A frightful calamity occurred at Nottingham, at the time of the execution of William Saville, for the murder of his wife and three children, by cutting their throats, in the Wood at Colwick. The following account of this awful affair is taken from Mr. J.F. Sutton’s Date Book.
The crowd at the execution, Wednesday, August 8, was immense. It was wonderful to see what countless thousands were packed together. As far as the eye could reach from the scaffold, in front of the County Hall, nothing could be beheld but a sea of heads. Eight was the hour of execution, but every available space was occupied long before it arrived. Occasionally, there came a cry from the mighty surging mass that a man, woman, or youth, was fainting, or being crushed to death; and if the sufferer was fortunate enough not to be entirely bereft of strength, he or she was lifted up, and permitted to walk or creep to the extremity of the crowd on the shoulders of the people.
Saville was led forth, and at three minutes past eight, the drop descended. Almost immediately after, the mighty crowd brake, as it were, in the middle. The anxiety, deep and general, to witness the spectacle, was succeeded by an equally general and still deeper desire to get away from the overpowering and suffocating pressure. The result was positively awful. The greater portion of the house-doors along the Pavement were closed, and those who were crushed against the wall by the terrific and resistless tide, had no means of escape. Twelve human beings were killed, and more than an hundred received serious injuries; and of the latter, the deaths of five, after lingering illnesses, were clearly traceable to the same most lamentable catastrophe.
The inhabitants, at the windows on each side the street, observed the overwhelming rush, and foreseeing the consequence, screamed out to those in the rear to stay their progress. The mayor was especially active, and though the almost threw himself out of his window for the purpose of staying the fatal advance, all was in vain: to halt, was to be overborne and destroyed. Heaps of victims were thrown down and trampled upon on the Pavement, and then the pent-up tide found an outlet at Garner’s-hill, down which it rolled with destructive velocity. Some fell in their involuntary descent of the steps, others became entangled with them and overthrown, and in a few seconds the steps and narrow thorough-fare was completely choked up. There the struggling mass lay-men, women, and children, promiscuously heaped together, and each moment receiving additions to its number. The shrieks of the female sufferers were fearful, though not protracted, for a very brief interval brought on either insensibility or the silence of death. Seldom has the eye beheld a sadder spectacle. The mass was literally writhing with agony. Many had dislocated or broken limbs – females could be seen struggling for life, divested almost totally of their exterior garments – and groans, mingled with hurried prayers and curses, resounded on every side.