Today in London’s medical history: Rioting Tyburn crowd tries to rescue body of executed soldier from dissection, 1770.

• This was mistakenly entered in the hard copy of the calendar as the 15th February… one day out. Oops.• 

“Thomas Dunk, formerly of Bath, late a soldier in his majesty’s foot guards, now nineteen years old… being tired of the army, he solicited his discharge, determined to work at his trade; which proving very dull, he was easily led on to seek money in an unlawful way, for the supply of his necessities. And at the instance of Thomas Marshal, whom he unfortunately got acquainted with, when a soldier, he, in company with him, committed several robberies, for one of which he suffered.

Soon after his being apprehended, he was sent to Newgate, where he, with several others, formed a design to break the goal open, and set the prisoners at liberty; which they partly executed, and would in a very short time have compleated, were it not for the great attention, and watchful care of the master of the prison, to whom the thanks of the public in general, but more particularly of this city, is justly due, not only upon this account, but for his constant assiduity in discharging every part of his duty with justice to his employ, charity and humanity to the wretched criminals who come within his limits. Neither are his servants and turnkeys unworthy of notice, for their secresy and prudent behaviour till the particulars concerned were detected. Some of whom, notwithstanding the mercy and lenity of our most gracious sovereign, are found to be respites from death, not under confinement only for transportation, but full with sanguine hopes of a free pardon, from the pity and compassion of the best of princes, whose mercy and goodness is universally extended, not to his faithful, true, and loving subjects alone, but to those who, by transgressing both the laws of God and man, have forfeited their title to that life, which no mortal man on earth can restore.

This scheme of a general goal delivery, was first planned and attempted in manner following: while the goal smith was fixing and putting a lock on the door of an uninhabited room, one of the parties (under the pretence of curiosity) took the key to look at, and while the smith was at his work, with one of the turnkeys present, he, without the knowledge or notice of either, quickly took off the impression, by which afterwards a key was made, which admitted him and the accomplices (of whom Dunk was one, whose mother, as he confessed, brought in a small crow or tool of iron, for the said purpose) into this apartment, at convenient and fit times for their design, where they filed and cut almost every bar in the window, through which their escape was intended, and would have been accomplished, were it not for the divine favour and protection of almighty God, who always brings to light the hidden things of darkness, and by just and wise providence doth bring sin to shame and punishment, disappointing the hopes of wicked men, visiting their sins upon them in this present life, that he may deter others from their evil ways, and save their souls in the day of our Lord Jesus.” (John Wood, Ordinary of Newgate, 1770).

“After the execution a great disturbance happened, in consequence of a hearse being placed near the gallows, in order to receive the body of Dunk the soldier, which some of his comrades imagining was sent there by the surgeons, they knocked down the undertaker and after beating his men, drove off with the body along the New Road, attended by a prodigious concourse of people till they came to Gray’s-inn-lane, where they buried the corpse, after first breaking its legs and arms, and throwing a large quantity of unslacked lime into the coffin and the grave.” (Annual Register, February 1770)

From at least 1500s, until 1783, Tyburn was London’s main arena for public hangings. Today Marble Arch occupies the place feared and hated like no other in early modern London.

“Death by hanging, like most kinds o f death in the eighteenth century, was public. Not isolated from the community or concealed as an embarrassment to it, the execution of the death sentence was made known to every part of the metropolis and the surrounding villages. On the morning of a hanging day the bells of the churches o f London were rung buffeted. The cries of hawkers selling ballads and ‘Last Dying Speeches’ filled the streets. The last preparations for death in the chapel at Newgate were open to those able to pay the gaoler his fee. The malefactor’s chains were struck off in the press yard in front of friends and relations, the curious, the gaping and onlookers at the prison gate. The route of the hanging procession crossed the busiest axis of the town at Smithfield, passed through one of the most heavily populated districts in St Giles’s and St Andrew’s, Holborn, and followed the most-trafficked road, Tyburn Road, to the gallows. There the assembled people on foot, upon horseback, in coaches, crowding near-by houses, filling the adjoining roads, climbing ladders, sitting on the w all enclosing Hyde Park and standing in its contiguous cow pastures gathered to witness the hanging. By the eighteenth century this crowd had become so unruly that the ‘ hanging match’ became well known to foreign visitors and English alike as both a principal attraction of the town and a periodic occasion of disturbance.
The efficacy of public punishment depends upon a rough agreement between those who wield the law and those ruled by it. Whipping, ducking and the pillory, like public hangings, depended upon the public infliction of ignominy, execration and shame. As hangings were attended with disruptions, threatened rescues, disorders, brawls and riot, by the time of the eighteenth century order at them rested less upon community consensus in the justice of the sentence or in the manner of its execution than by the force of arms and the spectacular terror in the panopoly of a state hanging.”

By the spectacle and terror of public hangings, the authorities were trying to overawe the teeming disorderly lower classes, to impress on them that rebellion, crime, dissent would end badly, that the power of the state was so great and over-arching that to oppose it was futile.

Although this was the intention, resentment, resistance and subversion from below was constantly undermining the shock and awe of public executions. One notable aspect of this was the struggle to keep the bodies of the executed ‘felons’ out of the hands of the dissecting surgeons.

Eighteenth century anatomists struggled to get hold of bodies to dissect. And more and more hospitals in London were being to train students in dissection. Advances in medicine were sprouting all over the place, resulting in pressure for scientific investigation of the human body.

All of which led to an explosion in the demand for corpses. Legally it was difficult to obtain nice warm dead bodies. By a law passed in Elizabethan times and renewed by Charles II the Royal College of Physicians was allowed the bodies of six executed criminals a year, and the Company of Barber-Surgeons were allotted four, for anatomical dissection. Other hospitals and private medical schools had to rely on illegal and dangerous methods – graverobbing, physically fighting the agents of the Company and the College to grab their corpses; or hanging about outside Newgate Prison on a hanging day, offering to buy the bodies of the condemned. A considerable trade in bodies existed.

“With the advance in understanding of anatomy and the corresponding development of private trade in corpses, we can find in the early eighteenth century a significant change in attitude towards the dead human body. The corpse becomes a commodity with all the attributes of a property. It could be owned privately. It could be bought and sold. A value not measured by the grace of heaven nor the fires of hell but quantifiably expressed in the magic of the price list was placed upon the corpse. As a factor in the production of scientific knowledge, the accumulated rituals and habits of centuries of religion and superstition were swept aside. Bernard de Mandeville, himself trained as a physician, but known mainly for demonstrating that ‘private vices are public virtues’ in The Fable of the Bees, wrote a series of articles for the British Journal in the months before Jonathan Wild was hanged in 1725. Addressed to ‘men of business’, they provide the first utilitarian defence in eighteenth-century England of the dissection of condemned criminals.”

Repeated petitions and complaints from the Royal College and the Barber-Surgeons Company, that they just couldn’t get enough bodies, couldn’t pay enough to compete with their rivals, eventually persuaded the government to legislate to increase their ration. The 1752 ‘Murder Act’ introduced dissection as part of the sentence. This was not only a generous concession to the need for medical advance, but was an attempt to introduce an extra deterrent:

“It is become necessary that some further Terror and peculiar Mark of Infamy be added to the Punishment.” Provision was made for dissection as an added punishment after death; and for denying Christian burial to murderers.

“The combined demands o  the Physicians and the Surgeons on one hand and the surgeons of the schools and the hospitals on the other produced an intolerable situation to the ‘loose and disorderly Persons’ gathered beneath the gallows’ tree, whose violence against all types of surgeons intensified. Such were the factors causing the disturbances at Tyburn. The relative peace which settled at the gallows after mid-century resulted from the partial satisfaction of the interests of all parties. The Physicians, as appears from their records, ceased to obtain bodies from Tyburn by the third decade o f the century. After 1752 the Company of Surgeons received a regular supply of them.”

From the perspective of the poor, the people who ended up on the gallows, this ignominy was too much. : “the simple, direct desire for a decent Christian burial, with its concern for order, propriety and the peaceful translation of the soul from this life to the next. Hanging removed a man by violence from this life. At least his soul should be allowed to enter the next in peace.”

