Friday, October 12, 2012

Christians beheaded by 18 year old here in the UK

John Baird and Andrew Hardie were weavers and leaders in the "radical war" of 1820. They were executed in Stirling on 8th September 1820. Lots has been written about them, but one of the overlooked issues is their religious faith. Both Baird and Hardie were practising Christians and their demand for democracy and justice was something that grew out of their understanding of the gospel.

In today's folk religion of fundamentalism there is an assumption that the persecuted will be right wing Christians and the persecutors will be Muslims. Yet, here in 1820 we have the persecuted Christians being remarkably left wing and the persecutors being the state with the established church as its spiritual wing. You might like to reflect on how the biblical idea of justice intersects with modern expressions of Christianity.

The execution of Baird and Hardie was a remarkable event and will be described shortly, but first:

The Players

Andrew Hardie - weaver and revolutionary.

John Baird - weaver and revolutionary.

Rev Dr George Wright DD - minister of the East Kirk, Stirling.

From Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae

Rev Dr Alexander Small - minister of the West Kirk, Stirling.

From Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae

The East and West Kirks were in the same building, the historic Church of the Holy Rude which was divided with a partition after a fall out within the congregation:

“Covenanters were not without divisions among themselves. Mr Guthrie had a ministerial colleague in his work at Holy Rude. The two did not see eye to eye. The solution resorted to by the Town Council was the erection of a wall between nave and choir, thus providing a separate church for each of the disputing ministers. This wall, somewhat adapted over the years, survived until the mid-1930s, when the separate East and West Congregations were at last united and the building, like the congregations, made one.” (From the guidebook:

Rev Archibald Bruce- Minister of the North Kirk, Stirling (recently refounded after a number of years disuse following the Erskinite secession)

From Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae

The Executioner

John Prebble in “The King’s Jaunt” claimed that the headsman was an 18 year old medical student. Nobody had been beheaded or quartered since the rising of 1745 and the Stirling hangman Tom Young (known as the “staff man” because of his staff of office) may not have wanted to do it.

I can't confirm this or find his source, but the execution of James Wilson, another weaver who was sentenced to be hung, and quartered at Glasgow was carried out by another medical student called Thomas Moore who was twenty years old (although the crowd's anger prevented the body being quartered). Prebble's assertion is not unlikely:

On Wednesday afternoon, 30th August, 1820, dressed in prison garb and securely shackled, Wilson was led from the gaol and bound onto a hurdle or gate. The horse-drawn hurdle sounded hollowly as it trundled over filthy cobbled streets on its way to Glasgow Green where a multitude of more than twenty thousand people waited in silence. It was just a few minutes to three o'clock when the prisoner, his head high, dignified and proud, calmly walked to the scaffold steps where his executioner waited.
[Thomas Moore was a twenty-year-old medical student who had volunteered for the macabre task. He was somberly attired in a grey coat with black trousers and fur hat. A strip of black crepe masked his face. At his feet lay the black bag containing tools of his trade: The scalpels and saws that would soon be utilized to surgically eviscerate, decapitate, and finally quarter the victim.]
The headsman appeared to be about 20 years of age, of a genteel appearance, and executed his obnoxious task with the most determined coolness. The whole ceremony of the decapitation did not occupy above a minute, and at four o' clock the ground was clear, without any material accident having happened.
(from Glasgow Herald Friday September 1, 1820)

Broadside concerning the execution of the Radicals, Andrew Hardie and John Baird

Click on image above to see the original.


