New smartphone apps on historic executions to launch

Issue date: 14 July 2017

The University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) will launch a series of smartphone apps with a difference next week: each designed to immerse users in the emotional world of Georgian capital punishment – in the quiet, lonely fields and hilltops where the hangings originally took place.

The extraordinary 18th century practice of hanging and sometimes gibbeting some felons (exhibiting their bodies to public view in iron cages) at the scene of their crime was intended to leave an indelible and exemplary impression on disorderly villages and small towns. They were usually staged in remote locations before very large crowds and were spectacular, expensive and theatrical events, unlikely ever to be forgotten by anyone who witnessed them.

Working in partnership with Bristol-based digital design and app developers, Satsymph, the Regional History Centre at UWE Bristol has developed walking tours at four of these sites in the West Country. Visitors will be able to download the apps for free and then walk the site while immersed in a creative and evocative soundscape.

Professor Steve Poole, Director of the Regional History Centre, said: “These are not conventional guides to historical events but artistic responses to past traumas in quiet places which may seem tranquil on the surface, but whose history is very much darker. We have researched each case in conventional ways, but then worked closely with the poet Ralph Hoyte and the sound artist Michael Fairfax from Satsymph to create an evocative and immersive experience for visitors to each site.

“The impact made by these extraordinary executions centuries ago was intended to be emotionally shocking and leave a permanent mark on the collective memory of local communities. We've approached the project from an artistic angle because we wanted to provoke an emotional response from visitors, rather than simply relate the dry facts of each case. Satsymph have been making geo-located soundscapes for dramatised heritage interpretation, contemporary music and contemporary poetry for more than ten years now, and we are delighted with the results of our collaboration.”

The work, carried out as part of a project called Romancing the Gibbet, has been made possible by financial support from the Higher Educational Initiative Fund.

The four apps have been developed for use at:

· A hillside above Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire (the hanging and gibbeting of William Keely in 1772)

· Arn Hill above Warminster, Wiltshire (the hanging of George Ruddock and George Carpenter in 1813)

· A hill above Over Stowey, Somerset (the hanging and gibbeting of John Walford in 1789)

· Bristol harbourside and the mouth of the Avon (the hanging and gibbeting of Matthew Mahony in 1741).

The Regional History Centre and Satsymph will be jointly hosting a special evening launch event at Over Stowey Village Hall on Thursday 20 July, from 8pm-9.30pm.

At the event, Professor Poole will briefly explain the history of crime scene hangings and the use of the gibbet, and Ralph Hoyte and Michael Fairfax from Satsymph will talk about the development of the app, the creation of the poetry, the original music and the overall sound design. The team will then lead an optional evening walk, with moments of live performance, to Walford's Gibbet, site of John Walford's execution.

The event is free and anyone with an interest in this project is invited to come to join the launch event to try out the app, which needs to be downloaded in advance.

The Over Stowey app, The Ballad of Johny Walford, can be downloaded here: Apps for the other three sites will be available from the same web address.

A short film made for the project and based on the Walford case can be seen here:

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