“So obvious was the need for proper treatment of the dead for the peaceful departure to an afterlife that it hardly needed to be mentioned. Exceptional and unusual beliefs, however, required stating and do survive in the evidence. Some regarded the resurrection of the flesh in ways quite different from those of the Church of England…. The belief that the dead possessed the power ‘to come again’ was the last revenge of the dead upon the living; as such, it provides us with indications not only about the popular conception of death but also of popular notions of justice.”

“No evidence has come to light to show that the Tyburn crowd thought that somehow the dissection of felons impaired the specific powers of the spirits of the dead to return to the living. However, a belief in life after death, especially in the forms which we have described, was connected with beliefs about justice, the law and the value of life. In these cases therefore the added humiliation of the surgeon’s scalpel to the hangman’s noose rendered the injustice of the law all the more loathsome.”

The condemned appealed to friends, family and wider that their bodies should be saved from the agents of the surgeons… Riots, pitched battles and running fights erupted around the gallows and the hospitals, as crowds fought to rescue the corpses of the hanged from the surgeons knife.

Condemned felons appealed for help through “five kinds of solidarities” – their family, personal friends, fellow workers, the Irish and sailors – though these overlapped, of course, and divisions were often transcended in the general passion of struggle.

Samuel Richardson writing in 1740 described a Tyburn riot:

“As soon as the poor creatures were half-dead, I was much surprised before such a number of peace-officers, to see the populace fall to hauling and pulling the carcasses with so much earnestness, as to occasion several warm rencounters, and broken heads. These were the friends of the persons executed . . . and some persons sent by private surgeons to obtain bodies for dissection. The contests between these were fierce and bloody, and frightful to look at.”

This final act of friendship, of family feeling, of workplace or national solidarity, became a matter of honour and pride as well as solidarity. Just as workers, and some masters, joined a friendly society to save against the danger of lay-offs, sickness or death, the struggle against the surgeons reflected “solidarity in the face of death”. Thus “brick-makers came out to defend the bodies of two felons with several years of good standing in the trade against the surgeons, when bargemen came down from Reading to guard one of their own at his hanging, when the Hackney coachmen rallied to keep the body of a fellow coachman ‘ from being carried off by Violence’, or when the small cottagers and market people of Shoreditch surrounded the tumbril of Thomas Pinks their neighbour in the village, ‘declaring they had no other Intention, than to take Care of the Body for Christian burial’ ”.

The Irish, also appealed to each other, and sailors to their fellow seamen, and since the Irish formed 16 percent of those hanged at Tyburn in the eighteenth century, and sailors around 25 percent, these were no idle allegiances.London’s Irish were generally among the City’s poorest, and already disposed to violence and collective disorder; sailors too were usually skint, to the fore in crowd trouble and riotous occurrences, and also hated the medical profession: “For one, hospitals were used as crimping houses [where men were kidnapped for the armed forces] and detention centres for impressed and runaway sailors. For another, the chief killer of seamen was neither combat nor the hazards of the ocean, but diseases (‘ black vomit’ , ‘ague’ , ‘ship fever’ and ‘the bloody flux’) which were made worse by the tetanus and gangrene caused by the ships’ surgeons. Tobias Smollett, who sailed as a surgeon’s mate to the bloody action at Carthagena (1741), ‘was much less surprised that people should die on board than that any sick person should recover’. In eighteenth-century sailors’ slang the surgeon was called ‘crocus’, an elision of ‘croak us’, meaning to ‘kill us’.

On occasions, crowds gathering at Tyburn to rescue the bodies of the hanged threatened order to the point where hundreds of constables and soldiers were mobilised to prevent them.

But it could cost you – “John Miller was captured and incarcerated in Clerkenwell New Prison for attempting to rescue the body of his friend George Ward from the surgeons. John Clark lost his life for trying to save the body of his friend. He had been to Tyburn ,’ he said, ‘ to assist in carrying off the Body of my Friend, Joseph Parker from the Surgeons, and was seen by the Prosecutor.’ ” He was also condemned to hang.

Beyond the simple defence of the bodies of the dead, there was also always the hope of reviving the corpse. “During the first half of the eighteenth century the cause of death at Tyburn was asphyxia, not dislocation of the spine. A broken neck was decisive. Asphyxia, however, could result in temporary unconsciousness if the knot was tied, or the noose placed around the neck, in a particular fashion. incomplete hangings without fatal strangulation were common enough to sustain the hope that resuscitation (‘resurrection’ as it was called) would save the condemned. In the sixteenth century ‘resurrections’ were so frequent and the costs incidental to them so substantial that the Barber-Surgeons ruled that the expenses thus entailed should be borne by those who brought the body to the ‘Thanatomistes’. William Petty in the seventeenth century attained considerable notoriety when he began to anatomize Anne Green, a murderess, and found that she revived under his scalpel.” John “half-hanged” Smith lived ten years after reviving post-hanging in 1709. In 1724, when famous prison escaper and hero of London’s poor was hanged, a crowd attempted to seize his body to save it from the surgeons, amongst whom were a group of Sheppard’s mates who had promised him they would grab his body and attempt to revive him – a plan that failed when during the riot the hall containing his body, obtained by the surgeons, was surrounded by a crowds. However, some ‘gentlemen’ did rescue his body and he was buried (though his resurrection was prevented).

To the modern mind, there does come the occasional complaint, reading the above – rescuing hanged bodies for proper burial is all very well, but why didn’t the crowd do more to rescue the condemned while they were, er, still alive…?

It’s complicated… Apart from the massive armed force often wheeled out to ensure hangings took place – it is also true that numerous attempts to rescue prisoners did take place, more often when people were arrested, or in aiding escape attempts from Newgate and other prisons; easier to achieve than escape on a hanging day. On occasion the crowds did mob the hangman and beat him up, at least once preventing the execution.

However, a complex set of mores was at work; did the majority in the London crowds accept execution in itself? Was a distinction was made between accepting the death sentence as the righteous judgement of the law and the cutting up of their corpses, which was perceived as crossing a line? There seems to be some evidence that this was the case. But the London crowds were never homogenous, and a wide range of opinion thronged the streets, often evolving and swinging one way and another.

As said earlier, many superstitious people may have believed that the spirits of the dead could exact revenge on the living – but the ‘mobility’ were also capable of embodying that spirit of vengeance themselves., on behalf of the deceased:

“Cornelius Saunders, blind from birth, came to London from Amsterdam at the age of ten in 1740. For years he lived from hand to mouth in the outer eastern and northern parishes of London. In the spring and summer he was casually employed by street carters to call out vegetables and greens. He assisted the white coopers in making wash-tubs during the winter and autumn months; not regular work certainly, but it earned him a few pence and perhaps meals and drink. Even a scratch-as-scratch-can existence if implanted in a network of permanent acquaintances and membership in particular neighbourhoods had its own kind of security. He lodged in Lamb Street, Spitalfields, where he did domestic duties in the household of Mrs White, a victualler, in return for a place to sleep and the important perquisite of the empty wooden packing crates. These he supplied to the coopers in the Minories who remade them into wash-tubs, bathing-tubs, casks and household containers. In the summer of 1763, while fetching salmon kits from Mrs White’s basement he came across her cache of savings, some thirty guineas hidden in a shoebox, and stole it. Blind Cornelius Saunders was well known in the neighbourhood ; so the next day when he paraded himself in Moorfields decked in a new suit of clothes and silver knee-buckles, the constables sent out by Mrs White had no trouble in finding him and recovering the money. W e cannot get closer to the resentments bred of thirteen years’ service and dependence which led to this foolish theft, nor to the venomous spite of his benefactress which seems to have informed her day-to-day dealings with him. We do know that to the inhabitants of Spitalfields, Aldgate and the Minories Mrs White’s prosecution at the Old Bailey was far more brutal than the case deserved, where a ducking at the conduit or a thrashing in the street (an extra-judicial and commonly administered direct punishment) would have been more usual. The strength of feeling against this recourse to the justice o f the Old Bailey showed itself in the attempted rescue o f Saunders on the way to Tyburn (it came to nothing) and again after his body was cut down from the gallows. ‘The giddy multitude’ protected his body from the surgeons and then ‘for the purpose of riot and misapplied revenge’ carried it across London to Spitalfields and Mrs White’s house in Lamb Street. ‘ Great numbers of people assembled’, forced open her door, carried out all her furniture and all her salmon tubs, and burnt them in the street before her house. A guard of soldiers was called; but ‘to prevent the guards from extinguishing the flames, the populace pelted them with stones, and would not disperse till the whole was consumed’ ”.

