Sunday 22 November 2015

Death in the Pillory; John Waller, Seven Dials, 1732

When in the pillory a malefactor was completely at the mercy of the mob. Some escaped unscathed; when Daniel Defoe was pilloried for satirising the Government he was pelted with flower petals rather than dead cats and rats and rotten vegetables, and Richard Parsons, pilloried for his part in the Cock Lane Ghost fraud, watched in astonishment as the London mob took up a collection for him. John Waller was not so lucky, a boisterous crowd catcalled and jeered as he was beaten to death on the pillory in 1732 by Edward Dalton, the brother of the man he had sent to the scaffold.

An unknown victim takes a dead cat from a restive crowd
John Waller was a career informer who was not especially careful about whether the information he was laying before the courts (in hopes of a reward) was accurate or not. A narrative of his life, published shortly after his death, states that he was the son of the Halifax executioner who left Yorkshire for a life of roving the country. In 1728 he laid evidence against two men who he accused of robbing him on the highway from Islington but both men were acquitted. In early 1730 the highway robber James Dalton was convicted of robbing Waller at gunpoint somewhere between the Tottenham Court Road and Bloomsbury. Dalton vociferously protested his innocence but Waller was supposedly paid £80 for his evidence. In May Waller was giving evidence again, this time against John Wells and Charles Ditcher who had supposedly assaulted him upon the highway and stolen his coat. The newspapers reported that a further two people were in Newgate accused of picking Waller’s pocket.  Waller wasn’t averse to a bit of highway robbery himself, he robbed one John Edglin and then, in an act of breathtaking audacity, using a false name, accused Edglin of robbing him. The Magistrates were already growing suspicious of Waller’s all too frequent appearances before them and he eventually he found himself under arrest and charged with perjury in the Edglin case. He was convicted in June 1732 and as part of his sentence was sent to the pillory at Seven Dials.
Seven Dials in the 1740's
A fellow prisoner, William Belt, was charged with overseeing the execution.  According to Cartwright Richardson, a witness at the later trial, he had barely got Waller into the pillory before Richard Griffiths and Edward Dalton, the younger brother of James Dalton who had been executed on Waller’s perjured testimony two years earlier,  “and a Chimney Sweeper laid hold of Waller, and stripped him as naked as he was born, except his Feet, for they pulled his Stockings over his Shoes and so left them; then they beat him with Collyflower-stalks, and threw him down upon the Pillory-board. The Chimney-Sweeper put something into his Mouth, and Griffith ramm'd it down his Throat with a Collyflower-stalk. Dalton and Griffith jumpt and stampt upon his naked Body and Head, and kick'd him and beat him with Artichoke and Collyflower-Stalks, as he lay on the Pillory-Board. They continued beating, kicking, and stamping upon him in this manner, for above 1/4 of an Hour, and then the Mob threw down the Pillory, and all that were upon it. Waller then lay naked on the Ground. Dalton got upon him, and stamping on his Privy Parts, he gave a dismal Groan, and I believe it was his last; for after that I never heard him groan nor speak, nor saw him stir.”

John Waller in an illustration from the Newgate Calendar

Belt, Griffith and Dalton were all tried for murder at the Old Bailey. Mr King the Coroner told the court about the horrific state of Waller’s corpse “I viewed the deceased the next Day, and I never saw such a Spectacle. I can't pretend to distinguish particularly in what Part he was bruised most, for he was bruised all over: I could scarce perceive any Part of his Body free. His Head was beat quite flat, no Features could be seen in his Face, and some Body had cut him quite down the Back with a sharp Instrument.”

John Waller’s mother was present at Seven Dials to see her son killed. His mangled body was taken to her where she sat in a coach watching.  Cartwright Richardson described to the court how Dalton and Griffiths reacted when they saw her; “they cryed out here's the old Bitch his Mother, Damn her, let's kill her too. So they went to the Coach-door, huzzaing and swearing that they had stood true to the Stuff. Damn him, says Dalton, we have sent his Soul half way to Hell, and now we'll have his Body to sell to the Surgeons for Money to pay the Devil for his thorow Passage.”  She told the court what happened next “I laid my Son's Head in my Lap. .... My son had neither Eyes, nor Ears, nor Nose to be seen; they had squeezed his Head flat. Griffith pull'd open the Coach-door, and struck me, pull'd my Son's Head out of my Lap, and his Brains fell into my Hand.”

William Belt was acquitted of the murder of John Waller, Richard Griffiths and Edward Dalton were convicted and were hung at Tyburn in September 1732. 


  1. incredibly fascinating, gruesome stuff. his poor mother

  2. Well the guy got his comeuppance even if the perpetrators were hung themselves

    1. A spell in the stocks seems a lenient punishment for what he did but then when you have to face the wrath of violent relatives, perhaps not.