April 2023: Executions, Museum of London
The Museum of London Docklands’ fantastic exhibition, Executions, explores the capital’s history of public punishment, from the first recorded public execution in 1196 to the last in 1868.
More frequent in London than any other British city, the capital (known as the City of Gallows) was host to some the most high profile public executions, as well as those of thousands of unknown and forgotten Londoners. From Smithfield to Southwark, Banqueting House to Newgate Prison, executions became embedded in London’s landscape. Even today, hints of this past can be found across the capital.
Amongst the extraordinary items going on display- many for the first time- are an intricately woven silk vest said to have been worn by King Charles I at his execution, a 300-year-old bedsheet embroidered with a love note in human hair, and items belonging to the prison reformer Elizabeth Fry.
Visitors can stand in front of the imposing Newgate Prison door, which marked the last steps for many prisoners between the notoriously squalid Newgate Prison and the scaffold; listen to moving last letters that reveal the experiences of ordinary Londoners; and stand amidst a dramatic recreation of the infamous Tyburn ‘Triple Tree’ gallows, the centrepiece of the exhibition.
Visitors can learn more about the 200 offences- from treason to theft- that were punishable by death, the spectacle and rituals of execution days and the lives and crimes of celebrity criminals that captured the public imagination. Other sections will explore the economy around execution day and how these visible demonstrations of state power became embedded in popular culture through music, theatre and literature. In the exhibition’s final chapter, there will be a look at how reforming approaches to crime and punishment and the emergence of a new Victorian moral code uncomfortable with public pain and suffering contributed to the decline and abolition of public executions.
If you have not already visited this brilliant exhibition, grab your tickets before 16 April 2023
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