Much of the above was derived from the classic The Tyburn Riot Against the Surgeons, Peter Linebaugh, from where the quotes are mostly taken.


An entry in the
2017 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online.

Today in London’s history: Nazi Lord Haw-Haw hanged, Wandsworth Prison, 1946.

William Joyce, later famous for broadcasting pro-Nazi propaganda from Germany during World War 2, was born in New York City in 1906. His family moved to his father’s native Ireland in 1909, where Joyce was educated in Roman Catholic schools, including the Jesuit St Ignatius Loyola College. The Joyce family were ardent loyalists, opposed to Irish independence, and Joyce later claimed to have fought as a boy alongside the Black and Tans.”

In 1922 William Joyce emigrated to England with his family, and became heavily involved in extreme right-wing politics. In 1923 he joined the British Fascisti (BF). Members of the British Fascists were scared by the Russian Revolution, but took inspiration from what Benito Mussolini had done in Italy.

However the British Fascisti were obviously unpopular with anti-fascists and leftwingers generally, and during the 1924 General Election, on 22nd October, William Joyce was cut across his face with a razor during a bundle with members of the Communist Party of Great Britain in Lambeth, leaving him scarred from the corner of his mouth to behind his right ear.

In 1925 Maxwell Knight, the Director of Intelligence of the British Fascisti, was recruited by MI5. He was placed in charge of B5b, a unit that conducted the monitoring of political subversion. Knight recruited a large number of his agents from right-wing political organisations. It was later discovered that Joyce was one of MI5’s agents. Over the next few years Joyce provided Knight with information he had about the activities of the Communist Party and other left-wing groups.

Like other members of the British Fascisti, Joyce had a deep hatred of Jews and Communists. He claimed that his facial wound had been caused by a “Jewish Communist”. He also blamed his failure to complete his MA on a Jewish woman tutor. On 30th April 1927 he married Hazel Katherine Barr at Chelsea register office. The couple had two daughters. At this point Joyce joined the Conservative Party.

However, in early 1933 William Joyce joined the recently formed British Union of Fascists (BUF) led by Oswald Mosley. The BUF was strongly anti-communist and argued for a programme of economic revival based on government spending and protectionism. Mosley appointed Joyce as the party full-time Propaganda Director and deputy leader of BUF.

The London Evening News, another newspaper owned by Lord Rothermere, found a more popular and subtle way of supporting the Blackshirts. It obtained 500 seats for a BUF rally at the Royal Albert Hall and offered them as prizes to readers who sent in the most convincing reasons why they liked the Blackshirts. Another title owned by Rothermere, the Sunday Dispatch, even sponsored a Blackshirt beauty competition to find the most attractive BUF supporter. Not enough attractive women entered and the contest was declared void.

By 1934 the British Union of Fascists had 40,000 members and was able to establish its own drinking clubs and football teams. The BUF also gained the support of Lord Rothermere and the Daily Mail. On 7th June, 1934, the BUF held a large rally at Olympia. About 500 anti-fascists managed to get inside the hall. When they began heckling Oswald Mosley they were attacked by 1,000 black-shirted stewards. Several of the protesters were badly beaten by the fascists.

In October, 1934, Mosley and Joyce spoke at a BUF meeting in Worthing, Sussex, (a BUF stronghold, where a fascist had been elected to the council) where a large crowd heckled, attacked and routed the fascists.

Under the influence of Joyce the BUF became increasingly anti-Semitic. The verbal attacks on the Jewish community led to violence at meetings and demonstrations.

The activities of the BUF was checked by the the passing of the 1936 Public Order Act. This gave the Home Secretary the power to ban marches in the London area and police chief constables could apply to him for bans elsewhere. This legislation also made it an offence to wear political uniforms and to use threatening and abusive words.

The anti-Semitic policy was popular in certain inner-city areas and in 1937 Joyce came close to defeating the Labour Party candidate in the London County Council election in Shoreditch. Joyce argued that the facsists should take a more extreme position on racial issues. Mosley disagreed and began to feel that Joyce posed a threat to his leadership. He therefore decided to sack Joyce as Propaganda Director. In an attempt to save money another 142 staff members also lost their jobs.

Joyce now left the British Union and with the help of John Becket and A. K. Chesterton he founded the National Socialist League. In a pamphlet, National Socialism Now, Joyce began to express views similar to those of Adolf Hitler. He wrote: “International Finance is controlled by great Jewish moneylenders and Communism is being propagated by Jewish agitators who are at one fundamentally with the powerful capitalists of their race in desiring an international world order, which would, of course, give universal sovereignty to the only international race in existence.”

When Adolf Hitler ordered the invasion of Czechoslovakia Joyce became convinced that war with Germany was inevitable. Unwilling to fight against Hitler’s forces, Joyce began to consider leaving the country. This view was reinforced when he was warned by former British Fascisti chum and sometime spymaster Maxwell Knight of MI5 that the British government was thinking of interning fascist leaders if war broke out. Knight, indeed, may have maintained some form of contact with him during the first few months of the war, sending him coded letters and, seemingly, keeping him “on the books” as a potential agent of influence.

Understandably, Knight, the model for M in Ian Fleming’s James Bond stories, was keen that all this should remain a secret between himself and Joyce. Interestingly, the repulsive ‘businessman’, Giovanni Di Stefano, rightwing Italian-English bogus lawyer and friend and appologist of Serbian warlord and murderer Arkan, has claimed that he has proof that Joyce was in fact acting as an MI5 agent in Germany thoughout the war and they let him be hanged anyway. Either way he and MI5 don’t come out of it all well…

On 26th August, 1939, Joyce left for Nazi Germany. Soon after arriving in Berlin he got a job with the German Radio Corporation as an English language broadcaster. Joyce joined the ‘German Calling’ programme. On 14th September, 1939, a report in the Daily Express described the broadcaster as speaking the “English of the haw-haw, damit-get-out-of-my-way variety.” Joyce soon became derogatively known as Lord Haw-Haw.

Joyce continued to broadcast pro-Nazi propaganda throughout the Second World War. In 1940 the Daily Mirror organised the Anti Haw Haw League of Loyal Britons – members pledged not to listen to these broadcasts (the Mirror desperately trying to live down its own stint as supporters of the Blackshirts in the 1930s). Other British subjects who took part in these broadcasts included John Amery, Railton Freeman, Norman Baillie-Stewart, Kenneth Lander and William Griffiths.

Joyce was captured by the British Army at Flensburg on 28th May 1945. Three days later Joyce was interrogated by William Scardon, an MI5 officer. Joyce made a full confession but at first the Director of Prosecutions doubted whether he could be tried for treason as he had been born in the United States. However, his broadcasts during the war had made him a hate figure in Britain and the Attorney General, David Maxwell-Fyfe, decided to charge him with high treason.

Joyce’s trial for high treason began at the Old Bailey on 17th September, 1945. In court it was stated that although he was United States citizen he had held a British passport during the early stages of the war. It was therefore argued in court by Hartley Shawcross that Joyce had committed treason by broadcasting for Germany between September 1939 and July 1940, when he officially became a German citizen.

William Joyce was found guilty of treason and was executed on 3rd January 1946.

Lord Haw-Haw was the last civilian in Britain to be hanged for treason. Yet his wife, who also broadcast Nazi propaganda and was decorated by Hitler, was never brought to trial. It later emerged that a deal was struck between the Joyce and MI5: his silence for his wife’s life.

The day after her husband’s execution, Margaret Joyce, better known as Lady Haw-Haw, was told by the governor of Holloway Prison that she must pack up her belongings. She was to be “returned to the Continent”, he said, though he couldn’t say where exactly. She was relieved, in a way, because this ruled out the possibility of her being tried for high treason at the Old Bailey.

The following morning, feeling ”half loopy” as she put it, she was driven under armed escort to Croydon airport for a 9am flight to the military detention centre in Brussels. Two weeks later, Major J. F. E. Stephenson of MI5 sent a memorandum to the head of the British Intelligence Bureau there.

