THE LIVES, trials, and executions of 18 women hanged in Warwick in the 18th and early 19th centuries are the focus of research by local historian David Eason for a planned book titled ‘Petticoats Hanging in Northgate Street’.
One of those women was Ann Hawtin from Wellesbourne, who was executed in 1817 at the age of just 23.
Ann was employed as a servant in Fenny Compton in 1817 and had fallen pregnant.
On the night of the February 23 the household had retired to bed, but around 2am fellow servant John Duckett, whose room was close to Ann’s, was woken by deep groaning noises coming from Ann’s room.
John went to her door and enquired if she was ill. Ann replied she was well and told John to go back to bed. He returned to his room but was again woken by the same noises from Ann’s room an hour later, and again went to see if Ann was well, only to be again told not to fuss and to go back to bed.
John visited his mother Mary in the village and told her of the morning’s events, which prompted her to visit Ann later that morning.
She found Ann sat knitting alone in the kitchen, and knowing Ann’s baby was due soon enquired if she was well.
Ann replied: “Oh dear no, I am very well, you need not have given yourselves that trouble, I do not want you or anybody else to busy yourselves about me. If I have a little one I will have it to myself”.
As Mary would testify later in court, Ann looked very unwell and not at ease.
Mary left after an hour and visited Mrs Stanbra, the constable’s wife, with her concerns over Ann, and a doctor was called.
Mary and Mrs Stanbra sat with Ann in the kitchen until after a few minutes Ann got up and went upstairs to her room followed by the two women.
Mary would state in court that the room was tidy but she noticed blood on the floor.
“I observed nothing particular about the linen at that time, but from some blood which I saw upon the room floor I concluded in my own mind that there had been a delivery”.
When the doctor arrived Ann refused to be examined but he went upstairs to Ann’s room where he found her new born son very weak and with blood on its head. He washed the blood off and found a wound on the child’s temple. Ann claimed she thought the child was born dead and when asked about the wound said it had occurred during the birth that morning when his head hit the floor.
The doctor gave the child some liquid and before leaving told Ann how the child should be treated.
But within two days the child was dead.
An examination of the body however concluded the child’s death was not through natural causes and Ann was tried at the Warwick Assizes on April 10 for Murder of her Bastard Child.
The trial lasted three hours before the foreman of the jury delivered the guilty verdict.
The Judge Mr Baron Richards with great solemnity and visible emotion then addressed Ann:
“Ann Hawtin , you have been tried by an attentive and compassionate jury, you have been convicted of a crime than which nothing is more dreadful . You have destroyed, you have murdered your own child, what more can I say to awaken the feelings of every one who hears me . It is impossible to extend to you any mercy on this side of the grave, may you receive it in that world on the brink of which you now stand”.
Mr Richards then went on in closing his address;
“It only now remains for me to execute the painful duty of my station-which is to pass upon you the last and most dreadful sentence of the law, the sentence of the law is, and this court doth award it-that you be taken to the place from whence you came, and from hence to the place of execution and be there hanged by the neck until you are dead, and your body be delivered over for dissection according to the statute, and may the God of all Mercies have Mercy on your Soul”
A few minutes before 11am on April 14, Ann and Charles Sanders, who had been sentenced to be hanged with Ann for a murder, were led out of their cells at Warwick Gaol and conducted to the prison chapel where they received the sacrament, Ann was sullen and reserved as they passed through the different courts leading to the place of execution. They shook the hands of several of the felons who were assembled on purpose to receive them, and on reaching the ‘Dead Room’ remained there in a few minutes in devotion before being taken outside to the entrance on Northgate Street, the execution and the waiting crowd.
Charles Sanders was the first to ascend onto the platform followed by Ann who seemed to shrink in horror at the scene before her.
They were both positioned over the trap doors, the nooses tightened around their necks and white cloth hoods placed over their heads, before they spent their last moments in prayer with the chaplin.
Charles had been given a white handkerchief placed in his hand which when he dropped would be the signal for the executioner. He dropped it and the trap doors flung open.
Charles died without a struggle, but Ann was convulsed for a considerable length of time after her suspension. After hanging the ‘usual’ time, both were cut down and taken back to the ‘Dead Room’ where their bodies were given to the Surgeon’s Hall for dissection.
As was in most cases the Executioner cut the ropes into pieces and sold them to the crowd gathered – prompting the saying . “money for old rope”.
If Ann was ever given a grave, Mr Eason has yet to find it.
Ann Hawtin would have met her end on gallows similar to these. (s)
A door to a cell at Warwick Gaol which can still be seen today. It could have been the very cell Ann was held in. (s)
Leamington doctor Amos Middleton gave evidence at Ann’s trial and it could well have been his words that condemned her.
After the jury had retired, the Foreman came back into court and asked the judge if they could ask one more question – “Might not the wounds which are to have caused the death of the child, have been produced by its falling on the floor”?
Amos answered: “I do not think it possible that the child on its delivery could have fallen in such a direction, so as to receive the wounds described.”
Picture courtesy of Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum (Warwick District Council). (s)