Crime and Punishment
Crime and Punishment
People have been passing through the area we call Northamptonshire for hundreds of thousands of years.

Crimes and the way crimes were punished were very different 200 years ago. The punishments of that time seem harsh today. The punishment for some crimes was death; others that involved exile. 18th and 19th century records show some convicts were deported to places such as Australia and America. One of the most notorious cases tried at the Sessions House involved two women accused of witchcraft. Elinor Shaw and Mary Phillips from Oundle were hanged for witchcraft in 1705. They were the last two people to be executed as witches in England.

Many murderers were sentenced at the Sessions House. Elizabeth Trasler in 1715 and Elizabeth Fawson in 1735 were both tried there for murdering their husbands, and executed by burning. Hanging was the most usual form of execution, but people were hanged for other crimes too: in 1723 more than 230 types of offences could be punished by hanging. In those days, crimes included things like "consorting with gypsies", so you did not have to commit a very serious offence to find yourself in a condemned cell, with the possibility of being hanged in public. The last public hanging took place at the back of the Sessions House in 1852. The history of the criminals who learned their punishment at the Sessions House is preserved in the graffiti they left in the holding cells below the court - an eerie reminder of those people awaiting their fate.