• It’s another weekend of celebration in London with events including Trooping the Colour and the Hampton Court Palace Festival taking place. With Diamond Jubilee fever in the air, expect crowds for this year’s Trooping the Color – the annual celebration of the Queen’s birthday – held at Horse Guards Parade on Saturday. The procession down The Mall kicks off at 10am  with the flypast back at Buckingham Palace at 1pm (organisers advice getting your place by 9am – for more, follow this link). The Hampton Court Palace Festival, meanwhile, kicks off today with a performance by Liza Minnelli and runs through next week until John Barrowman performs at the festival’s closing next Saturday (24th June). The festival, set against the backdrop of Hampton Court Palace, this year celebrates its 20th year – among other performers are Van Morrison, James Morrison, Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons and this Saturday (16th June) sees the holding of the 20th Anniversary Classical Gala and fireworks. For more, see http://hamptoncourtpalacefestival.com/. PICTURE: Trooping the Colour 2011.

• Park Lane’s central reservation is now hosting three new large scale sculptures by artist William Turnbull, considered a pioneer of modernism. The three works – 3×1 (1966), Large Horse (1990) and Large Blade Venus (1990) – have been installed as part of Westminster City Council’s ‘City of Sculpture’ festival. The works are on loan from the artist as well as the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and Chatsworth House, where they have been recently displayed.

• Professor Keith Simpson, a pathologist who has conducted post-mortems as part of the investigation into some of the country’s most infamous murders, has been honored with a green plaque at his former residence at 1 Weymouth Street by Wesminster City Council. The cases he worked on include the 1949 Acid Bath Murders (John George Haigh was hanged for the murder of six people in August that year) and the murder of gangster George Cornell, shot dead by Ronnie Kray in Whitechapel’s Blind Beggar Pub in 1966. Professor Simpson, who died in 1985, worked in the field of pathology for more than 30 years, taught at Guy’s Hospital in London and was renowned as having performed more autopsies than anyone else in the world.

• Now On: Londoners at Play. This exhibition at the Getty Images Gallery in Eastcastle Street explores through images how Londoners spent their leisure time – from the 19th century through to today. The display features 57 images including an image of ‘Last Night of the Proms’ from 1956 featuring conductor Sir Malcolm Sergeant, a print taken from a glass plate negative showing Londoners cycling in Royal Parks in 1895 and a crowd watching a Punch and Judy show in Covent Garden in 1900. Admission is free. Runs until 25th August. For more, see www.gettyimagesgallery.com/Exhibitions/Default.aspx.

• Now On: Gold: Power and Allure – 4,500 Years of Gold Treasures from across Britain. This exhibition at the Goldsmith’s Hall showcases more than 400 gold items, dating from 2,500 BC through to today. Admission is free. Runs until 28th July. For more information, see www.thegoldsmiths.co.uk.

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A 17th century public executioner famed for his botched executions, Jack Ketch looms as an infamous figure in British history and a byword for brutality and executioners in general.

Ketch’s origins are unknown (he’s also known as John Catch) but he is believed to have received his appointment as a public hangman sometime in the early to mid 1660s – the first recorded mention of him in that role, in a pamphlet celebrating his handiwork, dates from 1678. Such was his self-importance that he apparently adopted the title Esquire and apparently asked for his letters to be addressed to Dr John Ketch.

Among those who died at his hand were those accused of involvement in the Popish Plot against the Crown – a Catholic conspiracy to assassinate King Charles II which was all apparently fabricated by Titus Oates. These included William Staley and Edward Coleman both of whom were hung, drawn and quartered in 1678 (Ketch was also charged with whipping Oates following his perjury conviction).

But Ketch’s most infamous executions, the only two beheadings he is known to have performed, became notorious because of the botched manner in which they were carried out.

It was reported that it took Ketch three blows to strike off the head of William, Lord Russell, when he was executed for treason on 21st July, 1683 (he had opposed the succession of James II and was accused of involvement in the Rye House Plot), although Ketch apparently denied suggestions he had turned up drunk and blamed Lord Russell for flinching.

The beheading of James Scott, the Duke of Monmouth (and illegitimate son of King Charles II), on 15th July, 1685 (pictured above in a print from the time), was apparently even worse – it took Ketch five blows to take off his head and he apparently finished the job with a knife after having almost given up halfway through. Monmouth had been captured following the Battle of Sedgemoor in July 1685 in which he led an army having declared himself king (more on that another time).

Ketch fell out of favor with the authorities later that year and was briefly gaoled in Bridewell prison. He was reinstated but his return to the job of public executioner was only short-lived for he died in 1686 and is believed to have been buried in St James’ in Clerkenwell on 29th November, 1686.

He was survived by his wife Katherine, who apparently stood by her man despite the public feeling against him, and is it generally assumed a girl Susanna who was baptised at the church in Clerkenwell in 1668 – some 18 years before his death – was his daughter.

Following his death, Ketch’s name was adopted by subsequent public hangmen – he even appeared as an ongoing character in Punch and Judy shows.

For more on Ketch, see Tim Wales’ article Jack Ketch in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (a subscription is required for access).

PICTURE: Wikipedia.