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Cornwall and Capital Punishment: Hanging around on holiday.

I write this having just returned from a wonderful week visiting my family in Cornwall  (images and tips are in my distractions section). Given the change of surroundings, I thought it only fair to reflect this in the blog, so this week I have turned my lens onto capital punishment in Kernow. Although I cannot …

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CHRISTMAS AND CAPITAL PUNISHMENT

In a year of great tragedy, loss and unprecedented social and political upheaval, I feel it incumbent on me to restore some Christmas cheer. The only trouble is, I'm not a very cheery man so, courtesy of the amazing Richard Dawson, this is a beautiful, elegiac cry on loss. It's no Tijuana Brass Spanish Flea, …

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Murder in the Ouseburn and Books of Human Skin

Amidst all the clamour surrounding Brexit a slightly smaller rabble have been rousing about the use of tallow (animal fat)  in the new five pound notes.¹ Merits of the argument aside it has come at a particularly convenient time in my work as I am currently looking at another controversial product used in every day items …

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Phrenology, public speaking and other such punishments

I believe it was George Bernard Shaw who once said Progress is impossible without change. (Thanks Google - If I'd had to recall something from memory all I had was Sheryl Crow's A change would do you good - looking forward to my PhD Viva!). So, as you have no doubt noticed, I found myself this week …

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Post Truths, Half Truths and Half Hung MacDonald

So, after dipping my toe in the swampy waters of public political debate last week, I not only achieved my biggest daily readership figures but also received my first heated comments! I think this must be what journalists feel like. To be honest, it was nice to get a passionate response to what I'd written …

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Murder, Mobs and a Massive Trump

*THIS IS A WARNING - THE FOLLOWING BLOG MAY CONTAIN POLITICAL VIEWS.* It's easy to claim now, but for weeks I have been saying to anyone that will listen that Trump was a shoe in. As if to taunt myself I have had the above photo as my screensaver for a month now, which makes using the …

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A warning for the future and a memento of the past

Readers last week will know that I was giving a talk last Friday at a conference in Northumberland. Given that I like to share my work I thought I'd put it up for you this week - I've even included some of the slides.  Lucky you! So, without further a do, I present to you …

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France, Foucault, Florists & Forgotten Punishments

Bonjour et bienvenue. Le blog d'aujourd'hui aura une saveur décidément française. Pourquoi? I hear you ask. Well, pour plusieurs raisons as it happens. Premièrement, in last week's blog, I mentioned David Garland's fantastic conference talk on famous French scholar Michel Foucault and my intention to blog further on it.*Deuxièmement, since then I was given a fantastic …

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Scotland, Selfies and Diabolical Surgeons

Up the close and down the stair, In the house with Burke and Hare. Burke’s the butcher, Hare’s the thief Knox, the man who buys the beef. Children's Rhyme - courtesy of  The University of Edinburgh It seems I'm everywhere but Newcastle these days! After travelling down to Leicester a fortnight or so ago (I've since …

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King Power: Leicester and the Law.

I have a confession. I've been seeing another blog. Wait! I can explain! Remember how last week I had Osama Bin Laden and some lovely academics in Leicester to thank for my return to blogging. Well I've been writing for them - the academics that is and they are all part of the University of Leicester's brilliant Harnessing …

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Jihadis, Jarrow and Justice Being Done

The Body was then hoisted up and secured, and left as a warning for the future, and a memento of the past. Well, it's been a while and I can only apologise for my extended absence online. After two years of fairly consistent content I suddenly lost the urge to write and unlike the stoic …

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Two’s company, twenty five thousand’s an execution crowd.

Last week, we looked at the period between 1816-1868 and the rise of a new type of scaffold in the North-East and, with it, an increasingly private execution, a sort of semi-hidden horror. Reference was made to the widely adopted notion that execution was a sort of judicial dramaturgy or the ultimate state theatre; a notion …

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Suffering on the Scaffold: Execution and the Engine of Death.

So, like the best laid plans of mice and men, my grand schemes for this blog have gone awry. May 1st was my second anniversary of starting my PhD and was also the day after my final annual review (a 10,000 word report on your progress which is grilled by a panel of academics - I passed!). It …

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Dying in Private: Execution in the North East 1868-1878 part 2

So, last week we covered the build up to the 1868 Capital Punishment Act and covered a brief history of changes in the application and administration of execution nationally and in the North East. This week we will turn to the experience of execution behind the prison walls (post 1868) in the North East of …

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Dying in Private: Execution in the North East 1868-1878 part 1

Last week I was lucky enough to be accepted to do a talk at the Centre for Nineteenth-Century Studies' one day conference at Durham University. The conference itself was entitled Victorian Culture and the Origin of Disciplines. In studying executions, I always say that conference papers are the closest I’ll get to experiential learning. Spending 20 …

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Hanging a Highwayman (Part 3).

