Jemmy Botting: the hangman
James Botting who was better known as ‘Jemmy’, lived just off Brighton’s West Street. The building, which was behind Westfield Lodge, became known as ‘Botting’s Rookery’ and was frequented by Brighton’s lowest class of vagrant. Many of these had no other option but to lodge under the same roof as an unsavoury local man who had become the official hangman for Newgate and various other prisons.
J. A. Erridge stated that Botting had personally boasted that a total of 175 people (both men and women) lost their lives at his and his assistant’s hands, 13 of them in one week. Newgate records confirm that for multiple hangings he used a gantry type gallows that had two parallel beams above a 10 x 8 foot hinged platform, which he released by a single lever. A report on the internet adds that he only gave his condemned a drop of between 1 and 2 feet, which made death a very slow process.
Execution of the Cato Street Five
Apart from executing the Brighton banker and fraudster James Fauntleroy in front of a London crowd estimated at 100,000, the most prominent execution he attended to was that of the Cato Street five who had conspired to murder several senior members of the English Cabinet. The five included a former butcher, James Ings, who was reputed to have once worked in Brighton’s Cranbourne Street. That group were not only publicly hanged, but it was also decreed that their corpses be decapitated. In 1820 Botting did the court’s initial bidding and then stood back to enable a masked surgeon to undertake the more macabre aspect of the entire sentence. It was the last time that a legal beheading was ever performed in England.
The wheeled chair – still to be heard
In his later years Botting became partially paralysed and this forced him into retirement on a 5 shillings a week state pension and the occasional free drink in bars when he told gruesome stories to the uninitiated about his past occupation. By then he could only shuffle about Brighton using an old seat with wheels as both a crutch and place to rest. Many of the Brightonians who knew him chose to avoid contact with him and there is a report that when he fell from his wheeled chair at the corner of Codrington Place & Montpelier Road, no-one came to his aid and he was left there to die.
Botting’s memory, however, still survives in the form of a local ghost story. According to the tale, on the occasional dark and windy night, Botting’s rickety wheeled chair can be heard dragging past one of his old haunts, the Half Moon pub in Boyces Street.
J. A. Erridge “History of Brighthelmstone” (1862) pp 335-336
R. C. Grant “Notorious Brightonians” Sussex Family Historian (June 1996) p. 52
A. Griffiths “The Chronicles of Newgate” (1987); pp 454-458
The internet and local folklore