The play was A Woman of No Importance, starring Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree.
Right foreground is the old entrance to Newgate Gaol, looking up towards Snow Hill and St Sepulchre’s church. On 6 July 1840, Francois Courvoisier was publicly hanged for murder on the pavement. A famous novelist was among 40,000 who came to watch:
‘It is 20 minutes past four as we pass St Sepulchre’s: by this time many hundred people are in the street, and many more are coming up Snow Hill. Before us lies Newgate Prison; but something a great deal more awful to look at, which seizes the eye at once, is the gallows.
‘There it stands, black and ready, jutting out from a little door in the prison… It was past seven now… we turned back every now and then and looked at St Sepulchre’s clock. Half an hour, 25 minutes… at last the bell is tolling the chimes of eight.
‘A man in black appeared on the scaffold, and was silently followed by about four more dark figures… we all knew who the second man was… His shirt was open. His arms were tied in front of him. He opened his hands in a helpless kind of way, and clasped them once or twice together…
‘He went and placed himself at once under the beam, with his face towards St Sepulchre’s. The tall, grave man in black twisted him round swiftly in the other direction, and, drawing from his pocket a nightcap, pulled it tight over the patient’s head and face. I am not ashamed to say that I could look no more, but shut my eyes as the last dreadful act was going on.’
HISTORIC LONDON: X MARKS THE SPOT. Question 15. Name this squeamish novelist.
‘Riveting’ – Daily Mail
‘Fascinating’ – The Times
‘Outstanding’ – Midwest Book Review
‘Utterly absorbing’ – Macleans