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Life, Trial, Condemnation and Execution of
Mrs Mary CHANNING (nee BROOKS)
(1687-1705/6)

 

Extract from part of an article in the Times Newspaper published 9th October 1908 about Mambury Rings Fordington
Written by the author Thomas Hardy [1840-1928]

"...Maumbury was the scene of as sinister an event as any associated with it, because it was a definite event. It was one which darkens its concave to this day. This was the death suffered there on March 21, 1705-06, of a girl who had not yet reached her nineteenth year.. This girl was the wife of a grocer in the town, a handsome young woman "of good natural parts," and educated "to a proficiency suitable enough to one of her sex, to which likewise was added dancing." She was tried and condemned for poisoning her husband, a Mr Thomas Channing, to whom she had been married against her wish by the compulsion of her parents.

"The present writer has examined more than once a report of her trial, and can find no distinct evidence that the thoughtless, pleasure-loving creature committed the crime, while it contains much to suggest that she did not. Nor is any motive discoverable for such an act. She was allowed to have her former lover or lovers about her by her indulgent and weak-minded husband, who permitted her to go her own ways, give parties, and supplied her with plenty of money. However at the assizes at end of July she was found guilty after a trial in which the testimony chiefly went to show her careless character before and after marriage. During the three sultry days of its continuance, she , who was soon to become a mother, stood at the bar-then an actual bar of iron “ by reason of which (runs a true account) and much talking, being quite spent, she moved the court for the liberty of a glass of water.

She conducted her own defence with the greatest ability, and was complimented thereupon by Judge Price. Who tried her but he did not extend his compliment to a merciful summing up. Maybe that he, like Pontius Pilot was influenced by the desire of the townsfolk for to wreak vengeance on somebody, right or wrong.

"When sentence was about to be passed, she pleaded her condition and execution was postponed. Whilst awaiting the birth of her child in the old damp gaol by the river at the bottom of town near the White Hart Inn which stands there still she was placed in a common room for women prisoners and no bed provided for her, and no special payment having been made to her gaoler Mr Knapton for a separate cell. Someone obtained for her an old tilt of a wagon to screen her from surrounding eyes and under this she was delivered of a son in December.

After her lying-in she was attacked by a fever of a violent and lasting kind, which preyed upon her until she was nearly wasted away. In this state at the next assizes on the 8th March following the unhappy woman who now said that she longed for death but still persisted her innocence was again brought before the bar and her execution was fixed for the 21st

On that day two men were hanged before her turn came, and then, "the under sheriff having taken some refreshment," he proceeded to his biggest and last job with this girl not yet 19, now reduced to a skeleton by the long fever, and already more dead than alive. She was conveyed from the goal in a cart by her father and husbands houses so the course of the procession must have been up High-East Street as far as the Bow thence down South Street and up the straight Roman Road to the Ring beside it.

"When fixed to the stake she justified her innocence to the very last, and left the world with a courage seldom found in her sex. She being first strangled, the fire was kindled about five in the afternoon, and in the sight of many thousands she was consumed to ashes."

"There is nothing to show she was dead before the burning began, and from the use of the word 'strangled' and not 'hanged' it would seem that she was merely rendered insensible before the fire was lit. An ancestor of the present writer, who witnessed the scene, has handed down the information that "her heart leapt out" during the burning, and other curious details that cannot be printed here. Was man ever slaughtered by his fellow man during the Roman or barbarian use of this place of games or of sacrifice in circumstances of greater atrocity?"

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