”It has been decided by the authorities in the UK not to prosecute this woman, in effect on compassionate grounds. There is no lack of evidence implicating her in the treasonable activities of her late husband; but the authorities do not think she need be punished further, and would like her to be returned to Germany as a German subject.” So it was that an American husband was hanged as an Englishman, while his equally “guilty” English wife was freed as a German.


An entry in the
2017 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online.

Today in London’s rebel history: Jane Housden & William Johnson hanged, 1714, for killing Spurling, a screw.

Sometimes, open defiance is the only option. And even if they see you, you might as well deny it.

“WILLIAM JOHNSON was a native of Northamptonshire, where he served his time as a butcher, and removing to London he opened a shop in Newport Market; but business not succeeding to his expectation, he pursued a variety of speculations, until at length he sailed to Gibraltar, where he was appointed a mate to one of the surgeons of the garrison. Having saved some money at this place, he came back to his native country, where he soon spent it, and then had recourse to the highway for a supply.

Being apprehended in consequence of one of his robberies, he was convicted, but received a pardon. Previously to this he had been acquainted with Jane Housden, his fellow in crime, who had been tried and convicted of coining but had obtained a pardon, but who was again in custody for a similar offence.

On the day that she was to be tried, and just as she was brought down to the bar of the Old Bailey, Johnson called to see her; but Mr Spurling, the head turnkey, telling him that he could not speak to her till her trial was ended, he instantly drew a pistol and shot Spurling dead on the spot, in the presence of the Court and all the persons attending to hear the trials, Mrs Housden at the same time encouraging him in the perpetration of this singular murder. The event had no sooner happened than the judges, thinking it unnecessary to proceed on the trial of the woman for coining, ordered both the parties to be tried for the murder; and, there being many witnesses to the deed, they were convicted, and received sentence of death.

 From this time to that of their execution, which took place on 19th of September, 1714, and even at the place of their death, they behaved as if they were wholly insensible of the enormity of the crime which they had committed; and notwithstanding the publicity of their offence, they had the confidence to deny it to the last moment of their lives. Nor did they show any signs of compunction for their former sins. After hanging the usual time, Johnson was hanged in chains near Holloway, between Islington and Highgate.”

From the Newgate Calendar.


An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online

Today in London’s rebel history: hanging of coalheavers in Shadwell breaks the ‘river strike’, 1768.

For centuries one of the hardest jobs on the London docks was coalheaving: unloading coal from ships to warehouses from where it was sent off to fuel the City and industrial expansion. Much of the works was centred on Wapping and Shadwell. The pay was crap and the job was long and hard. Plus gangs of heavers were often controlled and organised by powerful City merchants and local publicans.

The Wapping and Shadwell coalheavers, many of who were Irish, were organised in gangs, among who were the “Bucks” & the “Brothers”, said by some to be allied to the Irish Whiteboy gangs. So many Irish coalheavers lived in the Cable Street area it was known as ‘Knockfergus’. They went on strike several times in the eighteenth century.

In 1768, at a time of starvation & mass unrest in the country, a coal-heavers strike, over a demand for a 4 pence pay rise, erupted into vicious class violence. fought in & around the taverns of the area, since the heaving gangs were organised from the taverns. Some of the taverns were pro-coalheavers, some were run by ‘undertakers’ (subcontractors), like Metcalf & Green, who were hired by Alderman Beckford of Billingsgate Ward, coal and sugar magnate, powerful West Indies slave owner & trader, and city politician. The undertakers designed methods of work to reduce wages & cut unloading times; the heavers struck.

Metcalf was keeper of the Salutation Inn in Wapping, which was destroyed by rioting coalheavers in February 1768. Green organised scab labour from his Roundabout Tavern (in Gravel Lane, now Garnet Street), which was attacked with gunfire in April: a coalheaver & a shoemaker were killed.

Armed with cutlasses and clubs, the striking coal-heavers besieged the pub until driven off by gunfire from the (now broken) windows. Next day the men returned and attempted to ‘cut [Green] to pieces and hang him on his sign’. Green retreated but retaliated by shooting dead two (or three) of the attackers.

The justices did for the rest, condemning seven assailants to the gallows which had been erected on Stepney Green, but not before Green’s sister had also been brutally murdered (‘torn to death’) in retaliation. Green was charged with murder but acquitted: his witnesses were assaulted.

By May, the masters had decided to refuse the pay rise and engaged sailors to load and unload their coal. This was a very dangerous mistake and when opportunity arose coal-heavers boarded a collier as it unloaded and told the sailors that if they remained on the ship they would be killed. Next day, sailors taking leave from unloading another vessel were attacked. Two were wounded and one, John Beatty, stabbed to death. Violent street fights continued between sailors and striking coal-heavers and two ship’s masters were also severely beaten the following week. Inevitably and with the dull predictability of all bloody reprisals the magistrates and the army were called in, caught the ringleaders and executed them.

The coalheavers sang:

Five pounds for a sailor’s head
And twenty for a masters.
We will cut the lightermen’s throats
And murder all the meters.

The heavers were supported to an extent by Ralph Hodgson, a liberal paternalist Shadwell magistrate. In May, the heavers began stopping coal carts on land, & addressing notices & petitions to wharfingers & other workers. They disciplined scabs.

The strike collapsed but not until the sailors themselves had decided to blockade the Port of London. In May, sailors joined the struggle, striking for wage rise. They raised the red flag: their decision to ‘strike the sails’, literally cut them from the masts, gave the word strike its modern meaning. River shipping was at a standstill. A meeting of merchants at Cornhill gave way on some demands, but a fleet arrived from Newcastle, & its sailors worked as scabs, breaking the alliance.

The government assigned armed ships into the Pool. War broke out in the docks, with scores of deaths.

9 coalheavers were charged with the murder of the sailor Beatty: James Murphy & James Duggan were found guilty: they were hanged at Tyburn on July 11th, & their bodies given to the surgeons to dissect, while a huge crowd mourned outside, keening in Gaelic. On July 26th, seven more Irish coalheavers were hanged at Sun Tavern Fields (just the north of the Highway, where Cable Street now runs), where the heavers held mass meetings. 50 000 people attended, rescue attempts were expected, so troops patrolled Wapping & Shadwell, 100s of constables enforced the event. The terrifying affect of the hanging broke the river workers resolve: troops were kept in the area till September (though two were killed for unloading coal).


An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online

Today in London’s history: Thomas More beheaded; wrote about Utopia, but a persecutor of ‘heretics’. 1535

“He was a good man…he was a saint…”

Sir Thomas More is generally revered – as a martyr, by catholics, because he was beheaded for refusing to say that the authority of King Henry VIII trumped that of the Pope; in secular and humanist circles, as an important humanist intellectual, a lynchpin in the stirrings of the liberal enlightenment. Both of these views hold him as man of conscience, of integrity and honour, refusing to compromise his core beliefs even for a king he respected and loved and who was prepared to give him a fair measure of leeway even at the last.

In recent years an alternative view of More has begun to be aired, which stresses his role as a persecutor of early protestants, a man utterly opposed Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation, who as Lord Chancellor oversaw the torture of Lutherans, and the burning of several at the stake. More’s initial efforts were directed against the English scholars and reformers who dared to read the New Testament in English rather than Latin, which was against the law in England at the time, and worse, to translate the texts so that others could also do so.

“…the heretic hunter of the mid-1520s, who personally broke into Lutherans’ homes and sent men to the stake, … [and who] would punish religious dissent not only with “displeasant” words but with state violence.” (James Wood).

When Sir Thomas learned that John Tewkesbury, a London leather-seller, secretly possessed banned books, he had him burned alive. After the execution, More expressed his satisfaction: “[He] burned as there was neuer wretche I wene better worthy.” More cherished the image of Tewkesbury burning not just on earth, but in hell, “an hote fyrebronde burnynge at hys bakke, that all the water in the worlde wyll neuer be able to quenche.”

