Hanging people at the scene of their crime in South West England, 1730-1830

In the Georgian period, men and women sentenced to death by the West Country’s assize courts were usually executed either at the county gaol or on traditional hanging grounds sited on the peripheries of the region’s county towns. By the 1790s, most of these executions were carried out on purpose built scaffolds with trapdoor systems – a practice considered quicker, cleaner and more economically efficient than carting the condemned out of town for rough strangulation on a makeshift gallows.

So how are we to understand the continuance of the much older practice of processing some convicts across miles of open country to relatively obscure rural parishes so that they could be despatched at the scene of their crime? Despite the enormous costs, the logistical difficulties, the security issues and the archaic nature of the execution apparatus, crime-scene hangings were still taking place in the region as late as 1830. This talk seeks answers in local geography and in the customary principle of exemplary justice.

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