Sunday, 18 December 2016

James Botting, Callous Executioner, Hated and Defiled by All

Botting was responsible for many agonised deaths. Photo Janet Cameron
Not far from West Street in Brighton, East Suessex, lived a man hated and defiled throughout Brighton and Hove.  At the time of our story, James Botting was aged 58 and on 1 October 1857, he fell out of his wheelchair at the corner of Codington Place and Montpelier Road.  Botting was so deeply shunned that no one would help him.  He was just left there to die, friendless and in pain. Did he deserve it?

Well, yes, actually, he did!

Botting was known as "Jemmy" and his dwelling place, just off Brighton's West Street became "Botting's Rookery" which he shared with Brighton's most disreputable beggars and vagrants. He survived on a pension of just 5s.0d. per week from the City Corporation of London.  This downturn in his fortune was, maybe, poetic justice, for Botting had been in former days Newgate's official hangman, as well as being employed by a number of other persons.  He was a vicious piece of work.  It's claimed that Botting had boasted that, with his assistant, he'd executed 175 people, men and women.  According to Newgate's records for mutliple hangings, Botting used a gantry type gallows with parallel beams above a foot-hinged platform.  Botting released this platform by a lever.  It's also claimed he allowed a drop of only a couple of feet, ensuring a slow and agonising death for his prisoners.

Botting's Most Famous Case

Botting executed James Fauntleroy, disgraced Brighton banker, in front of 100,000 people.  He also presided, in 1820, when the Cato Street Five, who'd plotted to murder senior members of the English Cabinet, were brought to justice.  Included in the five was a butcher, James Ings, who used to work in Cranbourne Street, Brighton.  After they were hanged, the five bodies were also decapitated.  Botting, however, was not permitted to carry out the second part of the sentence; instead a masked surgeon undertook the task.  They were the last legal beheadings in England.

A Teller of Stories

After Botting became paralysed and had to retire on his 5s.0d a week pension, he enjoyed telling stories about his former glory.  So when he fell, that was the end of him and Brighton breathed a great sigh of relief that it wouldn't have to hear the exploits of this unpleasant raconteur ever again.  The place of his death is where Waitrose supermarket now stands.

Botting's ghost, it's claimed, still shuffles its makeshift chair past the Half Moon pub in Boyce's Street, especially when it's dark and windy, so it's best to stay safely inside.

Adapted from Murders & Misdemeanours by Janet Cameron, published by Amberley Publishing, 2008.
Source: Brighton History Centre, Local Studies.

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