For reasons which are of no great interest to this blog, I recently found myself in my local library with an hour or so to spare.
As I am currently working on a post inspired by a book I read on local paranormal activity, which included some very interesting references to the history of my area, I spent my time at the library looking through the local history section to see if I could find some additional reference material.
Well it was a great idea but I got distracted by a book called “Buckinghamshire Tales of Mystery and Murder” by David Kidd-Hewitt (ISBN 1 85306 809 8). There were two stories which caught my attention; the other is going to be the subject of another post! And so, there is this one …..
Friday 5th August 1864 saw the last public execution in Buckinghamshire.
William John Stevens had been convicted of murder and was sentenced to hang outside the county goal in Bierton Road, Aylesbury.
Apart from the obvious historic importance of this event, it also had two other facets which made it stick in my mind having read the story.
Firstly, The executioner was a man by the name of William Calcraft. He was the Official Execution for the City of London and Middlesex, but found himself in great demand all of the country. He was so famous, or should that be infamous, in his time that mothers point him out to misbehaving children saying “behave or Calcraft will get you!”. With his long white beard, Calcraft made for an imposing figure on the gallows.
He was not only known for the number of executions he presided over, but also the manner of the execution. He was known for preferring the short form, or short rope, which invariably involved the victim suffering a slow death by strangulation rather than the long form which generally resulted in a broken neck and therefore a quick release from this world.
The second event of the day was recorded by Superintendent Symington who was in charge of proceedings, Shortly after Stevens was cut down from the gallows a man from the nearby town of Winslow asked that he be allowed to place the dead mans hand on his sons face and neck. The boy suffered from a serious skin infections and the man believed that an ancient cure, “the touch of evil”, would transfer the infections from his son to the murderer. Symington was so horrified by the request and its potential association with the county, that he told the man to go home and not reveal to anyone that, as a Buckinghamshire man, he had made such a request.