Tuesday, 12 April 2011

The Hangmen and the Hanged man – what’s in a name?

The Signing of the Mayflower Compact
Being of the surname Billington, my family, though in Yorkshire for over 100 years, is often asked about its Lancashire origins and in particular I am often asked by historians if I have any connections to the Hangmen of Bolton. In the south of England the question is quite different and I am asked of my connections to John Billington who travelled with the Pilgrim father’s from Plymouth on the Mayflower.
My second name is John, so you could say John Billington is my namesake but  the similarities end there. Born in 1580, somewhere in Lincolnshire, John Billington arrived at  the Plymouth Colony on the famous voyage of with his wife and two sons. He soon made enemies with many aboard the ship and was known as a "foul mouthed miscreant" and "knave" and he had fled England to escape creditors. His sons were also seen as troublemakers.
In September 1630, after a heated argument over hunting rights, Billington (that's him not me) fatally shot fellow colonist John Newcomen in the shoulder with a blunderbuss. A crime for which the 50 year paid the ultimate penalty  was convicted of murder in what would become the United States, and the first to be hanged for any crime in New England.
The Mayflower Compact
Signed by John Billington
Despite this his name lives on, in the Mayflower records but also in ‘Billington Sea’; which had be sited by his son Francis Billington on arrival to New England in 1621. Francis prospered in New England and went on to father 9 children to his wife Christine Eaton.

The Hangmen of Bolton existed  more than 200 years after John of Mayflower infamy and consisted of father James and his three sons; John , Thomas and William. Like many father to son occupations, the boys would help father at work in order to learn the trade until they each became fully fledged hangmen in their own right.

Father, James was of course the most prolific executing 141 men and five women in England and Wales, at least one man in Ireland and three men in Scotland. The three sons combined carried out more than 100 executions but the most famous was that of ‘Baby Farmer’ Amelia Dyer, executed by father James. Dyer had been responsible for the death of as many as 400 babies in Victorian London, many of which were disposed of in the River Thames in a practice known as Baby Farming. She was not the UK's only Baby Farmer to be executed and was one of many, as many unmarried mother's being unable to afford to bring up a child, paid Bay farmers to find families for them.Of course, homes were never found for these children.

Amelia Dyer
Depsite the huge amount of executions carried out, this was only a part time occupation for the Hangmen of Bolton and in normal life they carried out their duties at the family business in Goodwin Street, Bolton, Lancashire – as Barbers. Quite remarkable !

Although being neither a descendant of the Hangmen or the Hanged Man, I have to confess that my 2nd Great Grandfather, who himself was a master craftsman, a carpenter and woodworker and who had more vision than the executioners, who’s economic life came to an end of its own,  chose an occupation offering much more sustainability in life but just as those from Bolton, he made his money from death, in his case as a coffin maker.

What interesting occupations did your ancestors have ?

Were your family aboard the Mayflower?

For more information about how I can help you with your family search, please contact me 

No comments:

Post a Comment