A picnic on Edward Knight’s lawn

We haven’t heard any live music for a long time. It’s the same with theatre and exhibitions and travel. These are things that have become natural parts of our lives. The plague and the Draconian measures put in place have both put paid to anything as esoteric as The Arts. Which made today all that much more special.

The Chawton House Library has been trying to work out ways to stay viable in a world of masks and social distancing. The House itself has been open now for a few weeks but, given the reduction in staff and visitors, they have had to be more inventive.

Two events they have created were to take place on the expansive southern lawn. Today it was a picnic with a box of pre-ordered Greek mezze.

We packed an unused picnic blanket which I’d forgotten we had (I think I bought it when we were living in Aldershot almost 20 years ago), our books and the girls and set off for Chawton.

And what a perfect afternoon it was. Not only was the weather fantastic and not only was the lawn amazing but we also had live entertainment in the guise of a young girl and her violin.

It was her first time performing in front of an audience and I reckon she did really well. Her first set was, perhaps, a little nervous but by her third set, she was fine. She was probably glad the audience was quite small and well spaced around the sizeable lawn.

And the food was excellent. There was also a lot of it. More than enough for the girls to enjoy a few sausages along with us.

Mirinda took them for a stroll around the garden at one point while I stayed and read. I’m currently reading my next Sharpe novel and, like all the Sharpe books, it gets very exciting, making it very difficult to put down. He managed to get himself into an inescapable situation. Which he then managed to escape from.

It’s rare that I read fiction but every now and then I just need a bit of historical warfare and Richard Sharpe fills that need perfectly.

I was a wonderful way to wile away a Sunday afternoon. Next week we’re returning for an outdoor screening of Emma. Fingers crossed that the weather is as good as it was today.

Today, this happened

On 6 September 1678, five prisoners were executed at Tyburn. They were Daniel Massey, John Johnson, Sarah Brampfield, Hannah Smith (AKA Hebshebeth Cobb) and Anne Davis (AKA Smalman).

The three women were habitual thieves, ‘lifting’ stuff from various shops. They had been warned many times and served their fair share of time in prison. I think the judge had had enough of seeing them come before him. He sentenced them to hang.

The two men were accused of robbery and assault. They were highwaymen and fair game for the hangman’s noose.

All five of the condemned bemoaned their fate while claiming it was a just punishment. The men claimed it was because of drink. They exhorted the crowd at Tyburn not to be as dissolute as they had been. The women also begged the crowd to heed their punishment as a warning against stealing.

There was a fourth woman due to be executed, but she was pregnant and therefore let off. How the pregnancy was proven was interesting.

Once a defendant claimed she was with child, a ‘jury of matrons’ was formed from females present in court on the day. They would then examine the woman and declare that she was ‘quick with child’ which would postpone any sentencing of the guilty woman.

Quite often the case would be dismissed because the court felt sorry for the newborn child and therefore allow the new mother to live. The costs in bringing up a motherless child may also have had a bearing on the reprieve.

The English legal system had the death penalty for lots of crimes that, today, we’d think were misdemeanours. It’s interesting that, while the death penalty was meant to deter others from the path of crime, it did nothing of the sort.

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