So, having first detailed the crimes, trial and execution of the highwayman Robert Hazlett  and last week mapped the location of his gibbet site, this week I finally set off to see what, if anything, remains. I took my starting point as Gateshead Central Library and headed South East. I swiftly met the Old Durham …

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Hanging a Highwayman (Part 2).

Hadst thou robbed to support the c---n and murdered for the m---y, thou mightst have been yet alive. Were all the robbers of the nation hanging in the same situation, there would be some appearance of justice and impartiality. But the poor only, can commit crimes worthy of death,—and those also must be enemies to …

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Walking in a Winter Horrorland

Having spent the last two weeks blogging about the disappearance of any visual symbols of execution in the North East, I felt a sudden urge to visit one of the only remaining relics. One of the life choices I made when I took up the PhD scholarship, was to sacrifice my car (not literally - having said …

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Social Memory and the Sites of Execution Part 2

This post is the second and concluding part of a talk given at the Northern Centre for Contemporary Art on the subject of Social Media. SEE PART 1 here. So let’s take Newcastle. In a very rare instance of a public recollection of a hanging, railwayman Richard Lowry’s diaries give a detailed account of the 1844 …

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Social memory and the sites of execution – Part 1

https://youtu.be/ZS31BD_KYAc I'm not sure if Morrissey wrote this about a PhD, but as with most key moments in life, his words seem to beautifully summarise my emotional state. Well, a lot happens in a month! Too much to mention in fact, needless to say not quite enough PhD writing and blogging, both of which have …

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Panopticons and Semi-Private Executions

I thought I'd open this blog with an image that I stumbled upon during my research this week. It contains two forms of shaming punishments adopted relatively infrequently in my period of study. I thought it was warranted, not least to show that hanging was the dreadful apex of a whole arsenal of bizarre and sadistic state punishments. Also, if …

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Dreams, Death and Durham: A Dreadful Anniversary

As I write this, people all over the world have just taken part in a two minute silence to mark the moment that the guns of the Great War fell silent on the Western Front. Lest we forget. There was, however, another significant moment of history that passed this week largely unnoticed - The  fiftieth anniversary of …

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Dead Man Walking

There are many disadvantages to having a girlfriend who works most weekends (ah the perils of floristry and weddings!) but one advantage is that you become adept at entertaining yourself. One of the many pursuits I have embarked on to amuse myself is, what I call, aimless walking. It needs a better title, but put very simply it …

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Cornwall, crime and conundrums.

This week I have been in the distant wiles of Celtic Cornwall, celebrating my father's 65th birthday and taking time to see my much neglected family. The last time I visited home, I managed to cover off the best link to my PhD subject with a trip to Bodmin Jail, the centre of Cornish execution, so …

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Crucifixion, Corbyn and the County Durham Christ

I'm often asked by people how I manage to cope with looking at such a grisly subject on a daily basis. The truth is, I'm not sure. In one sense, the benefit of a safe historical distance from the subject makes it easier, but there are still very tragic and very human stories at the …

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Dissecting a woman

In last weeks blog, I nodded to a dilemma I am currently having writing my thesis, but refused to address it, saying "I don't have 4,000 words here to explain why." Since writing that, two thoughts crossed my mind. Firstly, I shouldn't patronise you (the reader)  by thinking that you wouldn't be interested in the more …

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Death, Donation and Dubious Organs.

  After expounding my views on dissection last week, I had planned to give the 1752 Murder Act, anatomy and salacious stories about surgeons a wide berth, but events have conspired against me as my week has been dominated by talk of organs! Let me explain. It all started with the worrying, but not hugely unsurprising, allegations that …

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Hang em High

This weeks blog is continuing on from last weeks theme of shame. Previously I looked at an example of post death dissection by surgeons and the wider social effect it had on the immediate family of the condemned. This week, I will look at a case involving gibbeting or hanging in chains. Alongside dissection, gibbeting was one …

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Shame, dog shit and Sieg Heils. 

