"Did you ever see a public execution"

Capital punishment was used in the United Kingdom from 1707 until 1964. It was abolished for murder in 1969, but kept (unused) on the statute books as a punishment for espionage, treason, piracy and arson in royal dockyards. The final abolishment came in 1998. Up until the nineteenth century prisons were small, overcrowded and badly run. Deportation was also an option, but the death penalty was linked to hundreds of crimes, from pick-pocketing to murder. Under the Victorians, however, the prison system was developed and punishment reforms began in 1808. By 1861 the death penalty was applicable only to five capital crimes (murder, treason, espionage, arson in royal dockyards and piracy with violence). Hanging was the usual form of execution; beheading, gibbeting and hanging in chains were also abolished.

Prisoners were executed in front of prisons as a very popular public spectacle. Newgate Prison (see below) was the site of London’s gallows for the first half of the nineteenth century. The last man to be hanged in Britain in public was Michael Barrett, a Fenian who helped with the Clerkenwell bombing. He died on 27th May 1868. The last people to be executed in Britain were Peter Anthony Allen and Gwynne Owen Evans for the murder of John Alan West, in August 1964.

A history of crime and punishment in the UK.