Antique Macabre Folk Art - A Tale Of Robbery, Murder, Blame & The Death Penalty

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Ahoy there!  Welcome back to 'Blog Post Monday'!

This week's post is about a fascinating piece of social history, if more than a bit macabre!  A tragic tale of robbery, murder, blame and consequently, the last person to be publicly executed in Bedfordshire!

Have I got your attention...?

Well then, get that kettle on and have a clean pair of pants to hand, as we take a look at the tragic story of William Worsley, the last person to be publicly hanged in Bedfordshire...


I was chatting to some dealer friends of mine last week when they began telling me about a rather interesting find that they had come across recently.  It was a bobbin.  But no ordinary bobbin.  It was a bobbin commemorating the public hanging in 1868 of a William Worsley.  A tragic but fascinating story which I will share with you right now...

William Worsley was born in Luton in 1826 and after an Apprenticeship, became a 'Hat Blocker' (a person skilled in making the wooden moulds on which hats were constructed).


Image:  Levi Welch


Image:  James Day

Life was tough for William and things came to a head in 1867 after William and two friends, Levi Welch (pictured above) and James Day (pictured above), had been drinking in a pub called the Royal Oak in Luton.  Short of money, but full of drink, William, Levi and Day, saw a man called William Bradbury who had been drinking in two public houses, The Bell and The English Gentleman, finally leaving for home at midnight.


Bradbury was accosted and robbed by Worsley, Welch and Day, and was struck and killed with an iron bar.  The Police were called and the iron bar was quickly found, hidden in a hedge nearby.


Soon afterwards, Worsley, Welch and Day were arrested and charged with murder.  Welch quickly turned Kings evidence, blaming the whole episode on Worsley.  He was jailed for six years for robbery.  Day claimed he had only been at the scene because he was looking for a sixpence he had lost, and was subsequently acquitted.  However, Worsley was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging.  William Worsley was held at Bedford Prison and became the last person to be publicly hanged in Bedfordshire in 1868.



Worsley dictated a statement to the Governor in which he confessed his guilt. Between twelve and one o'clock he dictated a letter to his friends which was taken down in writing by the Governor, and he expressed a wish that the same should be made known to the public at large.  It read as follows:

"Dear Brothers and Sisters, - I have made a true statement to the Chaplain and Governor, who has taken it down in writing, - how this sad affair has happened, and what made me to do it, and it is my wish that what I have said may be made known to you, in the hope that it may be satisfactory to you. I never meant to leave this world before I made it known as soon as I found there were no hopes left for me. I hope you will forgive me for what I have done. I am quite satisfied with the judge who tried me - also with my counsellor, as far as he had information given to him. I have only now to thank you all sincerely and he public at large for what you and they have done for me, and hope that the Lord will reward you and them for it".


"I must now bid you all farewell, and pray that this may be a warning to all of you. Give my kind love to my wife, and I hope she will make herself as comfortable as she can about me, and hope she will pray earnestly to the Almighty for guidance and strength during the remainder of her days. I pray now day and night for the merciful God to forgive me, and I hope that I shall make my peace with Him".


"No more from your unfortunate brother"



Worsley was the last public hanging to take place in Bedfordshire, but it was only a few weeks later, on 26th May 1868, that the final public execution in the country was carried out, when William Calcraft hanged Fenian bomber Michael Barrett at Newgate Prison in London.


Image:  the 19th century bobbin hanging souvenir

Public hangings were a community event, people coming from far and wide to witness the spectacle.  Men and women would wait for hours and while away the time, by knitting or playing dice etc.  Hawkers and travelling pedlars would attend and use the gathering to ply their wares.


Image:  the 19th century bobbin hanging souvenir

There are many collectors of small bone decorated lace making bobbins with glass bead spangles attached.  Some are decorated with family names or symbols such as hearts or diamonds.  There are a rare few however, which commemorate a public hanging, and these were sold on the day to spectators. This particular example (pictured) is one of those rare bobbins which are now highly collectible.


Image:  the 19th century bobbin hanging souvenir

The bobbin reads" William Worsley Hung 1868" and you'll be pleased to hear that this curious piece is currently available to buy HERE

Anyway, that's it for this week folks!  I hope you've enjoyed this little insight into the tragic story of William Worsley, the last person to be publicly hanged in Bedfordshire.  As always, let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.


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So, until next week, stay safe, keep buying those antiques and keep spreading that Source Vintage love!

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  • Mandy Caldon on

    William was my 5th great grandfather apparently. I recall the old dears at family funerals talking about how he’d been blamed for it and hung. Interested re the validity of his ‘confession’. Shame there’s no photo of William

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