Today there is an auction in West Sussex with the peculiar Lot 202 – ‘felon’s skull’ and newspaper cutting. The item is a human skull mounted inside a glass dome that has been partially dissected to use as an anatomical display. It belonged to John Parker from Langley near Chippenham, Wiltshire, who was hanged alongside another burglar at the top of ‘Glocester Gaol’ in the ealy 19th century.
Generally I would not pay much attention to these common macabre trophies but the information from the cutting stopped me in my tracks.
“Execution – On Saturday John Parker, aged 36, and Thomas Rodway, aged 30, were executed at the drop, on the top of the lodge at Glocester Gaol, pursuant to the sentence at the late Assized, for a burglary in the dwelling-house of Mrs Grey, at Clifton, near Bristol. Although obdurate at first, they at last became more sensible of their awful situation, and died with due penitence.”
I happen to live in Clifton and for one momentary moment of madness, I thought it would be a good idea to own this relic to put on the mantelpiece. It felt that it was important to return this skull to the location that was the scene of the crime.
Clearly no logic to this whim whatsoever but I am sure that many think that there is a sense of order and closure when remains are reunited to locations where events took place that eventually led to their death. It is irrational because that location could have been anywhere – the scene of the crime, the location of the gallows and so on. We have brains that seek out patterns that are relevant to us and so when a place is significant to us we are inclined to pay attention to events that are related. There again, at an estimated sale value of £2-3,000, I think that is one curiosity that I will leave for others.