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Execution: A History of Capital Punishment in Britain Kindle Edition
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Top customer reviews
It describes in graphic detail the mechanics of execution, the people involved and the reasons for the abolition of Capital Punishment in the U.K.
Utterly fascinating read
The reasons for holding back a star are, i. There's a little too much repetition (especially the stuff on Shepton Mallett/USA Army), ii. The book could have been punchier with a bit more editing, iii. The book was far more fascinating on all the non-hanging stuff. Yet hanging is what most of the audience understand as capital punishment in the UK. This section was relatively weak and there are better books available dedicated to that particular seam.
Despite those small points, I recommend it. I'm sure this must be a splendid source of material for the TV programme 'Q.I.'. You will read it in one sitting and bore the pants off friends with some of the gory anecdotes.
Simon Webb does a great job of bringing history to life, recounting all the different methods of execution employed in Britain from the Roman occupation until the abolition of the death penalty. The first named victims of capital punishment died by decapitation and, as the author states, the problem with this method is that it requires a certain amount of cooperation from the victim. I was interested to learn that the first recorded beheading was that of a young man called Alban, on the site of which became St Alban's Abbey - a place I know well.
In fact, this book is full of wonderful anecdotes and stories, with interesting knowledge thrown in. Who knew that the phrase "putting pressure on you" relates to the practice of crushing those who refused to plead either guilty or not guilty in court, or that "pulling your leg" came from helping those hanging to die quicker? Well, perhaps you knew, but I didn't, and this book is packed full of such nuggets.
The author looks at many methods of execution - including decapitation, firing squad, burning at the stake (not used for witches apparently), boiling to death, etc. The method most widely associated with Britain is hanging and many famous executioners are looked at, such as Jack Ketch, William Calcraft and the Pierrepoints, as well as well known cases which shaped laws. The country has changed from one in which in 1815 you could be hung for any of 220 offences, including "looking like you were going poaching" to shoplifting or sending threatening letters, to one in which it was recognised that capital punishment did not deter criminals and gradually declined in use. Hangings were not solemn, but often seen as raucous entertainment, with pickpockets and thieves operating literally underneath the gallows. With juries increasingly reluctant to convict women or young people, the laws were simply not enforced.
There are many stories in this book which are unbearably moving and others which made me laugh out loud. I think this is a fantastic book and would be enjoyed by anyone with an interest in this fascinating aspect of British history.
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