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.
Newgate Prison, now no longer in existence, was a central London prison in use from 1188 to 1902. It takes its name from Newgate, one of the gates leading into the city through the Roman London Wall, which is where it was originally built. Several extensions and rebuilds took place throughout its lifetime on the location at the corner of Newgate Street and Old Bailey until it was finally demolished in 1904. The Old Bailey, the Central Criminal Court of London, now stands on this site.
London’s gallows stood outside Newgate Prison from 1783 until 1868, when public executions were banned. Large crowds were always drawn to the events and permits were also given out to visit the prison. As London’s main prison conditions were extremely poor, attracting the attention of Elizabeth Fry whose reforming committee managed to achieve some change in the mid-nineteenth century. Newgate Prison features commonly in literature, including several of Dickens’ novels.
Ancient Greece, although in general it was animal sacrifices which were made, as opposed to human. The Romans had more of a reputation for sacrificing humans, but it did occasionally occur in Ancient Greece as well – the victims would usually be young virgins. The aim of a sacrificial ritual was to appease the Gods or gain favour for a particular event, such as a war. The animal would be slaughtered on the altar, the offal burnt as an offering to the Gods and the rest eaten by the worshippers along with wine.
The most important instance of human sacrifice in Greek mythology is that of the attempt of King Agamemnon to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia before the Trojan War. In some versions of the story he is successful, in others the goddess Artemis spares the girl and leaves a deer in her place – thought perhaps to be a sign that the Greeks wished to move away from human sacrifice entirely and use only animals in their place. In 1977 a Greek film, Iphigenia, was made of the myth.
Surrey is a county in the south-east of England, bordering London, Kent, Hampshire, East and West Sussex, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire. It is the 12th largest county with a population of 1,127,300 and the county town is the historic city of Guildford. Surrey was settled by the Saxons in the 5th and 6th centuries and took its name from the word ‘Suthrige’, meaning ‘southern region’.
Surrey today is the most affluent county in England, due in part to its close ties to London. A huge number of company headquarters are based in Surrey; it is also popular for visitors due to its areas of natural beauty, gardens, parks and stately homes.
There are a large number of independent schools in Surrey, at which the upper classes from Victorian London would have been educated. They include the famous Charterhouse School, which was one of the original nine public schools in Britain.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (27th January 1756 – 5th December 1791) was a Classical composer and one of the greatest musicians in history. Born in Salzburg, as a child Mozart learned to play violin and piano and from the age of five began composing and performing for European royalty. A court musician in Salzburg, he travelled widely and eventually settled in Vienna in 1781, where he lived out the rest of his life with his wife and two sons. Although well-regarded as a musician and composer, Mozart never achieved the level of fame he is seen with now, and he died in relative obscurity and extreme poverty. He left behind him over 600 works of operatic, choral, symphonic and chamber work, which are amongst the most popular and influential works of classical music. His style greatly developed the Classical era as a whole, recognisable in its clarity, balance and complex harmonies, and he was greatly influential on other composers which followed him, including Beethoven and Chopin.
View a complete list of Mozart’s works online.
Wapping takes it name from the Saxon tribes which settled there - Wæppa's people. Developing along a narrow stretch of the Thames embankment, it was populated with sailors, boat-builders, dock-workers and many more who supported the seafaring trade, giving it a strong maritime character. Wapping was also the site of Execution Dock, where pirates and maritime criminals were hanged as late as 1830. In the 19th century, however, the population dropped by a drastic 60% as the nearby London Docks were developed and many houses destroyed or abandoned. The area became isolated from London and suffered extensive bomb damage during the Second World War; however, from the 1970s it became the subject of a regeneration programme and is now part of London’s lively Docklands area. Famous landmarks include the Wapping Stairs and the Prospect of Whitby, thought to be London’s oldest riverside pub.
The Tower of London (officially Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress) is a castle on the north bank of the River Thames in East London, dating to the Norman Conquest of 1066. Originally a royal residence, it has also been used as an armoury, treasury, public records office and home of the Royal Mint, but its most famous incarnation is that of prison. Prisoners were kept in the tower since around 1100, but the practice reached its peak in the 16th and 17th centuries when disgraced figures, such as the future Queen Elizabeth I and her mother Anne Boleyn, were locked within its walls. Two of its most famous inmates were the young Princes Edward and Richard, whose uncle Richard Duke of Gloucester (Richard III) removed their claim to the throne after their father Edward IV's death. Accommodated in the Tower, they disappeared around 1483 and were never seen again.
Propagandists gave it a reputation for being a dark place of torture and death – it was a common perception that once inside the Tower, a prisoner would never be seen again – but in fact only seven people were executed there before the 20th centuries, when 12 accused spies were executed in World War II. Tower Hill, the open space to the north of the building, was used commonly for public hangings and beheadings.
The Tower of London is open to the public and one of London’s most popular attractions. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it features exhibitions on the Tower’s history as a prison and armoury and also displays the Crown Jewels of England.
Cheapside is a street in central London, beginning at Newgate Street and ending at the junction between Queen Victoria Street and Mansion House Street. The name derives from the produce market that was held there – ‘cheap’ meaning ‘market’ in medieval English. In 1879 Charles Dickens Jr. described it as ‘the greatest thoroughfare in the City of London’. Today it has somewhat lost this title, home now to developments of shops and offices.