“While he was in office he did everything in his power to bring that extermination to pass. That he did not succeed in becoming England’s Torquemada was a consequence of the king’s quarrel with the pope and not a result of any quality of mercy that stirred through More’s own heart… With the help of John Stokesley, the Bishop of London, More personally broke into the houses of suspected heretics, arresting them on the spot and sometimes interrogating them in his own home. He imprisoned one man in the porter’s lodge of his house, and had him put in the stocks. He raided the home of a businessman called John Petyt, who was suspected of financing [protestant Bible translator William] Tyndale; Petyt died in the Tower. Six rebellious Oxford students were kept for months in a fish cellar; three of them died in prison. More was now a spiritual detective, a policeman in a hair shirt, engaged in “what would now be called surveillance and entrapment among the leather-sellers, tailors, fishmongers and drapers of London.” Six protesters were burned under More’s chancellorship, and perhaps forty were imprisoned.” (Wood)

When reformers objected that it was not Christian for the church to burn heretics, More’s sharp legal mind was ready with a typically legalistic riposte: the church did not burn people; the state burned them. This was strictly true, because the ecclesiastical courts tried heretics and the state courts sentenced them. But although More asserts that the church is kind and loving, that “It is not the clergy that laboreth to have them punished to death.” that “spiritual law” is “good, reasonable, piteous, and charitable, and nothing desiring the death of any therein”, he knew that the state could be relied upon to torture and execute ‘heretics’. In essence, the church asks the heretic to repent; if he does not, the church excommunicates him, at which point “the clergy giveth knowledge to the temporalty, not exhorting the prince, or any man else, either, to kill him or to punish him.” The church does not urge anyone to punish the heretic; it “leaveth him to the secular hand, and forsaketh him.” You can see him in parliament arguing that torture and extra-ordinary rendition of suspects via Libya had nothing to do with the british security officers present…

More has been described as “cruel in punishment, evasive in argument, lusty for power, and repressive in politics” (Wood)… even as “a particularly nasty sadomasochistic pervert” (Jasper Ridley)

In the Catholic world however he was increasingly revered and eventually canonised: In 1935, Pope Pius XI officially declared Sir Thomas a saint. In 2000, Pope John Paul II even asserted that More had “served not power but the supreme ideal of justice,” and lauded him for “unfailing moral integrity.”, and officially declared Sir Thomas the patron saint of Catholic statesmen and politicians. We’ve gone beyond irony into somewhere else entirely here.

It is worth reading a fuller description of More’s crusading assault on early protestants in England.

The recent fictional portrayal of More by Hilary Mantel, as a pedantic, snobbish and self-satisfied piousness, opposed by the bluff and honest Thomas Cromwell, may well turn the tables a little, although that may be swinging the pendulum the other way a tad… Hey ho.

While More was undoubtedly an active and avid heretic hunter; is that balanced by his authorship of a classic humanist text? Like most visions of the future or ideal living, Utopia is fundamentally about the times More was going through: times of upheaval, threats to order and economic dislocation.

More was repelled by the effects of economic change on the poor that he could see happening around him in the early 1500s, and his vision criticises the growing inequality enclosure, property etc were producing. But his response very much reflected his background in the London merchant class, and his education, designed to train him up as part of an elite.

In More’s Utopia, although private property has been abolished, Utopia involves hard work and a rigid social hierarchy. Everyone (bar a few scholars) is obliged to work; the common right of all to the fruits of the labour of all is based on shared work (and shared enjoyment, admittedly), on abundance but also on enforced collectivism. Utopia, like Plato’s Republic (a very influential text for early humanists like More), is static, fixed, everyone in their place.

More didn’t trust the lower orders, fearing the poor, afraid that allowing the spread of any kind of questioning ideas among them would lead to riot, disorder, rebellion… He had seen, and taken a leading part in repressing, the tumultuous Evil Mayday riot in 1517, where anger at economic change had been channeled into attacks on migrant craftsmen working in London. More was horrified by Martin Luther’s moderate proposals for church reforms, which he saw as empowering an unleashing of the desires of the poor, and thus as having lead to the Peasants War in Germany. His hatred of heresy may have been fierce, but it was heavily tempered with a pragmatic approach – preventing the spread of discussion of religious ideas among those not properly educated to understand them, because discussion of ideas is dangerous in itself and leads to rebellion.

More’s vision of an ideal ordered society was not even published in English in his lifetime – till 1551 in fact; partly because of its sharp critique of current social policy and economic developments in England. But he was content to see it printed in Latin and circulated in a limited form among the humanist intellectual set in Western Europe that he was a part of. Such ideas were not for the unwashed, only for those who could consider such possibilities in abstraction without the suggestion of actually taking place. In his Utopia there are still convict labourers, and a meritocratic elite.

In contrast of course, the poor and labouring classes had for centuries been evolving a very different utopia of their own – the Land of Cokaygne. A paradise of laziness, where food, clothes and shelter were said to lie around free for all to take; where animals ran around ready cooked, and wine flowed in the rivers; where sexuality was open and unrestrained, morality was abolished, and the social order was turned on its head.

Cokaygne was a dream that in some ways resembled the millennium, the second coming of Christ as related in the bible (though with some serious variations…) While priests taught that this was a religious event in the future, separate from daily reality, the dream of Cokaygne was a powerful one to the hungry poor, living from harvest to harvest at the mercy of the gentry’s whims and wars. But there were rebels attempting consciously to bring about the Millennium, in More’s era. They saw it not as a metaphorical event in a distant future but a political event to be created, by force if necessary. They were not afraid of seizing the moment – because their class background was very different to Thomas More’s; they were experiencing the changes he opposed, directly, but their response was not in Latin, and didn’t involve academic discussion. More’s actual response to dissent, to religious rebels and early protestants, was to oversee their prosecution, and in a few cases their execution, in his position as Lord Chancellor. His perfect society was always one controlled from the top down, with ideas and actions tightly limited if its subjects wanted to eat.


An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online

Today in London’s rebel history: John Guy hanged for poaching, under the draconian Black Act, 1725.

Denied the right to hunt game in the forests of the rich; driven from enclosed land to the margins and struggling to get by; at the mercy of food shortages and price rises… Is it any wonder large numbers of the poor took to poaching? Many saw taking a deer from the lands of the wealthy as a right. And as the rich employed more and more keepers and guards to protect the game they occasionally hunted, the poachers increasingly went armed, and prepared to shoot back at keepers prepared to shoot or arrest them. At times in the eighteenth century, in the forests and parks, the struggle took on the character of a war. In the early 1720s, with a heavy economic depression hitting the poor hard, and resentment of the wealth of the landowning classes growing, the war over deer-stealing became headline news.

A succession of shootings led, in 1723, to a Parliament of the very wealthy passing the Black Act, the most draconian legislation ever brought in in England. The Act was so-named as its main measures were aimed at repressing the ‘Blacks’, armed poachers who went disguised with  ‘blacked’ up faces to steal deer.
Under the Black Act, any offender who was armed and with a blacked face, armed and otherwise disguised, merely blacked, merely disguised, accessories after the fact or “any other person or persons” was found in a forest, chase, down or Royal Park, they could be sentenced to death. Similarly, it was an offence to hunt, kill, wound or steal deer in these locations, with the first offence punishable by a fine, and the second by penal transportation. Other criminalised activities included fishing, the hunting of hares, the destruction of fish-ponds, the destruction of trees and the killing of cattle in these locations – the latter also punishable by death. An offender could also be executed if he set fire to corn, hay, straw, wood, houses or barns, or shot another person. The same penalties applied to attempting to rescue anyone imprisoned under the Black Act, or attempting to solicit other people to participate in crimes that violated it. In total, the Act introduced the death penalty for over 50 criminal acts.

Around London Enfield Chase, Richmond Park, and to the west, Windsor Great Park, were among the main targets of the poachers. “They went into the park on foot, sometimes with a crossbow, and sometimes with a couple of dogs, being armed always, however, with pistols for their defence. When they had killed a buck, they trussed him up and put him upon their backs, and so walked off.”

