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William Marwood's powder flask, England, 1850-1880

William Marwood (c. 1818-83) once owned this flask for gunpowder. Marwood was a shoemaker, occasional preacher... and executioner. He was from Lincolnshire, England. He is best known for developing the ‘longdrop’ method of hanging in the 1870s. This snapped the person’s neck, instantly causing death. The criminal’s weight was assessed and the correct length of rope used. The neck then snapped once the body descended through a trapdoor in the floor. Previously, the criminal choked to death. Marwood deemed this method inhumane because it could take a long time. He oversaw nearly 200 executions during his career. Marwood was a well-known figure. He inspired the popular pun, “If Pa killed Ma, who’d kill Pa? Marwood.” Marwood’s personal possessions were highly sought after by the public when he died. He was still a powerful draw for collectors in the 20th century, including Henry Wellcome.

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Glossary: flask

A bottle with a wide body and a thinner neck used in Chemistry. Traditionally made of glass, but more recently made from plastic.