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  • The Hanging Bed April 28, 2015

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

    hanging bed fixed

    Ohio’s premier anomalist, Chris Woodyard has just put up a post on an unusual method of execution in the nineteenth-century press, the cone of death, and she has two earlier posts, including the needle mask, praying to death, squeezing to death and smothering to death. Every ‘funny’ bone in Beachcombing’s body tells him that there will be other methods dreamt up by crazy and not so crazy Victorian scientists, some of which will have been acted upon. One interesting approach did turn up in the archives: the hanging bed. The hanging bed was the invention of a Londoner, one Mr Reese of Piccadilly. Its aim was to avoid the slow suffocation of the hanging victim after the dislocation of the neck; and to prevent hysteria on the gallows as hardened prisoner x or y were marched towards their irritated Maker. Instead, in this nicer world of Mr Reese the prisoner would be placed on a special bed (see above). A mask would be placed on the victim and the mask would include a chloroform cup that would quickly reduce the prisoner to insensibility: the writers in Illustrated Police News (23 Sept 1876) have typically enough used a woman here to tickle Victorian readers’ prurient fancy.

    chloroform mask

    At this point the executioners would attach the noose to the neck of the victim: the victim, of course, was dozing (see image at head of post). The apparatus appeared thus.


    They would, then, step backwards and press a lever and… here is the real genius of the hanging bed… the bed would separate in two and the prisoner would drop the requisite distance and their neck would dislocate.

    bed opens

    bed separated and convict dead

    Death would follow a certain number of seconds later but, of course, the prisoner would be under the influence of chloroform and would be dreaming of rich widows and tasteless poisons.

    The question must arise why the British government didn’t take up this new and credible-sounding method. One possibility is that the drop from the bed would have been violent enough to decapitate some prisoners: this is an ever present danger with fatter hanging victims. The other is that the Home Secretary did not want to take away from the horror of the gallows: an object of fascination in the rookeries and criminal haunts of London and much further afield. Beach (kind of) abhors capital punishment but he can see that the shadow cast by the noose will have been much longer than that of the flower-embossed chloroform mask. ‘Now, now Mrs Smith lie back and you’ll be off in nod when you feel a slight tickle…’

    Any other ‘new’ 19 cent methods: Beach feels a series coming on… drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

    30 April 2015: Southern Man writes in with this invention from Padua, was it done on a vertical surface?

    strangling machine