Probably the first Londoner hanged under the Black Act was John Guy, from Teddington, then on the fringes of southwest London.
“JOHN GUY, of Teddington, was indicted for hunting and killing certain Fallow Deer, the Property of Anthony Duncomb, Esq ; in his Paddock or Pk, after the 1st of June, 1723,viz. on the 1st of September last. It appearing from the Evidence of Charles George the Keeper, and others, that this Prisoner and one Biddesford (who was killed in the Pursuit) were standing arm’d in the Park, and three Deer near them worry’d and kill’d; that in their flight they turn’d upon the Pursuers, and threaten’d to shoot them with their Pistols if they did not desist and leave them, together with other Circumstances, he was found guilty of the Indictment. But his Conviction was very much contrary to his Expectation; and after Sentence was pass’d upon him, tho’ he was far from denying his Guily, he was also far from believing he should suffer Death: So that altho’ he seemed to have a true and thorough Notion of Religion and of his Duty, he nevertheless appear’d Indolent and Remiss, till the Warrant for Execution left him no hopes that he should escape the Law. Before he died, he with many Tears lamented his Distress, and express’d the dangerous Condition of his Soul.”
(Newgate Ordinary’s Account, 30th April 1725.)

Guy’s companion named in this account, here called Biddisford, was probably John Berrisford, “Jack the Wheeler’, a London wheelwright, and famous deer-stealer, who had been ‘proclaimed’ under the Black Act in March 1724, after being involved in a fight with keepers on Enfield Chase. The account of Guy’s arrest may refer to an incursion into Richmond Park, in August 1724, when Jack the Wheeler was mortally wounded, and died in Kingston Gaol. Either that, or the affray in Duncombe’s lands took place on the same night.

Hangings such as Guy’s inflamed the hatred of the poachers; and of many also who supported them against the unjust and unequal laws that punished the poor on behalf of the rich. Keepers who arrested or identified poachers were assaulted, targeted, beaten up; there were attempts to kill them.

After a long campaign of legal reform, the Black Act was repealed in 1823.

The Story of the Black Act, and the poachers war against the keepers, can be read in EP Thompson’s ‘Whigs and Hunters’.


An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online

Today in London’ rebel history: Striking Coalheavers battle scabs on ships, Wapping, 1768.

For centuries London’s economy was dependent on the burning of coal. But being as not that much coal was hewn in the Brixton hills… hundreds of thousands of tons of coal used to arrive in the London docks every year.

The job of unloading coal from ships was dirty, grueling and knackering. The coalheavers of Wapping and Shadwell were famous for their heavy drinking, hard-living and potential for violence. They were also prone to a spot of collective direct action… Organised through lodges known as the “Bucks” & the “Brothers”, they went on strike several times in 18th century. Many of the coalheavers were Irish, residents of Irish-dominated areas like ‘KnockFergus’ in Cable Street.

The struggles of the coalheavers for better wages and conditions climaxed in the huge ‘river strike’ of 1768. At a time of starvation & mass unrest, movements for political reform were sparking riots in support of John Wilkes, and class struggles were erupting everywhere (most notably among the Spitalfields silkweavers).

A coal-heavers strike, over a demand for a 4d pay rise, erupted into vicious class violence: fought in and around the taverns of Wapping and Shadwell, since the heaving gangs were organised from the taverns. Some of the taverns were pro-coalheavers, some were run by ‘undertakers’ (subcontractors), like Metcalf & Green, who were hired by Alderman Beckford of Billingsgate Ward, rich coal and sugar magnate, one of the most powerful West Indies slave owners & slave traders; also a leading City of London politician. The undertakers designed methods of work to reduce wages & cut unloading times; the heavers struck as a result.

Metcalf and Green gathered scab labour at taverns; the pubs became the major theatre for the war. The Bucks met at the Horse & Dray (probably in Garnet Street) & the Brothers at the Star on Wapping Wall, and the Pewter Dish (on the river, probably where King Edward Memorial Park is). The Ship & Shears was gutted in February. The King of Prussia, on Wapping High Street ,was gutted in March.

Metcalf was keeper of Wapping’s Salutation Inn, which was destroyed by rioting coalheavers in February 1768. Green organised scab labour from his Roundabout Tavern (in Gravel Lane, now Garnet Street), which was attacked with gunfire in April: a coalheaver & a shoemaker were killed.

Armed with cutlasses and clubs, the striking coal-heavers besieged the pub until driven off by gunfire from the (now broken) windows. Next day the men returned and attempted to ‘cut [Green] to pieces and hang him on his sign’. Green retreated but retaliated by shooting dead two (or three) of the attackers. The justices did for the rest, condemning seven assailants to the gallows which had been erected on Stepney Green, but not before Green’s sister had also been brutally murdered (‘torn to death’) in retaliation.

The heavers were supported to an extent by Ralph Hodgson, a liberal paternalist Shadwell magistrate; to some extent a struggle in the City authorities between paternalism and laissez-faire capitalist ‘progressives’ was being played out, with the coalheavers as proxies.

Green was charged with murder but acquitted: his witnesses were assaulted. In May, the heavers began stopping coal carts on land, & addressing notices & petitions to wharfingers & other workers. They disciplined scabs. Also in May, sailors joined the struggle, demanding a wage rise, raising the red Flag, & ‘striking the sails’ (cutting them from the mast, giving the word ‘strike’ its modern meaning). River shipping was at a standstill. A meeting of merchants at Cornhill gave way on some demands, but a fleet arrived from Newcastle, & its sailors worked as scabs, breaking the alliance.

The coalheavers sang:

Five pounds for a sailor’s head
And twenty for a masters.
We will cut the lightermen’s throats
And murder all the meters.

By May, the masters had decided to refuse the pay rise and engaged sailors to load and unload their coal. The government assigned armed ships into the Pool. War broke out in the docks, with scores of deaths. Heavers boarded the Thames and Mary in Shadwell Dock in May & threatened to kill any sailor who carried on unloading. As sailors began to unload coal on the next day, Whit Sunday, at Shadwell Dock, a riot broke out – & a young sailor was fatally wounded. 9 coalheavers were charged with his murder: James Murphy & James Duggan were found guilty: they were hanged at Tyburn on July 11th, & their bodies given to the surgeons to dissect, while a huge crowd mourned outside, keening in Gaelic. On July 26th, 7 more Irish coalheavers were hanged at Sun Tavern Fields (just the north of the Highway, where Cable Street is), where the heavers held mass meetings. 50 000 people attended, rescue attempts were expected, so troops patrolled Wapping & Shadwell, 100s of constables enforced the event. The terrifying affect of the hanging broke the river workers resolve: troops were kept in the area till September (though 2 were killed for unloading coal), ships were protected; attempts were made though, to increase wages & reform the hiring systems of the port of London.

Magistrate Hodgson lost his seat on the bench for his paternalist approach to the heavers: repression was the order of the day.


An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online

Today in London’s military history: radical Mutiny in Whalley’s regiment, Bishopsgate, 1649

The class tensions thrown up on the Parliamentarian side during the English Civil War came to a head in 1649. The political and religious radicalism that had bubbled up had become a threat to the leaders of the puritan revolution. As ever, the radical bourgeoisie had aroused the aspirations of the lower orders to persuade them to fight for them, but wanted to cut short the relationship when they had achieved their limited ends (it’s not you its me – we just don’t want the same thing any more). Cromwell and the army ‘grandees’ (senior officers) had made alliances with the Levellers, the army agitators, needing their support first against king Charles I and then against the moderate Parliamentarians. But they were determined to keep a lid on the demands from below for a wider voting franchise, and an increased share in both the products of their labour and of control over their own destinies… Many were also sick of the fighting, and opposed the intention of Cromwell and Army leaders to ship more regiments to Ireland to defeat rebellion against English rule there.

The Army leaders began to impose measures to hamstring the radicals.
In February they banned petitions to Parliament by soldiers. In March 1649, John Lilburne and other Leveller leaders were arrested and held in the Tower of London. Also in March eight Leveller troopers went to the Commander-in-Chief of the New Model Army, Lord Thomas Fairfax, and demand the restoration of the right to petition. Five of them were cashiered out of the army.

In opposing the invasion, the mutinous soldiers reclaimed the constitutional liberties outlined in the Leveller engagements at New Market, Triploe Heath, and the 1647 Putney Debates. Although a good number of mutineers vowed that they would fight if given their arrears, many others sided with a comrade who asked, “Will you go on still to kill, slay and murder men, to make them (the grandees) as absolute lords and masters over Ireland as you have made them over England?” Another author, a soldier who had joined the Levellers, foresaw the same carnage and concluded, “We have waded too far in that crimson stream already of innocent, Christian blood.” The invasion of Ireland would proceed, but not before the government made violently clear that the days of army democracy were over.

