London History Bulletin – February 8

Methusalah Spalding was hanged outside Newgate on February 8, 1804 for “a deed without a name.” This London History Bulletin tells the tale.


London calling.

London Walks connecting.

London Walks here with your daily London fix.

Story time. History time.

That phrase again. The teeming interconnectedness of this place.

Make that plural. While we’re at it roll out that other phrase as well. “What kind of people were these Brits?”

Let’s begin with Jane Austen. It’s October 1796. Jane Austen is 20 years old. She starts writing Pride and Prejudice. And you want an inside tip: double down on that title.

She completes it ten months later.

It was published in 1813, a year after Dickens was born.

And midway between those two dates – February 8th, 1804 – Methusalah Spalding is executed outside Newgate. They hang him. Along with two other people. And while you’re at it, you might as well double down on his Christian name: Methusalah.

And what’s Methusalah’s crime? Why do they hang him? Here we have recourse to The Newgate Calendar, which Thomas Carlyle called “the most sickening chapter in the history of man.”

The Newgate Calendar tells us Methuselah Spalding was hanged on that cold winter’s day “for an unnatural crime, a deed without a name…nature shudders at it.” Imagine The Newgate Calendar – yesteryear’s equivalent of today’s rags The Sun and Sport – getting all fastidious.

So, “an unnatural crime, a deed without a name” – and let me remind you here that I urged you to double down on the title of Jane Austen’s great novel, Pride and Prejudice, and indeed on condemned man Spalding’s Christian name, the quintessentially Old Testament Methuselah.

Well, sure enough, I wanted my suspicions confirmed.

And I hit one for six. In the Proceedings of the Old Bailey for November 30th, 1803 we learn that Methusalah Spalding was found guilty and condemned to death for sodomy. That crime – crime in their books – with the Old Testament name. 

A few days later – December 5th, 1803 – the Times also manned up and used the word. It reported

“Daniel Fitzmaurice for returning from Transportation and 

Methuselah Spalding for Sodomy are ordered for execution.”

Closer to the execution date – February 4th – the Times also lost its linguistic nerve. It reported: “Daniel Fitzmaurice, for returning from transportation; Methuselah Spalding, for an unnatural crime; and Ann Hurle for forgery are ordered for execution on Wednesday next.”

Methusalah’s fellow condemned – and how biblical is that – the three of them hanging there – inevitably that brings to mind a spot outside Jerusalem called Golgotha – Methusalah’s fellow condemned are both of interest here in that overflowing London drawer labelled teeming interconnectedness. They hanged Daniel Fitzmaurice for returning from Transportation. And that of course brings to mind Magwitch in Dickens’ masterpiece Great Expectations. And as for Ann Hurle, the forgerer – well, she stole the show. Poor old 45-year-old Methuselah was a bit part player at his own execution. He hardly got a look in. I think we can draw the inference that the execution of a woman was of much greater interest than that of a man. Presumably because it was rarer. We learn from the Times that it was a new gallows. The condemned were brought out of Newgate in a cart covered with black cloth. Ann Hurle wore a morning gown and a white cap. An immense crowd of persons was assembled to witness the awful scene. She prayed with great fervour for about five minutes and then the cart was driven off. A life ended. Three lives ended. In London. One of  them for coming home. One for an unnatural crime. In the time of Pride and Prejudice. On this day, February 8th, 1804.

The teeming interconnectedness of London.

You’ve been listening to the London History Bulletin for February 8th.

Emanating from – home of London Walks, London’s signature walking tour company. London’s local, time-honoured, fiercely independent, family-owned, just-the-right-size walking tour company. And as long as we’re at it, London’s multi-award-winning walking tour company. Indeed, London’s only award-winning walking tour company.

And here’s the secret: London Walks is essentially run as a guides’ cooperative. 

That’s the key to everything. It’s the reason we’re able to attract and keep the best guides in London. You can get schlubbers to do this for £20 a walk. But you cannot get world-class guides – let alone accomplished professionals.

It’s not rocket science: you get what you pay for. And just as surely, you also get what you don’t pay for. 

Back in 1968 when we got started we quickly came to a fork in the road. We had to answer a searching question: Do we want to make the most money? Or do we want to be the best walking tour company in the world? You want to make the most money you go the schlubbers route. You want to be the best walking tour company in the world you do whatever you have to do to attract and keep the best guides in London – you want them guiding for you, not for somebody else. Bears repeating: the way we’re structured – a guides’ cooperative – is the key to the whole thing. It’s the reason for all those awards, it’s the reason people who know go with London Walks, it’s the reason we’ve got a big following, a lively, loyal, discerning following – quality attracts quality.

It’s the reason we’re able – uniquely – to front our walks with accomplished, in many cases distinguished professionals: barristers, doctors, geologists, museum curators, archaeologists, historians, criminal defence lawyers, Royal Shakespeare Company actors, a bevy of MVPs, Oscar winners (people who’ve won the Guide of the Year Award)… well, you get the idea. As that travel writer famously put it, “if this were a golf tournament, every name on the Leader Board would be a London Walks guide.”

And as we put it: London Walks Guides make the new familiar and the familiar new.

And on that agreeable note…come then, let us go forward together on some great London Walks. See ya tomorrow.

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