Thursday 19 March 2009

Old Kent Road, the Midge and the hangman

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 was not permanently abolished until 1969.


Philip Wilkinson said...

That's fascinating, if grisly. Now, talking of flags, do you know if the flag-makers Turtle and Pearce (or is it Pierce?) still exist? They used to have a factory near London Bridge, visible from the station and not far from the old Sarson's Malt Vinegar factory. I went there once in the 1980s to buy some flags for a photo-shoot and the place was almost Dickensian in atmosphere. I expect the building's probably apartments now.

The Grim Reaper said...

Fascinating stuff, but I think you have muddled one or two details. The 1965 Act suspended the death penalty (for murder) for five years. Hangings, including the innocent Timothy Evans, took place between 1948 & 1953.

The death penalty remained in force after 1969 for arson in Her Majesty's Dockyards - specific offence abolished 1971, espionage - specific offence abolished 1981, piracy, treason and mutiny - death penalty repealed 1998.

There was a piracy case in the mid 1980s (an unsucessful plot to bomb a pirate radio ship) that could have resulted in a death sentence but the then Attorney General Sir Michael Havers declined to authorise the prosection.

CarolineLD said...

Bill, you're right - it should have read 'proposed' suspension (now corrected) - the relevant proposal passed the House of Commons but not the Lords in 1948.

Yes, the death penalty was technically retained for a few offences until 1998 but was effectively abolished in 1969. However, the company also apparently supplied various 'dominions and colonies' so may have kept up an export business in this line for somewhat longer.

CarolineLD said...

Philip, they do indeed still exist and have an online presence at with a contact address on Borough High Street. I can't remember seeing the actual factory there, but will keep an eye out!