The gallows is one of the most gruesome images from the past. There is no other scene like an execution, not even 'bloody' whippings in market-squares or cutting off an ear on pillories. The English were punished in many ways in the five centuries after 1500, and this pathbreaking book covers the full range of punishment from death to ducking stools, and from bridewells to Victorian penitentiaries. The long search for an alternative to hanging is at the core of this book - various chapters explore arguments for and against penal reform, giving new perspectives on the rise of imprisonment and transportation and explaining why whipping posts, ducking stools and stocks are no longer with us. It is also about emotions, cruelty, violence and shame. We meet people applying for the hangman's job in 1883, 'whores' being carted through London's streets in the 1500s, and crowds watching whippings two centuries later; all of them have something important to tell us about past cultures, politics and societies.

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