Well, it's been a while. 6 weeks to be exact. I'm put in mind of the beautiful Who Knows Where The Time Goes by Fairport Convention, sung by the mesmerising Sandy Denny. It's one of those songs that always awakens my spirits and resonates more deeply with age. As it turns out, the answer to her enchantingly posed …

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Sex, Death and Dickens

There were many things I had thought may happen when presenting at my first international conference, but being upstaged by Charles Dickens was not one of them. It turns out, that however much you tweak a paper to make it engaging and funny, someone having found Dickens' own (long deemed lost) lushly bound and, more …

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Sex, Death and Chocolate

This week I am writing from Belgium, Bruges to be precise. As readers of the blog know, I have been lucky enough to be accepted to speak at an international conference at Ghent University for the Research Society for Victorian Periodicals, entitled "Life and Death in the c19th Press." To make the most of the trip …

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Presenting, Procrastinating and the Pursuit of Knowledge

In my last blog, I mentioned that I had been entered into the 3 Minute Thesis competition, a national challenge in which you must summarise your thesis into a, noteless, three-minute presentation that can be understood by a non academic audience. The event was held at Durham University and, much to my surprise, I was lucky enough to …

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Well Hung? Half-Hung or Not Hung at all.

Amongst the many dark and mysterious secrets of Newcastle’s past, there is one that I have always found particularly fascinating; The Legend of ‘Half-Hung’ MacDonald. The short summary of the story is that Owen MacDonald was a soldier, executed on the Town Moor for a murder committed at a pub on Newcastle's Bigg Market, in …

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Punishment, the Press and Private Execution part 3

This blog is part 3 of a continuing series. See part 1 here and part 2 here Following the limited success of the first private execution in the North East, the authorities were not called upon to the enact the dread sentence for another four years. But, as if to compensate for the gap, four men were …

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Punishment, the Press and Private Execution part 2

This is the second part of a blog post, see part 1 here. The first execution to take place in the North East, following the implementation of the Capital Punishment Amendment Act took place at Durham Gaol on March 22nd 1869. It was to be a double execution and both men, as with all of the …

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Punishment, the Press and Private Execution

Freed from the constraints of preparing for my annual review, the last two weeks have been a chance to get stuck into some serious research. People say that having a solid plan of action is key to getting a PhD completed and to a certain extent I agree, but sometimes you have to follow your nose …

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Methodology in the madness.

So, I am reporting back largely unscathed from my first annual PhD review. I say largely, as the small problem of the pretty ropey 'methodology' got in the way of a fully successful review.  The good news was that my report was commended for the writing style, which I put down entirely to the practice …

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Public Violence, the Pillory and Mobile Phones.

A terrible story appeared in the news this week and it chimed with many of the things I've been reading for my PhD. In Telford, a man had been seen on top of a car park in a state of clear distress. As with all cases like this, the Police arrived to attempt to talk him down. …

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Bruges, Reviews and A Week of Good News

Sometimes life is great and if you can realise it at the time, that makes it all the more pleasurable. Last sunday evening the seven days ahead had all the hallmarks of being terrible.However, It would appear that, much like looks, upcoming weeks can be deceiving. My trepidation was due to the fast approaching deadline of my 1st PhD annual …

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Dear Diary: Attending an execution

Say what you like about procrastination but it often leads to some very interesting discoveries. My latest find was made during a session in Newcastle Central Library's Local Studies Section. It's becoming a bit of a running theme that I am finding my most interesting things completely by accident. Surely proof, if proof were needed, that I am …

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Phrenology, Pre-emptive Capital Punishment and the Prime Minister

This weeks blog is a part 2, but can be read as a standalone. last weeks is here if you want to catch up. In between writing these two blogs, I was fortunate enough to be accepted to talk at the Lit and Phil on this very subject. It was a unique experience to be able to …

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My very bloody valentine

To quote Sandy Denny and the brilliant Fairport Convention, who knows where the time goes. It has been six weeks since my last blog and I feel like I should justify the absence (if only to help myself feel like i've not been slacking). So, I have helped my girlfriend move her floristry business to the Ouseburn …

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Phrenologists, Punishment and the Lit and Phil.

Ruth Richardson in her remarkable work on death, dissection and the role of the 1832 Anatomy Act, remarked she was "horrified" by the "hero worship most medical history represents." Labelling the authors as "hagiographers" who presented medical history as "an ever ascending line of evolution up to the glorious and smug enlightened present."¹ This sense of enlightened …

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Christmas and Capital Punishment

One of the many strange things about studying capital punishment is the number of executions that took place around the festive period. There is a jarring disconnect between the high spirits of yuletide and the grim brutality of the scaffold. I cannot imagine a more sombre scene than an execution at Christmas. In the North East, between 1750-1880 there …

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