The Nottingham Journal carried a detailed account of the events of the week over three columns, with an initial editorial under the heading of Execution of Saville – Fearful Loss of Life
Extraordinary and cold blooded atrocity in cutting the throat of his wife and children, his unshrinking nerve and lack of feeling exhibited by him in the dock and stoic indifference to the consequences of his guilt since condemnation has excited the curiosity of the lower classes in the highest degree. All resulted in a greater concourse of people assembled at the execution to catch a sight of this inhuman monster. When the unhappy man was turned off, the immense crowd ruptured, a great rush to move away took place and a number of persons thrown down, and many trampled underfoot by the crowd above them.[i]
The Journal then presented an account The Parentage and Life of Saville communicated by Saville at different times to Rev W Butler, Chaplain of the Gaol. The article was very similar to the one printed by the Review though not identical. This was followed by full details of Saville’s confession before Thomas Nixon and then detailed his final hours and the reaction of the crowd immediately after the drop. The article was completed with a list of the twelve known dead.
The news printed by the Nottingham Mercury on August 9th was somewhat different, it did not include any particulars of the life and times of William Saville. Two separate paragraphs covered Saville’s execution and his confession. Under a third heading Dreadful Accident and Loss of Life it provided a most convincing explanation for the awful loss of life.
The dense mob, which occupied every spot from which a view of the drop could be obtained¸ received Saville at his appearance on the scaffold with groans and yells of execration, but this expression of hatred was not nearly so intense as might have been expected. The stubborn unbending disposition of the culprit induced the expectation that he would say something in denial or acknowledgment of his guilt, for the rumour that he had made a confession was not generally believed. The expeditious manner in which he was turned off( the time from his mounting the scaffold to the fatal moment being under two minutes) therefore created a general feeling of disappointment and the more tumultuous of the crowd immediately cried out “now for a rush”. This was no doubt helped forward by many with the view of relieving themselves from the dense pressure against which they had to stand, and by a band of pickpockets who had been unusually active and successful in their nefarious trade, for the purpose of affording them greater facilities for the furtherance of their objects. These and other causes have been assigned for the dreadful catastrophe which followed. Among the dead is numbered a brave fellow who sacrificed his own life in the hope of rescuing his fellow creatures who were in danger, and who actually saved the lives of several, some of whom afterwards assisted to carry away the lifeless corpse of their preserver.
The article was completed with an editorial comment
This melancholy and fatal accident will doubtless be the means of removing the place of execution to some spot less confined and dangerous.
A single sentence expressed the concerns felt by many; that the current place of execution was not safe and a new site was needed in Nottingham. Although the Mercury failed to provide details of Saville’s life, it made amends by bringing news of the Inqusition. As with the Colwick Inquisition, it brought the news to press before its rivals. It appeared in a small paragraph on a page deeper within the broadsheet under a heading The Late Awful Loss of Life.
The Coroner and Jury resumed their sittings on the bodies of twelve individuals suffocated or trampled to death at the execution of Wm Saville on Wednesday last. The inquiry took place at the Guild Hall and many respectable persons, including the mayor were present. A great number of witnesses were present and the proceedings did not close until the evening. It appeared from the evidence that no intention of doing mischief was perceptible, but that the crush of persons took place accidentally and apparently for the purpose of escaping the dense pressure to which those near the scaffold were subjected. The mob had been assembled from five’clock in the morning, and although the weather was cold, and a sharp wind blowing, the perspiration might be seen pouring from the faces of the crowd while no individual could possibly raise a hand above its head. As soon as the criminal was turned off, a rush took place, and a poor woman, not being able to bear up against it, fell down, and the mob bearing onwards, others were forced upon her or over her, and several persons were suffocated or fatally injured. The shrieks and cries were dreadful and others to escape made a rush down Garners Hill, which is a narrow outlet with five or six steps at the top. A number of persons lost their footing at these steps, and the mob passed over their bodies. Seven persons were taken up dead at this spot. The width of the street near the drop was stated to be 35 feet 8 inches and at Garners Hill, 29 feet and 8 inches. All the witnesses agreed that the street was much too confined for a place of execution, particularly where the criminal excited so much popular curiosity as did Saville. After two hours deliberation the jury returned the following verdict:-
“The jury is of the opinion that the deceased were accidentally thrown down in and by a crowd of people, who had been attending a public execution in the town of Nottingham, and were then and there trampled to death or suffocated.”
“The jury at the same time expressed their opinion that, considering the extensive excitement which prevailed, sufficient precaution was not taken by the proper authorities to prevent accident.”
The two first clauses of the verdict were agreed to unanimously; the last by a majority of two. The bodies of the deceased were removed by their friends during the day from the police station and the hospital.
The various churches and chapels were packed on the Sunday where the sermon of choice featured laments and tributes to the dead and comments on the catastrophe. At many of the dissenting places of worship “special” services were offered up in memory of those poor individuals who were so unexpectedly ushered into eternity.
The “proper authorities” for the execution were some of Nottingham’s most esteemed citizens. Full responsibility for the successful execution of sentenced criminals fell to the Sheriff, though it could be delegated to an under-Sheriff. The presence of the two under-Sheriffs on the scaffold pointed the finger of responsibility for one of Nottingham’s worst tragedies. Both gentlemen attended church on the Sunday, both deep in thought.[ii]
Copyright@ Michael Sheridan 2014
To be continued….