Sunday, 20 November 2016

20th November 1816: The execution of the Nottinghamshire Luddite, James Towle

On Wednesday 20th November 1816, the Luddite James Towle was executed in Leicester, before a crowd of between 10-20,000 people. The execution was reported in several newspapers, and it worth comparing the accounts.

The Nottingham Review of 22nd November contained the passage about the execution:
On Wednesday morning, he was taken, under an escort, in a chaise, to the building, an appendage to the New Bridewell now erecting, within a few yards of the west-end of the infirmary. At an early hour, great numbers assembled to see the new drop (which had been placed there only the day before) and kept increasing until twelve o'clock, when Towle, with a firm and undaunted step, came upon the platform, attended by the Sheriff and his deputy, the chaplain, the two gaolers, &c. after paying the utmost possible attention to the prayers of the chaplain, with a firm and audible voice, he gave out one of Dr. Watt's admirable hymns, beginning with— 
"Oh! for an overcoming faith,
To cheer my dying hours;
To triumph o’er the monster death,
With all his frightful powers." 
He gave out the whole of the hymn, two lines at a time, and joined in singing it with the utmost fervency. About half past twelve, every thing being ready the platform fell, and launched him into eternity, in the presence of an immense number of spectators, who conducted themselves in the most orderly manner, and without the least attempt a disturbance.
The Tory Leicester Journal of the same date contained the following:
We stated from authority in our last, that the case of James Towle, convicted at our late Assizes of Frame breaking, &c. at the Bobbin Lace manufactory of Messrs. Heathcote and Boden, at Loughborough, had been argued in the Exchequer Chamber on the preceding Wednesday, when the twelve Judges were unanimously of opinion, that the conviction of the prisoner was legal. The term of his respite expired last Wednesday; an early on the same morning the convict was removed from the present County Gaol, to the new one now building at the end of Horsepool street, where a new drop was erected in the front of the principal entry.—The Chaplain of the Gaol attended him early in the morning, in the necessary devotionary exercises, and at 12 o'clock he was brought upon the platform attended by the different officers, where he evinced a manly and becoming fortitude, worthy of a better fate. He bowed on his entrance to the populace, but made no address. After the Chaplain had gone through the usual prayers, the Prisoner gave out and sang a hymn with great solemnity and a very audible voice, after which the several attendants having withdrawn, he was launched into eternity, and appeared to die without struggle or emotion.—Some strong insinuations having been made respecting the removal of the Prisoner without the heretofore customary cavalcade, as if it implied a fear—we beg to state, that nothing could be more foreign to the intention of the executive department. As the new Gaol is now nearly come completed and will be very shortly occupied, it was deemed expedient that the new regulations respecting executions should in the present instance be entered upon, and the decorum and solemnity which were manifested on this occasion, justify the wisdom and policy of the measure. Heretofore the unhappy wretches were dragged two or three miles distant from the town, amidst the din and noise of the thoughtless and wicked, whose loose manners and depraved habits gave the scene more the appearance of a holiday, than the awful removal of a human being from life to eternity. On this occasion the unhappy victim had all the consolation that could arise from his latest moments being employed in devotionary exercises undisturbed by the noise and folly of unthinking multitude; and there was enough of public spectacle to satisfy all the judgment that awaits those, who trench upon the rights of their fellow creatures, and offend against the laws of their country. The assemblage was very great, but the almost decorum and propriety of demeanour were manifest throughout. 
James Towle was about 5 feet 2 inches high, 34 years of age, and has left a wife and four children to lament his untimely end. During the whole of his confinement, he conducted himself with great propriety, but elicited nothing that would at all implicate the LUDDITES, to whose dark and diabolical system he has been the first to suffer. His wife and four children, with some relatives arrived on Sunday, and continued until Tuesday.
Finally, the Leicester Chronicle of the 23rd November contained the following:
On Wednesday last, the awful sentence of the law was put in force against this unfortunate man, at the New Drop, in front of the County Bridewell, lately erected at the bottom of Horsepool-street, and was witnessed by a greater number of spectators than had been observed on any similar occasion for many years past. Contrary to the usual custom in this place, he was removed from the County Gaol early in the morning, in a post chaise, accompanied by the Gaoler and two Assistants only, in order to render his last moments less interrupted by the noisy and giddy crowd usually attendant upon the heretofore customary cavalcade. A short time after his arrival at the New Gaol, he was attended in the usual devotionary exercises, by the Rev. Mr Heyton, the Chaplain of the Gaol, who continued with him until the fatal hour. At twelve o'clock he came upon the platform in the most firm manner, bowing to the spectators three separate times, attended by the High Sheriff, the Chaplain, two Gaoler, &c.; after devoting about a quarter of an hour in prayer, he requested a book to be placed in his hand, which being done, he selected therefrom a hymn of Dr. Watts, beginning with— 
which he gave out, two lines at a time, and joined in singing with the greatest attention, until the whole was finished; turning towards the High Sheriff he took him by the hand, and expressed himself in grateful terms for his attention during his confinement. He also shook hands with the Chaplain and Gaoler, also thanking them for their humane and diligent regard to his spiritual and temporal comforts since his trial; then placing himself under the fatal tree, and taking off his neck-handkerchief, which he requested might be tied round his eyes, and having himself adjusted the rope about his neck, the signal was given, and he was launched into eternity, without scarcely experiencing a struggle. 

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