Show themes

Staging crime

Read all about it!

The printed word performed a dual role with respect to crime in England; short printed notices made people aware of recent crimes, while broadsides and pamphlets provided a permanent souvenir of a day out at the scaffold. Crime was frequently sensationalised as a kind of public entertainment, and hangings of well-known criminals could attract crowds of 50,000. The experience was likened to attending the theatre, with wealthier spectators viewing the spectacle from rooms overlooking the scene. Crudely printed single-sheet broadsides bore the image of a scaffold, with a short biography of the criminal and a few appropriate verses.

Lengthier booklets were also available, with a focus on text rather than image which characterises the English material. Both were sold on and soon after execution days, forming part of a wider trade around crime, which included jugs decorated with murderers’ faces and travelling waxwork exhibitions retelling their crimes.