Back to the Scene of the Crime


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.



Filed under General Thoughts

7 responses to “Back to the Scene of the Crime

  1. roxks

    Parents will not be happy until little Jemima’s pancreas (which is in a glass jar in some hospital) can rest in peace in her grave beside her after being suitably blessed by a priest (prayers to St Pancras would presumably be appropriate). All this seems to have been stoked up quite recently by the media, and is not really backed by the Church of England or by any other church (as they were very keen to make clear during the First World War). Nobody ever gave a second thought to little Jemima’s tonsils or appendix. or Grandpa’s gall-bladder or teeth.

    It’s much the same with your skull. If you bought it. it might rest more in peace close to its body, which is probably in the grounds of Gloucester gaol, than on your mantelpiece in Clifton. That is where bits of Grandpa sometimes used to end up, on his mantelpiece, and the same with Jemima’s first teeth. The whole thing is nonsense really, yet the poor little children who were resting in pieces rather than peace because of the wicked scientists really caught on, I regret to say. Don’t encourage this.

    Then there is the quite recent phenomenon of providing dead children not just with flowers, but with teddy bears and other toys ,either at the spot where they met with an accident, or on their graves. This is becoming positively Egyptian. It has also become commonplace to write letters to dead people and deposit them (as to Father Christmas). None of this is sponsored by the churches which people no longer attend. It seems to represent inherent human religion in the wild .

  2. amanimal

    The most blatant of my irrationalities has to be the 25+ year old kitchen chairs that I just can’t seem to throw out. The set was a wedding gift and I have parted with the table and one of the four chairs.

    The remaining three are in varying states of disrepair and none are fulfilling their intended purpose – they’re simply mobile shelves that take up floor space. The really irrational thing is that I wouldn’t even notice their absence, but when my wife mentions getting rid of them I never fail to equivocate.

    Thanks for the post – it’s reminded me I’ve yet to read ‘The Domesticated Brain’. We certainly are an interesting species – Mark

    • brucehood

      yes I usually have to reach a tipping point — loading up the car with stuff and taking it to the tip – hope you like the new book!

  3. roxks

    It’s a similar irrationality that people are prone to buy very small wooden chairs for very small children which they seldom if ever sit on, and then keep them for various unrelated purposes. Mine is the home of a CD player, although it’s too low down to work it conveniently.

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