Report 15th February 2011

This week Roy Smith, a member and former Prison Governor, traced the History of Punishment from the ancient Greeks and Romans through the medieval period to the nineteenth century.

Our Chairman, Malcolm Wood,  described Roy Smith as having enjoyed

 a “…  distinguished career in prison” ….  before adding the word  “service “.  

Prisons were originally temporary holding areas for felons, not places for custodial sentences.   Roy described some of the more extreme punishments of the ancients such as stoning to death and driving victims over cliffs.  In the medieval period decapitation and branding were employed, leading one member to comment afterwards that the talk should have had an ‘ X’ certificate. Later, in the early modern period whole families would live in prison.  Work on the treadmill and the crank was meaningless.

Executions were public spectacles until the 1860s and many felons were transported to the American colonies until the Wars of Independence and afterwards to Australia.  Roy gave us much food for thought and showed us slides from woodcuts of some of the traditional methods of punishment.

John Taylor

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