In April 1649, lots were drawn to select regiments for service in Ireland. The soldiers were told that they would not be compelled to go, but any who chose to remain in England would be dismissed from the Army. Three hundred infantrymen of Colonel Hewson’s regiment threw down their weapons and declared that they would not go to Ireland unless the Leveller demands were granted. They were promptly cashiered without arrears of pay. Discontent at their treatment spread rapidly through the Army.

On 24 April 1649, around 30 troopers under Captain John Savage, in Colonel Whalley’s regiment, refused orders to leave the City of London for a rendezvous at Mile End Green. They felt this order was in order to remove them from Leveller agitation in central London; their anger reached fever pitch. Whalley’s regiment were known for their independent character and often took up their grievances with parliament; Whalley was no Leveller, but he fully supported his men. (Whalley would become one of the ‘regicides’who signed the death warrant of Charles I).

The mutineers seized the regimental colours, took over the Bull Inn at Bishopsgate, then on the City of London’s northern edge, and refused to obey their officers’ orders, including those of Colonel Whalley himself. It was not until Fairfax and Cromwell arrived on the scene the following day that they finally backed down. Fifteen soldiers were arrested and court-martialled, of whom five were to be cashiered after riding the wooden horse. This was a common military punishment, basically a straight, narrow, horizontal pole, twelve feet long, sometimes with a sharpened upper edge to intensify the cruelty. The soldier was set astride this board, with his hands tied behind his back. Often a heavy weight was tied to each foot, as was jocularly said, “to stop his horse from throwing him.” There are reports of punishments lasting three days.

Six soldiers were sentenced to death. In a gesture of reconciliation, Cromwell pleaded for mercy and all were pardoned except for Robert Lockier (or Lockyer), a former Agitator within the regiment, who was believed to be the ringleader of the mutiny.

Lockyer had joined the New Model Army in 1642 and served with Edward Whalley’s regiment. As such it is very likely that he served at some very important battles such as Edgehill,  Gainsborough, Marston Moor and Naseby; and helped to capture both Bristol and Banbury. He was known as one of the Agitators, the radicals elements who had made alliances with the Levellers, and fought for the English Revolution to bring real social change to the lower orders.

Lockier was executed by firing squad in front of St Paul’s Cathedral on 27 April 1649. Like the funeral of Colonel Rainsborough the previous year, Lockier’s funeral occasioned a massive Leveller-led demonstration in London, with thousands of mourners wearing ribbons of sea-green — the Levellers’ colours — and bunches of rosemary for remembrance in their hats. This was the largest political demonstration of the civil war years.

Another mutiny followed almost immediately at Burford, also quickly put down with force and executions. The months of April and May 1649 marked the climax of radical influence, but also the beginning of the decline of real possibility, the end of the prospect of the english revolution being pushed further.


An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online

Today in London’s religious history: Bartholomew Legate burnt for heresy, 1612.

Bartholomew Legate or Legatt, dealer in cloth, and his two brothers, Walter and Thomas, from Essex, were active in and around London ca. 1590-1612, and were cited as having Anabaptist beliefs, rejecting the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of England and their rituals. The brothers’ views probably influenced the emergence of the sect known as the Seekers. In 1611, Bartholomew and Thomas were imprisoned for heresy: Thomas died in Newgate Prison, Bartholomew was tried in February 1612, was found guilty of heresy, and refusing to retract his opinions, burnt at the stake at Smithfield on 18 March 1612. He was the last person burned in London for his religious opinions, (Edward Wightman, burned at Lichfield a month later, was the last to suffer in this way in England.) After 1612 most ‘heretics’ were simply sent to prison and there left to rot.

Anabaptist is a bit of a catch-all term, applied to describe a broad clutch of religious groups, at least forty independent sects, holding widely varied views, at the beginning of the Radical Reformation (1520-1580). Anabaptism was not a centralized or homogeneous sect; and many dissenters were lumped together and persecuted under the Anabaptist label, accurately or not. Even the name (meaning “rebaptiser”) was generally one used by their enemies as a term of abuse: some groups used the term Brethren to describe themselves. By 1525, Anabaptist congregations had spread across most of German speaking Europe. Rejecting both the corrupt practices of the Roman Church, and the new reformed Protestant Churches, they sought instead to re-establish Christian communities based on their conception of early Christian congregations. They often disregarded both religious ceremonies or complex theological questions, preferring to emphasise ‘the inspired Word of God, and a love for their fellow man’. Some of their core theology was radically opposed to established churches: most rejected the traditional practice of baptizing babies into the church, instead practising adult baptism, as a conscious pledge of faith, or symbolic rebirth. Unlike the new Calvinist churches they believed in free will, but they mainly also saw Christ as not truly deriving from his human mother, but being of ‘celestial flesh’.

Many groups preached the separation of the Church and State, including the abolishment of any State religion, or rejected the State completely and opposed state wars; members were often fined or imprisoned for refusing to pay taxes, take up arms or for acts of civil disobedience. They preached complete religious freedom based on a literal Bible, and the total independent control of their own congregations and the election of their own clergy, often shunning contact with the corrupted ‘worldly society’ outside their own communities.

A few Anabaptist leaders preached that a Millennium of the Saints, a golden time when Jesus would return, was at hand, and more militant congregations started to prepare to overthrow of the current ungodly and corrupted society. Some of these militant Anabaptist groups developed into quasi-communistic communities. Anabaptist uprisings took place in Europe, notably in the German town of Münster in 1532-35. Both Catholic and Protestant Europe raised an army to oust these militant Anabaptists, capturing Münster in 1535. A general persecution followed throughout Europe against all Anabaptists. Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and the Catholic Church soundly denounced the Anabaptism. By 1540, most of the early Anabaptist leaders were imprisoned or executed, but persecutions against Anabaptists continued in various portions of Europe into the 1580s.

In the early years of the Reformation, a number of Anabaptist groups were active in London, notably the followers of Melchior Hoffman, who came to England in the 1530s from the Netherlands. Around 1535, the authorities arrested four Englishmen in London for their part in the distribution of an Anabaptist confession of faith. At the house of one of them, John Raulinges, “many of the sayd faction dyuers tymes assembled,” and their “bishop and reder” was a Fleming by the name of Bastian. The foreign Anabaptists in England were the chief victims of persecution under Henry VIII. On 25th May 1535, twenty-five Dutch Anabaptists were examined at St. Paul’s for ‘heretical’ views regarding the incarnation, the mass, and baptism – fourteen were condemned. Two were burned at Smithfield on 8th June 1535, and the others sent to various English towns for a similar death. The king appointed an ecclesiastical commission “to search for and examine Anabaptists . . . and destroy all books of that detestable sect.” On 24 November four Dutch Anabaptists recanted publicly, but five days later three were burned at Smithfield: Jan Mathijsz van Middelburg, a well-known Anabaptist leader in the Low Countries, and Peter Franke and his wife, a young couple from Bruges in Flanders. (On 3 May 1540, three Anabaptists were executed at Southwark, of whom two were foreigners and one an Englishman).

Under Queen Elizabeth I Anabaptist activity openly revived; as did Church and Crown presecution. The Crown was busy trying to keep control of all religious dissidents, perceived as potential problems to the State and to the Crown. In 1575, twenty-seven German and Flemish Anabaptists were arrested in London. Accused of a series of heresies, eleven of them were convicted and condemned to be burned at the stake. Queen Elizabeth then commuted the sentences of nine of those condemned, banishing them instead of executing them. But the last two, John Wielmacker (also known as Jan Pieters) and Hendrick Ter Woort, were burned at the stake at Smithfield on July 22nd, 1575.

In 1590, Anabaptists were ordered to leave England, or to either join the National Church, or the Strangers Church at Austin Friars which had been reestablished under Elizabeth I, but most continued to meet in secret. Under James I similar policies were continued, but Anabaptist influences continued.