St Katharine Docks were once one of London’s commercial ports, situated on the north of the Thames in the modern Borough of Tower Hamlets. From the 12th century onwards a hospital stood here, St Katharine by the Tower – the docks are just along from the Tower of London and Tower Bridge. The area gradually built up into a slum, where dock workers and immigrants lived. In 1827, however, 1,250 of these houses were demolished, as part of a renovation plan designed by Thomas Telford. St Katharine Docks, built on the cleared land and comprising warehouses on the quayside and two basins, were opened in October 1828. Not quite large enough, they were incorporated with the London Docks nearby, but never a great success, and the area built up again with cramped workers’ housing.
In the 1970s redevelopment of the area began. The warehouses were replaced by residential and commercial buildings; the docks became a marina. Now regarded as a prime example of urban regeneration, the luxury housing, offices, hotel, restaurants (including the famous 18th century Dickens Inn), recreational facilities and yachting marina are a popular residential area and leisure destination.
St Katharine's Way is the road which links the two basins and leads into and out of the marina. St Katharine’s Pier nearby is a stopping-point for London River Services boats, on their routes to and from Westminster and Greenwich.
A report on St Katharine Docks from a survey of London in 1878.
Anne Boleyn (c. 1501/09-1536) was the second wife of King Henry VIII and Queen of England from 1533 until her death. Born to a nobleman’s family, she spent much of her childhood at the court in France, before returning to England in 1521. After affairs with Henry Percy and Sir Thomas Wyatt, the bewitching and ambitious Anne was noticed by Henry VIII who had already had her sister Mary as a mistress. Anne refused to take this position, saying that she would either marry Henry or nothing at all. Around 1527 he began to seek grounds for a divorce from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, who had borne him a daughter but could have no more children. In one of the greatest cataclysms of British history, Henry broke from the church in Rome and formed the Church of England of which he was head, allowing him to divorce Catherine in 1533.
Anne was not much admired by the people of England, having caused such great turmoil, but she was adored by Henry VIII. They were married in 1533 by which time she was already pregnant. Her daughter, Elizabeth, was born in September of that year. It was incredibly important to her future survival that Anne produce a son for Henry, who wanted nothing more than a male heir, but it was not to be – over the next two years she miscarried several times. In 1536 her enemies began to plot to bring her down: she was accused of adultery, incest and planning to murder Henry. Accusations of witchcraft were more a public sensation: the population felt she must have bewitched the King to get him to marry her. Her friends and brother, George, were also accused of similar crimes, and all were tried and sentenced to death.
Anne spent her final days in the Tower of London and was executed there on 19th May 1536 by a swordsman brought specially from France.
The Gun is an historic pub in the Docklands, East London. Built in the early eighteenth century, it was once a favourite haunt of Lord Nelson, who lived nearby and used to meet his mistress Emma Hamilton in an upstairs room. Today it is a popular London gastro-pub, admired for its food and historic setting.
Kate William’s book, biography, England’s Mistress: The Infamous Life of Emma Hamilton, is published by Random House.
Portsmouth is a city on the south coast of England and was once the United Kingdom’s most significant naval port. Situated largely on an island connected to the mainland by bridges, the city has a population of 207,100 and is the mostly densely populated city in the country. Settled since before Roman times, Portsmouth was used as a dock since the late 12th century and is home today to the world’s largest dry dock still in use. Commercial ships used the port but it was primarily the launching pad for the Royal Navy, which still has a major base there. The Historic Dockyard houses some of the world’s most famous naval ships including HMS Warrior, the Mary Rose and HMS Victory, Lord Nelson’s ship, and is a popular visitor attraction. Although not as busy as in its heyday, Portsmouth’s main economy is the dockyard – a tenth of the city’s workforce is employed there. Due to bombardment in World War II, much of the city had to be rebuilt and there are several major housing developments on the outskirts, as well as a new waterfront development at Gunwharf Quays of shops, restaurants, houses and the Spinnaker Tower.
Susan Edmonstone Ferrier (1782-1854) was a Scottish novelist who published three books: Marriage, The Inheritance and Destiny. Her work was largely popular, known for its racy humour and sharp-witted portrayals of its characters. She was a good friend of Sir Walter Scott and visited him often towards the end of his life at his home in Abbotsford.
The Quarterly Review was a literary and political magazine first circulated in 1809 by the publishing house John Murray. A counterbalance to the Whig Edinburgh Review, it featured essays and reviews – early contributors included Sir Walter Scott, Charles Lamb and Robert Southey. As with many nineteenth-century literary periodicals, the reviews in The Quarterly Review were often very critical and dismissive – writers which came under attack include Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Percy Shelley and John Keats. The magazine’s final issue was printed in 1967, but in 2007 it was re-established with its original aim: ‘to provide counter-intuitive writing for people who like to think’.
William Wordsworth (1770-1850) was one of England’s major Romantic poets. Born and brought up in the Lake District, he was well-educated at grammar schools and at Cambridge, and began his career with two books of published poems, An Evening Walk and Descriptive Sketches in 1793. Along with Samuel Taylor Coleridge he helped to found the Romantic Age by publishing Lyrical Ballads, one of the greatest poetical works of English literature. Very highly regarded, he was made Poet Laureate in 1843 and remained so until his death. His most famous work is generally considered to be the posthumously published autobiographical poem The Prelude, although all his works were very influential in shaping the landscape of English literature and are much studied and beloved to this day.
The first stanza of 'I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud', one of Wordsworth's most famous poems, also known as 'The Daffodils':
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.