Page 355. " Sentence of death was carried out this morning "
List of crimes punishable by death at the time of the 'Black Act' (on display at the London Dungeon)
GNU Free Documentation LicenseList of crimes punishable by death at the time of the 'Black Act' (on display at the London Dungeon) - Credit: Helga

 Capital punishment (the imposition of the death penalty by a court) for murder was abolished in England, Wales and Scotland in 1965, and in Northern Ireland in 1973. After those dates, the penalty for murder was a mandatory life sentence.

The history of the death penalty in Britain is long and complex, the law having undergone numerous changes over the centuries. Up until the early decades of the 19th century, crimes punishable by death included "strong evidence of malice in a child aged 7–14 years of age" and "blacking the face or using a disguise whilst committing a crime". Many other trivial offences could incur the death penalty, following the passing of the draconian Black Act in 1723. By 1824, however, judges had been given the power to commute the death penalty for all crimes except treason and murder.

Hanging was the principal method of execution in Britain. Up until 1868, hangings were carried out in public; after that date, they took place in prison.

Click here for more information.

Page 360. " I wondered what a crypt was like "
Crypt of the Church of St John the Baptist, Berkswell, W. Midlands
GNU Free Documentation LicenseCrypt of the Church of St John the Baptist, Berkswell, W. Midlands - Credit: Oosoom

A crypt is an underground room or vault, located beneath a church or cathedral, where the bodies of the deceased are stored. They are almost invariably made of stone, and often have vaulted ceilings.  

Information about the Crypt at St. Pancras Parish Church in London notes that it was used for 'coffin burials from 1822, when the Church was opened, to 1854, when the crypts of all London churches were closed to burials'.

It is not clear whether the burial of a coffin in the church crypt (as seems to occur in the case of Rebecca's coffin) would have been usual in the period in which Rebecca is set.

Page 360. " Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust "
Page from 'The Book of Common Prayer' (1762)
Public DomainPage from 'The Book of Common Prayer' (1762) - Credit: John Baskerville

These words appear in the Funeral Service of the Book of Common Prayer. They are part of the section read by the priest at the graveside, when earth is being cast onto the coffin. In the 1662 version (which is still the official Prayer Book of the Church of England), the relevant section is as follows:

Forasmuch as it hath pleased Almighty God of his great mercy to take unto himself the soul of our dear brother/sister departed, we therefore commit his/her body to the ground: earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall change our vile body, that it may be like unto his glorious body, according to the mighty working, whereby he is able to subdue all things to himself.

The highlighted phrase is based on a Biblical text (Genesis 3:19) which in the King James Version of the Bible reads as follows:

In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

Page 367. " And some of 'em just can't help playing Othello "

'Othello and Desdemona'
Public Domain'Othello and Desdemona' - Credit: Muñoz Degrain
Othello is one of the main characters in a play by William Shakespeare called The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice.

In the play, Othello, a general in the Venetian army who is married to Desdemona, becomes erroneously convinced (through the machinations of his standard-bearer, Iago) that she is being unfaithful to him with his lieutenant, Cassio. Consumed with jealousy, Othello confronts Desdemona with his suspicions, and ends up smothering her to death in her bed.

Page 367. " I'm a bit of a Socialist in my way "
Anti-socialist poster produced by the Conservative Party
Public DomainAnti-socialist poster produced by the Conservative Party (1909) - Credit: Conservative Party

The development of Socialism as a force in British politics was a gradual process, which culminated in the formation of the Independent Labour Party in 1893, and the Labour Representation Committee (LRC) in 1900. On winning 29 seats in the 1906 election, the LRC changed its name to the Labour Party.

From this point onwards, the Labour Party gained in strength, and by 1922 it had replaced the Liberal Party as the main opposition to the Conservatives. The first Labour government (with Liberal support in a hung parliament) was formed in January 1924 under the leadership of Ramsay Macdonald, but it lasted only until November of that year. Labour came to power for the second time from 1929 to 1931, again with Ramsay Macdonald at the helm.