|Dr Syntax attacked by footpads.|
It was customary to hang up executed malefactors’ bodies in chains. These gruesome remnants of humanity were a familiar sight for travellers, and Jane Austen could hardly have avoided seeing them on her journeys.
For example, one frosty winter’s night in January 1796, teenage post-boy John Stanton was carrying the Warrington mail when he was stopped by two men on horseback near Helsby in Cheshire. The men tied him to a tree and said he was being watched: if he tried to escape they would slice off his arm.
|Highwayman Higgins' house at Knutsford. Copyright Sue Wilkes.|
Stanton eventually escaped, and highwaymen Thomas Brown (twenty-six) and James Price (nineteen) were caught. A few weeks later they were ‘launched into eternity in the presence of an immense multitude’ at Chester (Chester Chronicle, 6 May 1796). Their corpses were hung in chains on Trafford Green, and their bones rattled in the wind for over twenty years.