Sunday, 20 March 2011

From the archives: Old Kent Road & the hangman

The Old Kent Road had a key, if little-known, role in English judicial hangings. Here's the gruesome story.

John Edgington & Co on the Old Kent Road was known as a manufacturer of tents, flags and tarpaulins. Among their products in the late 1940s, they offered the Midge:
This tent (the lightest and most compact of its type obtainable) covers an area of 40 square feet and will accommodate two campers. Having only one pole and one guy-line, it is the quickest and easiest of all tents to erect. When packed, the tent is little larger than a Swiss Roll; erected, it measures 7 ft. 6 ins across its extreme width, 6 ft. deep and 5 ft. high. Fitted with overlapping doors, at the apex of which, protected by the porch, is an insect-proof ventilator.
Less obvious products like shipping bags for sewing machines and rick cloths to cover straw ricks were also made - but perhaps their most specialist item was hangman's rope. They received the government contract to supply these ropes in 1888; before that, the hangman had supplied his own. Each rope was made individually from Italian hemp; from the 1920s, the noose was covered with chamois leather and the ends of the rope with gutta percha. The firm even appeared in Picture Post in 1948, in an article on the death penalty (which Parliament had just debated suspending for five years). Their work ended for good in 1964, when the last hangings took place, although the death penalty for murder was not permanently abolished until 1969.

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