The Hanging of Holloway, Haggerty, and Godfrey — 27 Spectators Die at Execution

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Photo by Naomi Clifford

Just a few days before Christmas 1806, a 34 year-old woman named Elizabeth Godfrey rented a room at a house of ill-repute (tsk-tsk) in the Marylebone section of London. Living next door was a coachman named Richard Price, who resided with a woman named Emily Bisset.

Elizabeth was very angry at Richard, apparently for sending the watchman, William Atkins, to arrest her for having a gentleman caller (perhaps a customer) to her room the previous evening (what did he expect in that neighborhood?) They had a shouting match, and Richard allegedly cut Elizabeth’s hand during the incident. No criminal charges were brought against either party.

Apparently Elizabeth was still pretty ticked off, because on Christmas Eve she knocked on Richard’s door and tore into him again about ratting her out to the watchman. This time, however, she stabbed Richard below his eye with a pocket knife. Emily took him to the hospital, where he died on January 18 of his injury.

Elizabeth has been arrested and charged with wounding Richard Price, but that was now upgraded to the much more serious charge of murder. She didn’t have much of a case. There were witnesses to both altercations, and the surgeon who treated Richard testified he was certain the stab wound caused his death.

It was impossible for Elizabeth to argue self-defense. Too much time had passed between the reported incidences of Price stabbing her hand and of Godfrey stabbing him in retaliation for it to be a crime of passion. She was convicted of willful murder and sentenced to hang with two other condemned prisoners, John Holloway and Owen Haggerty, on February 24, 1807.

The execution of these three murderers attracted a ton of public interest, and an estimated 40,000 people turned up outside Newgate Prison and the Old Bailey. With this many people crammed into every inch of space, things were getting out of hand even before the execution commenced.

It was a horrific scene. As the three felons died on the gallows above, many more were being crushed –and dying — in the crowd below. Men, women, and children were trampled as they fainted under the sheer pressure of the crowd around them, and cries of “murder! murder!” arose from the desperate victims. Helpless officials looked on, powerless to help the injured in the densely packed mob.

It was only after the lifeless corpses of the executed were cut down and the gallows removed that much needed medical attention could be administered to the causalities. A total of 27 bodies were recovered from the scene, while another 70 at the scene sustained injuries requiring treatment. A make-shift mortuary was set up at nearby St. Bartholomew’s Hospital so people could come and identify their loved ones.

The hospital held an inquest into the tragic incident the next day, which concluded very quickly that same Friday with the no-brainer verdict: “that several persons came by their death from compression and suffocation.”

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is a political junkie and history buff randomly alternating between bouts of crankiness and amusement while bearing witness to the Apocalypse. Come along!

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