Garner’s-hill, down which it rolled with destructive velocity. Some fell in their involuntary descent of the steps, others became entangled with them and overthrown, and in a few seconds the steps and narrow thorough-fare was completely choked up. There the struggling mass lay-men, women, and children, promiscuously heaped together, and each moment receiving additions to its number. The shrieks of the female sufferers were fearful, though not protracted, for a very brief interval brought on either insensibility or the silence of death. Seldom has the eye beheld a sadder spectacle. The mass was literally writhing with agony. Many had dislocated or broken limbs – females could be seen struggling for life, divested almost totally of their exterior garments – and groans, mingled with hurried prayers and curses, resounded on every side. Scores of people were taken to the General Hospital in carts and wagons. Some were taken to the Union workhouse to be treated and others to the nearby dispensary.
Saville’s body was allowed to hang on the scaffold for an hour, after which it was taken down and his lifeless body was taken back into Shire Hall and laid out on the large table in the grand jury room. The two turnkeys then returned downstairs to continue their work in the courtyard. They had already levered up two large sandstone slabs and had started to dig a grave. Their picks cut out a shallow grave in the soft sandstone. Meanwhile in the jury room a crowd had gathered around Saville’s body. A number of doctors and surgeons gathered to witness the examination by the prison surgeon Mr Attenborough, who declared Saville to be dead. At this point a plaster cast of Saville’s head was made and some gentlemen were seen to be making some careful drawings of his head. The turnkeys were then called back to return Saville’s body to the condemned cell. Here they removed all of his clothing and placed it to one side. Without any ceremony his body was bundled into a sack which was tied up at the top. They turnkeys then carried the sack out and placed it in the newly dug grave, against the wall and halfway down the courtyard. Four buckets of lime were thrown over the sack and the grave then levelled with the sand previously dug out. A new stone slab then replaced one that had been removed. On it were carved two initials and a date; WS 1844.
Returning to the cell they found the hangman waiting for them. He had come to collect Saville’s clothing and in particular the brown surtout which Saville had worn on the day of the murders. Saville had requested the surtout be given to his brother in law. This wish was not to be fulfilled; it was the right of the hangman to take any possessions he required from an executed criminal as part of his payment. He would get a good price for the surtout and for the noose too. He had also been carefully cutting his rope into one inch lengths. He would have no problem selling these to the many women who believed a hanging rope had special powers and could cure skin blemishes. The going rate was a shilling an inch. The hangman received his fee of one guinea for his work from the under-Sherriff, then conducted some brisk business in a nearby Inn, representing himself as a friend of the executioner. He then quickly headed off toward London Road and left Nottingham before dark.
As night fell on the evening of Wednesday August 7th, only one body had been lain to rest. In the General Hospital a number of seriously injured people were starting to succumb to their injuries. They had come only to witness a public execution, a free spectacle that was about to exact a very high price for some.[i] / [ii]
[i] The Date-book of Remarkable and Memorable Events Connected with Nottingham and Its Neighbourhood: 1750-1850 John Frost Sutton
[ii] The Nottingham Journal Friday August 9th 1844