An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online

Today in London’s shameful history: ‘Go Down, You murderer, Go Down’. Tim Evans hangs, 1950

The case of Timothy Evans was the first major post-war miscarriage of justice to capture public attention. Of low intelligence, Evans was damned by his own, false “confession” that he had murdered his wife and daughter. The trial and – rightful – conviction of John Christie for one of these murders three years later, did not, however, bring about a pardon for Evans. It was to be many years before the judiciary and the government were to finally allow the late Timothy Evans a pardon.

Evans, 25, a Welsh van driver with an IQ of 70, was executed in 1950 for strangling his wife Beryl and his 14-month-old daughter, Geraldine, the previous year.
The bodies of the mother and child were found buried in a washroom at their flat in Notting Hill, west London, shortly after Beryl had told friends that she wanted to undergo an illegal abortion.
Three years after Mr Evans was hanged, John Christie, a neighbour in the house at 10 Rillington Place, confessed to strangling eight female victims – including Beryl and her baby daughter. He too was executed.

Evans was born in Merthyr Tydfil in 1924. It was not an easy childhood; shortly before Timothy was born his father ran off and left the family to cope by themselves. His mother remarried in 1929 and the family soon consisted of Timothy, his elder sister Eileen and a younger half sister called Maureen.
The young boy was slow in nearly all his developmental milestones and, as the victim of a tubercular sore on his right foot – something that never totally healed – he was often away from school for long periods. As a consequence, when he left school Timothy Evans was virtually illiterate and could barely read and write his own name.
The family moved to London and Evans began work as a painter and decorator for a while. He tried moving back to Merthyr Tydfil in 1937, working in the coal mines around the town, but found the job too difficult because of his foot.

By 1946 he was again living in London, in the Notting Hill area, and on 20 September 1947 he married Beryl Thorley. Within months she was pregnant, and Geraldine Evans was born on 10 October 1948.
Soon after their marriage the young couple moved into a top floor flat at 10 Rillington Place, close to Ladbroke Grove. Living in the ground floor flat of the house were John Christie and his wife Ethel.
The relationship between Timothy and Beryl was not easy: angry quarrels and occasional physical violence were part of their life together. When, late in 1949, Beryl announced that she was pregnant again, their financial situation was so fraught that an abortion – illegal in those days – was considered the only option.
On 30 November Evans turned up at Merthyr Tydfil police station, stating that his wife had died after he had given her some mixture to abort the baby. He had disposed of the body, he claimed, in a drain outside the house.

No body was ever found and Timothy Evans changed his story. John Christie, he said, had agreed to perform the abortion and Beryl had died during the procedure. The Evanses’ daughter Geraldine had been given to someone to look after but Christie, Evans claimed, would not let him see her.
A police search of 10 Rillington Place found Beryl’s body wrapped in a cloth in the wash house at the back, and alongside her was the body of Geraldine. Both had been strangled.

Clearly under stress, Timothy Evans was asked if he had killed his wife and child. He replied “Yes”. It was later revealed that much of his confession was actually dictated to Evans by police investigators, who bullied him till he confessed, and there was an almost total lack of forensic evidence. Builders who said there were no bodies when they worked in the room where the bodies were found were prevented from giving evidence.
The trial – according to the legal procedure of the day, for the murder of Geraldine, not his wife – began on 11 January, with Timothy Evans now claiming that Christie had committed the murders. Christie gave evidence against Evans. The trial lasted three days and the jury took only 40 minutes to return a guilty verdict. Evans was hanged in Pentomnville Prison, on 9 March 1950.

Three years later police uncovered a number of bodies at 10 Rillington Place, all of them women and all the victims of John Christie. At least six of the bodies were hidden under floorboards and in the wash house – Christie even used the thigh bone of one woman to prop up his garden fence. And yet the police, in their searches three years earlier, had totally missed this vital piece of evidence, just as they had missed the bodies lying almost casually around the house. It was evidence that might have saved Timothy Evans.
The motive behind the killings was certainly sexually driven, with Christie abusing the bodies after death. He admitted to the crimes and was hanged on 15 July 1953.

Amazingly, in the wake of Christie’s conviction, an inquiry into what was termed a “possible miscarriage of justice” upheld the guilt of Timothy Evans. Intense debate and a long-standing campaign by Evans’ sister – not to mention a hugely powerful exposé by journalist and writer Ludovic Kennedy – forced another inquiry in 1965.
The findings this time were clear that Evans had not killed his daughter – the death of Beryl remained a mystery and, since by now both Evans and Christie had already gone to the gallows, it was impossible to come to a firm conclusion.

As a result of the second inquiry Timothy Evans was given a royal pardon in October 1966. His conviction and execution were tragic, a man of limited intelligence being brow beaten into a series of confessions that could, ultimately, lead only to the death cell.

In January 2003, the Home Office awarded Timothy Evans’s half-sister, Mary Westlake, and his sister, Eileen Ashby, ex gratia payments as compensation for the miscarriage of justice in Evans’s trial. The independent assessor for the Home Office, Lord Brennan QC, accepted that “the conviction and execution of Timothy Evans for the murder of his child was wrongful and a miscarriage of justice” and that “there is no evidence to implicate Timothy Evans in the murder of his wife. She was most probably murdered by Christie.” Lord Brennan believed that the Brabin Report’s conclusion that Evans probably murdered his wife should be rejected given Christie’s confessions and conviction.

On 16 November 2004, Westlake began an appeal in the High Court to overturn a decision by the Criminal Cases Review Commission not to refer Evans’s case to the Court of Appeal to have his conviction formally quashed. She argued that Evans’s pardon had not formally expunged his conviction of murdering his daughter, and although the Brabin report had concluded that Evans probably did not kill his daughter, it had not declared him innocent. The report also contained the “devastating” conclusion that Evans had probably killed his wife.
The request to refer the case was dismissed on 19 November 2004, with the judges saying that the cost and resources of quashing the conviction could not be justified, although they did accept that Evans did not murder either his wife or his child.

This case is dealt with at length in “Timothy Evans” by Bob Woffinden in his 1987 book Miscarriages of Justice. A PDF of this can be found here


Ewan MacColl wrote a song about the case:
The Ballad of Tim Evans

Tim Evans was a prisoner,
Fast in his prison cell
And those who read about his crimes,
They damned his soul to hell,
Sayin’, “Go down, you murderer,
go down.”  

For the murder of his own dear wife
And the killing of his own child
The jury found him guilty
And the hangin’ judge, he smiled.   
Sayin’, “Go down, you murderer,
go down.”  

Tim Evans pleaded innocent
And he swore by Him on high,
That he never killed his own dear wife
Nor caused his child to die.   
Sayin’, “Go down, you murderer,
go down.”  

The governor came in one day
And the chaplain by his side,
Said, “Your appeal has been turned down,
Prepare yourself to die.”   
Sayin’, “Go down, you murderer,
go down.”  

They moved him out of C-block
To his final flowery dell,
And day and night two screws were there
And they never left his cell.   
Sayin’, “Go down, you murderer,
go down.”  

Sometimes they played draughts with him
And solo and pontoon,
To stop him brooding on the rope
That was to be his doom.    
Sayin’, “Go down, you murderer,
go down.”  

They brought his grub in on a tray,
There was eggs and meat and ham,
And all the snout that he could smoke
Was there at his command.    
Sayin’, “Go down, you murderer,
go down.”  

Tim Evans walked in the prison yard
And the screws, they walked behind;
And he saw the sky above the wall
But he knew no peace of mind.   
Sayin’, “Go down, you murderer,
go down.”  

They came for him at eight o’clock
And the chaplain read a prayer
And then they marched him to that place
Where the hangman did prepare.   
Sayin’, “Go down, you murderer,
go down.”  

The rope was fixed around his neck
And a washer behind his ear.
The prison bell was tolling
But Tim Evans did not hear.   
Sayin’, “Go down, you murderer,
go down.”  

A thousand lags were cursing
And a-banging on the doors;
But Evans couldn’t hear them,
He was deaf for ever more.    
Sayin’, “Go down, you murderer,
go down.”  

They sent Tim Evans to the drop
For a crime he did not do.
It was Christy was the murderer
And the judge and jury too.   
Sayin’, “Go down, you murderers,
go down.”



An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online