Oxford History: Executions at the Castle: reformed mode  

The following article published in Jackson's Oxford Journal on 11 August 1787 describes the “reformed mode” of execution first used on Monday 6 August 1787 when two prisoners were executed together at the Castle:

On Monday last, Thomas White, for robbing Blenheim House of a considerable Quantity of Plate; and Charles Walter Wyatt, for stealing divers Bills of Exchange and Bank Notes out of different Letters committed to his Care by Virtue of his Employment under the Postmaster of Witney, in this County, were executed here pursuant to their respective Sentences; the Ceremony attending which we give in Detail, on Account of the reformed Mode by which the Sentence was inflicted, and which we are happy to find produced a very sensible Effect upon the Prisoners now under Confinement in our Castle, who were made Spectators of the dreadful Catastrophe of the unhappy Criminals then led to Execution.

Before Four o'clock in the Morning White and Wyatt were removed from their Cell to the Chapel, and there informed, that upon that Day they were to be executed; but that they would be indulged with fixing the precise Time themselves, provided it was between the Hours of Eight and Twelve.—White, who seemed pretty fully resigned to his Fate, referred the Choice to his Fellow-Sufferer, who appeared rather desirous of an early Period. At length, however, they accepted the whole Indulgence:—This Interval. 'till the Arrival of the dreadful Moment, was spent in acts of Devotion, as was the Whole of the preceding Day, and all Visitors totally excluded, except a few of the near Relations of the Criminals, for taking their last Farewell.

About Seven, on Monday Morning, the Minister, who is Ordinary of the Castle, attended, and at Nine the Prisoners of every description were called in to Divine Service, and a strict Fast observed 'till after the Evening Service, and a Sermon Sited to the Occasion had been preached to them; nor was any Work permitted to be carried on a the Goal [sic] during the whole Day.

At Eleven o'Clock the Fetters of White and Wyatt were knocked off, and the Sacrament administered to them; at which time they acknowledged the Justice of their Sentence; most ardently implored Mercy at the Throne of Grace, and seemed perfectly resigned.

After Prayers the Debtors retired to their Apartments, and the Prisoners remaining under their respective Sentences and Commitments, were confined in the Felons Yards 'till Twelve o'Clock; at which Time precisely the two Criminals were conducted from the Chapel to the Place of Execution, a Gallows and Platform having been prepared over the intended Turnkey's Lodge, which forms a Part of the new Boundary Wall.—The Procession as follows, viz.

Six Sheriff's Men, with Javelins, two and two.
The Executioner, bareheaded.
The two Malefactors in white Caps, and pinioned; between the Turnkeys, armed.
Redditch, a condemned Criminal, but reprieved; guarded by two Constables.
The rest of the Felons, two and two, also guarded to the Place appointed for them
       near the Gallows, where they were compelled to be Spectators of this last
       and horrible Scene.

The two Criminals having ascended the Platform, before which there was a prodigious Assemblage of Spectators, (no Person being admitted within the Walls but the Constables, Javelin-men, and other Officers of the Sheriff, on Duty) they immediately delivered up their Books of Devotion, the Cords were fixed, the Caps pulled over their Faces, and in little more than two Minutes, having themselves requested Dispatch, the Platform sunk, and the unhappy Wretches were launched into Eternity.

We must add, that the solemn and affecting manner in which this deplorable Business was conducted, made a visible Impression on the beholders within the Walls in particular, and from the Situation totally prevented the Riot and Disorder too often experienced on similar Occasions.—It is also worthy of Remark, that from the prodigious Elevation of the Gallows, which was thirty-three Feet from the Ground, this Execution, tho' performed within the Walls of the Prison, was nevertheless more publick than any other Situation could have afforded; and to add to the Solemnity, the Parish Bell tolled upwards of an Hour and a Half before and during the Execution.

The Platform for this Purpose was simple and ingeniously constructed; the whole Ceremony solemn, awful, and affecting; the Behaviour of the Convicts decent and submissive; and the Deportment of the Prisoners in general, such as to give rational Hopes of a happy Effect.

The Bodies remained suspended for an Hour, after which, being cut down, that of Wyatt was delivered to his Friends who were in waiting; and the Remains of White were the same afternoon decently interred in the Church Yard of the Parish of St. Thomas.


© Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 18 August, 2023

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