A Full, True, and Particular Account of the Execution of ANDREW HARDIE and JOHN BAIRD, who were Hanged and Beheaded at Stirling, on Friday the 8th September 1820, for High Treason, together with their Behaviour at the Place of Execution.
YESTERDAY, 8th September, 1820, the preparation for the execution of these unfortunate men having been completed the previous night, this morning the scaffold appeared to the view of the inhabitants. On each side the scaffold was placed a coffin, at the head of which was a tub, filled with saw-dust, destined to receive the head. To the aide of the tub was affixed a block.
The clergymen of the town (the reverend Drs Wright and Small,) and the reverend Mr Bruce, throughout the confinement of the prisoners, were unremitting in their duties. The morning previous to the execution was spent almost solely in devotion and reflections, suited to the awful situation of the prisoners. About 11 o'clock a troop of the 7th Dragoon Guards arrived from Falkirk, and were assisted by the 15th Foot quartered in the Castle.
At a quarter after one the procession left the Castle, and was seen to move down Broad Street, the unfortunate men in a hurdle, their backs to the horse, and the headsman with his axe sitting so as to face them. They were respectably dressed in black, with weepers. The procession was attended by the Sheriff depute and his Substitute, and the Magistrates, all with their staves of office. The troops lined the streets so as to permit the whole to pass slowly and undisturbed to the spot intended for the execution. During the procession, the prisoners sung a hymn, in which they were joined by the multitude.
At 20 minutes to two o'clock, the hurdle arrived at the Court-house. Hardie first descended. He was followed by Baird, then the headsman. Hardie, by mistake, was conducted into the waiting-room. He bowed twice respectfully to the gentlemen who were present. The Reverend Dr Wright accompanied Hardie. The Reverend Dr Small, and Mr Brown, were with Baird. Hardie turned round, and observing how few persons were present said to one of the clergymen, "Is this all that is to be present." Dr Wright read the whole of the 51st psalm. He then delivered a most impressive prayer; after which, a few verses of the same psalm, from the 7th verse, were sung by the prisoners and others present, Hardie giving out two lines at a time, in a clear and distinct voice, and sung the same without any tremulency. The Reverend Dr Small then delivered a prayer, remarkable for zeal and fervour; after which, the 103d psalm was sung, Hardie giving out two lines at a time as before.
The conduct of these two men while in the Court-room was most calm and unassuming. Some refreshment being offered, Hardie took a glass of sherry, and Baird a glass of port. Hardie said something the exact import of which we could not collect. He begged the sheriff to express their gratitude to General Graham, Major Peddie, and the public authorities, for their humanity and attention; he then bowed to the other persons present, and drank off the whole of the contents of the glass. Baird then addressed himself to the sheriff; and begged to convey sentiments of a similar nature. When they were pinioned Hardie mentioned to Baird to come forward to the scaffold. While in the Courtroom both prisoners particularly Hardie, seemed less affected by their situation than any other person present; his hand, while he held his book, never trembled. On their arrival at the scaffold, there was a dead silence. After a few minutes, Baird addressed the crowd in a very loud voice. He adverted to the circumstance in which he was placed, and said he had but little to say, but that he never gave his assent to any thing inconsiatent with truth and justice. He then recommended the bible, and a peaceful conduct to his hearers. Hardie then addressed the crowd. He commenced with the word "Countrymen." At something which we could not completely catch, and which we must not guess at there was a huzzaing, and marks of approbation. After a few moments silence as if recollecting he had proceeded too far, and had excited feelings inconsistent with his situation, he spoke again. He advised the crowd not to think of them, but to attend to their bibles, and recommended them, in place of going to public houses, to drink to the memory of Baird and Hardie, that they would retire to their devotions. After the ropes were adjusted, a most warm and affectionate prayer was delivered by the reverend Mr Bruce. At eleven minutes before three the necessary arrangements being made, Hardie gave the signal, when they were launched into eteraity. After hanging half an hour, they were cut down, and placed upou the coffins, with their necks upon a block; the headsman then came forward; he was a little man, apparently about 18 years of ages he wore a black crape over his face, a hairy cap, and a black gown. On his appearance there was a cry of murder. He struck the neck of Hardie thrice before it was severed then held it up with both hands, saying, "This is the head of a traitor." He severed the head of Baird at two blows, held it up in the same manner, and used the same words. The coffins were then removed, and the crowd peaceably dispersed.
Edinburgh :—Printed for William Cameron.—PRICE ONE PENNY.

Some points of humanity to add to this story

Granny Duncan who hid letters to the two men at the bottom of their bowls of porridge:
The narrow passage leading from the Esplanade to Upper Castlehill and Ballangeich is supposed to have received the above name from one Millar, who resided there, and was for a long time tacksman [taxman] of the petty (or penny) customs of the burgh. Here lived "Granny” Duncan, who attended the political martyrs, Baird and Hardie, while in the Castle awaiting execution, and was a great favourite with them. It is said she was in the habit of making porridge for them, and was thus enabled to carry in letters from friends. The plan she took was to allow the porridge to cool, turn them out, lay the letter on the bottom, and replace the food. Granny attended the two men to the place of execution. She died at the age of 96.
(From: Auld Buildings Of Stirling, Its Closes, Wynds, And Neebour Villages By William Drysdale (Stirling: Eneas Mackay, 43 Murray Place 1904)

You might also like to read copies of the letters sent by Andrew Hardie to his uncle and his sweetheart dated, Stirling Castle, 5th September 1820 which you will find here (PDF file):