To be hanged in the 17th century was a horrible and brutal thing - no thought was given to the so-called "scientific", humane approach to hangings which attended executions in later centuries. The gallows was not permanent, but erected specifically for the occasion. The execution was always public, and those to be executed knelt or stood at the foot of the gallows while the executioner placed the noose (usually referred to as the "halter") around their necks. A ladder was then placed against the cross-beam of gallows and the executioner would sling the first victim across his shoulder and climb the ladder. He then tied the other ender of the halter to the cross-beam and then unceremoniously threw the unfortunate victim to her death. Often death was NOT instantaneous or even quick. The victim would kick and twist at the end of the rope as she slowly strangled to death - often urinating and defaecating as she choked . . . . sometimes a well-meaning friend or executioner would actually swing on their legs of the victim as she hung - hopefully hastening the end!!
At times the method of hanging would show certain refinements in that the victim would stand in a horse-drawn cart beneath the gallows - the halter was placed around her neck and then the horse was whipped forward . . . .
The wood-cut above (which I've "adapted" from an original) shows a typical execution. One of the "witches" has just been hanged. The other stands terrified with hands clasped in prayer at the foot of the gallows. The executioner is checking his handiwork from the ladder. To the left the bell-man or crier is calling out the details of their crimes; on horseback beside him are two magistrates to ensure that the letter of the Law was enforced - whilst two "wards" or guards look on dispassionately . . . Normally at most executions there was a clergyman in attendance, but not for the witches . . . they had to pray for their own souls . . . .
The photograph above is of one such victim - thought to be the mortal remains of Ursula Kempe of St. Osyth, Essex, England. This skeleton was unearthed earlier this century close to the site of her house in St. Osyth. Ursula Kempe and a number of other women were executed as witches at Chelmsford in April 1581. Her body was clearly pinned to the ground with steel pins through the joints . . . . .
According to local tradition, during road-widening operations last centuries a similar body was uncovered at the foot of the cliff in Lowestoft - close to the property of Samuel Pacy . . . could this have been the mortal remains of Amy Denny or Rose Cullender . . . . . .