WHITBY Abbey will be providing no sanctuary for those being pursued by the Georgian justice system this February half term holiday as Thomas Turlis, the public hangman, holds court within the hallowed ruins, for a week of gruesome tales of torture and the gallows.
From 16 to 24 February, visitors will be invited to hear the hangman’s stories of 18th century crime and punishment from the perspective of the man charged with handing out the ultimate sentence to wrong-doers.
He follows the Bloody Code, a list of over 200, each of which would potentially earn the criminal a trip to the gallows for public execution.
English Heritage events manager Jon Hogan said: “In the 18thcentury, the English justice system changed significantly – as did public perception of crime – as, for the first time, the exploits of some criminals became almost legendary, with highwaymen like Dick Turpin being transformed from ruthless thieves into dandy folk heroes.
“However, behind the stories developed a harsh system of localised justice, with crimes as relatively minor as poaching or criminal damage punishable with the death penalty.”
Indeed, at a time before the English justice system sentenced convicts to incarceration – until the late 18thcentury, jail was the place you were held whilst awaiting trial or execution – the punishments tended to be meted out very quickly, and on public display.
Alongside hanging, sentences from whipping and branding to transportation to the American colonies meant that early 18thcentury criminals paid a harsh price for their misdemeanours.
Alongside regular presentations throughout the half term break, families can explore a fun crime and punishment trail around the site – a fun way to find out what sanction you might be facing for different acts of law-breaking.
Whitby Abbey’s visitor centre, set across two floors in the old Cholmley mansion house, will provide a fascinating insight into the history of the site, from the founding of the first abbey by Northumbrian princess, St Hild, to the fall of Whitby Abbey during the Reformation under Henry VIII, and the acquisition of the now ruined Abbey by the Cholmley family.
Whitby Abbey is open daily throughout the February half term from 10am to 4pm, with the event running from 11am to 4pm.
Whitby Abbey also remains open every weekend throughout the winter, from 10am to 4pm, with daily opening resuming from Easter.
For more details visit www.english-heritage.org.uk/whitbyabbey or call (01947) 603568.