Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Nottingham Executions. The hanging of outlaws.

According to legend, Will Stutely was rescued from the gallows by Robin Hood at the base of Castle Rock, where the wooden walls of the original castle once stood. But a far more likely location would have been Gallows Hill at the northern entrance to the town. This post & related video will explain why.

The Galleries of Justice and St Mary’s Church:
In Saxon times the centre of Nottingham was where High Pavement is today, with the hugely successful Weekday Cross Market, and a Fort built on the site where now stands the Nottingham Contemporary Art Gallery. Beneath the streets are the remains of dark dungeons carved out of Nottingham's famous sandstone. Archaeologists believe they show evidence of links with prisons and punishment right back to Saxon times. Shire Hall, now known as the Galleries of Justice, stands where similar official buildings have stood since 600AD. After the Norman conquest the appointed Sheriff of Nottingham's duties were based here from 1125. He was required to collect taxes and keep the peace, and although written records before the 14th century are sparse, it is likely this site known then as Sheriff's Hall was always more connected with law and order than the Castle itself. Public executions took place outside this hall between 1738, (James Gilders for Highway Robbery), and 1861 (Richard darker, for killing his mother). After 1868, executions were held out of view on the west end of the prison yard, but crowds would still eagerly gather to read the Death Notice on display. Across the street from Shire Hall stands St Mary's Church, the place where Robin Hood is said to have been arrested by the Sheriff of Nottingham in a much earlier building, after breaking his sword in a duel. During the 15th & 16th centuries, prisoners condemned to hang were given their last rights here. Criminals were hung on the day after their conviction (unless that be a Sunday). Gallows Day (now known as gala day), was usually declared a public holiday, and persons owning a room above street level would hire it out to those thirsting for a better view of the grisly entertainment involved. But this is not the original place where Nottingham’s public executions were held. That dubious honour must go to Gallows Hill. After a brief service in St Mary’s, the prisoner would mount the executioner's cart and begin his final journey towards Gallows Hill at North Gate. Sometimes a small choir would follow behind, and doubtless many noisy spectators. When the cart reached the bottom of Mansfield Road, (the North road leading out of the city), if the prisoner was of Jewish descent his cart would turn left down Shakespeare Street where the Jews were allotted a gallows of there own.
Nag’s Head Inn:
Half way up the hill, as the gallows just came into view, the hangman's cart would stop outside the Nag's Head and the prisoner would be offered one last drink: A pint of Nottingham Ale. On one infamous occasion the prisoner rejected his ale and asked to press on ahead to the gallows and get it over with. However, no sooner was his dead body hanging from the rope, than a full pardon arrived all too late!

Gallows Hill and St Andrew’s Church:
Gallows Hill is the junction of Forest Road East and Mansfield Road. The earliest surviving mention of these gallows dates from 1496, but centuries before that travellers entering this North Gate to the town would have witnessed bodies swaying here in the breeze, and therefore be deterred themselves from any lawbreaking. The original public gallows is said to have stood where St Andrew's Church now stands, high on a sandstone ridge so typical of Nottingham's landscape, and had to be moved when the church foundations were laid in 1869. However, other sources say a permanent gallows was erected across the road much earlier in 1558. This makes more sense, for who would build a church on the exact spot criminals had so recently been hung?
Nottingham Cemetery:
The Cemetery keeper's lodge marks the spot where these gallows once stood. (Not to be confused with the somewhat grander Lodge of 1857 further down the hill, built for the 19th century racecourse.) In 1800 the gallows were made of a portable construction, after a group of daring young men removed them on the day before an execution! The last execution to be held here was of 45 year old William Wells, in April 1827, for a highway robbery. Thereafter Gallows Hill had its name changed to appease local residents, but is said to remain the haunt of many ghosts. The Church Cemetery was built on the site of a former sand mine, hence the varying levels in its lay-out. (There are no natural caves in Nottingham). In Robin Hood's day the area at the base of this sandy hill, now known as the Forest Recreation Ground, would have been the start of the once mighty Sherwood Forest.

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