WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Sheriff’s Journeyman

Sheriff’s Journeyman (noun)

The hangman.

The hangman carried out the execution order for those condemned to die for their crimes. The Sheriff’s Journeyman was protected from a charge of murder by order of a writ of execution issued by the court. When executions were moved from Tyburn to Newgate, the principal executioner, Edward Dennis, moved as well. On Tuesday, 9 December 1783, he and his understudy, William Brunskill, carried out the execution by hanging of nine men and one woman.

The New Gallows in the Old Bailey








Criminals were executed side-by-side on the “New Drop” in the “Sheriff’s Picture Frame,” a portable gallows set up in front of the Debtor’s Door or simply outside Newgate in The Old Bailey. The gallows consisted of two parallel beams from which twelve criminals could be hanged at once. It was ten feet long by eight feet wide, and the platform opened by releasing a pin underneath the panels. Criminals only dropped two feet, a “Short Drop,” so death was slow, agonizing strangulation rather than the breaking of the neck. This method would not be changed until 1872. Over 200 felonies were punishable by death under the “Bloody Code;” the concept of prison as punishment in and of itself would not occur until after 1840. Thus the hangman – the Sheriff’s Journeyman – was kept steadily busy.













James Botting, Sheriff’s Journeyman from 1817-1819, was paid one guinea per week and one guinea per execution; he boasted to have hanged 175 criminals during his brief tenure. He was succeeded by James Foxton (sometimes Foxen), who executed 207 men and six women, many for the crime of high treason. In May of 1820, five of the Cato Street Conspirators – the group who plotted the murder of Prime Minister, Lord Liverpool, and all his cabinet ministers – were hanged then beheaded (the other five were transported).

The Execution of Thistlewood Ings Brunt Davidson and Tidd for High Treason in Forming of a plot to assassinate his Majestys Ministers whilst at a cabinet Dinner

I enlarged the caption for easier reading.


Mr. Foxton also carried out the execution of the Red Barn Murderer, William Corder. Corder had agreed to marry his pregnant lover, Maria Marten, at the suggestion of her parents. He arranged to meet Maria at the Red Barn, but she was never seen alive again. Her remains were found upon digging up the floor of the Red Barn.

confession and execution of william corder













Joseph Timothy Haydn compiled a list of some of the more notable executions undertaken at Newgate, published in London in 1865 as Haydn’s Dictionary of Dates. The list is by no means exhaustive: between 1783 and 1902, some 1,169 criminals were executed, representing 1,120 men and 49 women. Haydn’s list was meant as an example on the importance of record-keeping, and shows the name of the criminal, the date of and for execution, and the location of the trial. Prisoner Christian Murphy was a forger, a crime considered to be high treason; because she was female, her method of execution for this crime burning at the stake. The male punishment for high treason, such as was experienced by Sir Edward Crosbie and the Misters Sheares listed below, was to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. Mr. Haydn did consider the Cato Street Conspirators worthy of mention in his list, at least.

list of executed at newgate


Further study of the Bloody Code – Georgian England’s system of criminal justice – can be found at the National Archives and The Old Bailey Online. Information on the names of executioners and their efforts can be found at A History of London’s Newgate Prison. Learn more about the plotting and scheming of the Cato Street Conspirators at A Web of English History, and the Red Barn Murder from Regina Jeffers at English Historical Fiction Authors. As always, definitions for the vulgar terms can be found at 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.