|The following was written by Thomas Hardy (he quotes from an account of 1706), printed in the Times in 1908.
"...Maumbury was the scene of as sinister an event as any associated with it.. which darkens its concave to this day. This was the death suffered there on March 21, 1705-06, of a girl who had not yet reached her nineteenth year.. This girl was the wife of a grocer in the town, a handsome young woman "of good natural parts," and educated "to a proficiency suitable enough to one of her sex, to which likewise was added dancing." She was tried and condemned for poisoning her husband, a Mr Thomas Channing, to whom she had been married against her wish by the compulsion of her parents.
"The present writer has examined more than once a report of her trial, and can find no distinct evidence that the thoughtless, pleasure-loving creature committed the crime, while it contains much to suggest that she did not. Nor is any motive discoverable for such an act. She was allowed to have her former lover or lovers about her by her indulgent and weak-minded husband, who permitted her to go her own ways, give parties, and supplied her with plenty of money. However [at the assizes] she was found guilty after a trial in which the testimony chiefly went to show her careless character before and after marriage.. She conducted her own defence with the greatest ability, and was complimented thereupon by Judge Price.. but he did not extend his compliment to a merciful summing up.
"When sentence was about to be passed, she pleaded her condition [she was 'soon to become a mother']; and execution was postponed. [She gave birth in gaol to a son in December].
"Her execution was fixed for the 21st [and] on that day two men were hanged before her turn came, and then, "the under sheriff having taken some refreshment," he procedded to his biggest and last job with this girl not yet 19, now reduced to a skeleton by a long fever, and already more dead than alive...
"When fixed to the stake she justified her innocence to the very last, and left the world with a courage seldom found in her sex. She being first strangled, the fire was kindled about five in the afternooon, and in the sight of many thousands she was consumed to ashes."
"There is nothing to show she was dead before the burning began, and from the use of the word 'strangled' and not 'hanged' it would seem that she was merely rendered insensible before the fire was lit. An ancestor of the present writer, who witnessed the scene, has handed down the information that "her heart leapt out" during the burning, and other curious details that cannot be printed here. Was man ever slaughtered by his fellow man during the Roman or barbarian use of this place of games or of sacrifice in circumstances of greater atrocity?"
In 'Thomas Hardy's Personal Writings' ed. Harold Orel. Macmillan 1967
According to George Osborn (in 'Ancient Dorset'), 10,000 people gathered to see this poor woman burn to death. Delightful behaviour. They probably thought it an excellent day out. You can imagine the fast food stalls and people selling the equivalent of t-shirts.
Posted by Rhiannon
11th November 2004ce
Edited 19th April 2006ce