Blackwall Point & Execution Dock

At the topmost northern point on the Greenwich Peninsula you will find Blackwall Point.  This area is notable for a couple of things; firstly because it marked the entrance into the port of London and secondly because it is the point where convicted pirates were left to hang, visible to all ships that entered the port. The trip to Blackwell Point was not all that they had to endure though, the display here was to serve as a warning to those who looked upon piracy as their way of life. The bodies that were on display here were already dead and decomposing, after meeting their fate at the aptly named Execution Dock, just a little further upstream.

Photo by Robert Pittman
Photo by Robert Pittman

Execution Dock

London was at one time the largest port in the world and as such has a link with piracy that was unavoidable. The docks were no place for a person of respectability back in the fifteenth century, filled as they were with pirates, thieves and ne’er-do-wells. The area was overrun with crime and all kinds of unacceptable behaviour that polite society frowned upon. The Admiralty therefore decided to bring in a deterrent to all of this abhorrent behaviour and Execution Dock was commissioned.

Any individual charged with performing acts of piracy would be detained in Marshalsea Prison until their case could be heard at the Admiralty courts. If found guilty, as they often were, their sentence would be death. The prisoners would then be paraded in public across London Bridge, along past the Famous Tower of London to Wapping, the location of Execution Dock. It was a Marshall from the Admiralty that headed the procession and the route would very commonly be lined with people there to watch the execution take place. The condemned would be given a last drink of ale at the pub closest to the place of execution.

To make the ordeal as uncomfortable as possible a short rope was used so that the drop would not be sufficient to cause the pirates neck to break, they were instead left to a slow suffocation. Once life had been extinguished they were left hanging for the duration of three tides, before their bodies were removed and placed as a warning to others at Blackwall Point.

Notorious Cases

The most notorious pirate to meet his death at Execution Point was the infamous Captain Kidd, who is widely believed to be the inspiration behind the book Treasure Island. He was convicted in 1701 and sentenced to death that same year. At his execution the rope around his neck snapped and Kidd lived, much to the delight of the crowds of spectators who had come to see him receive his just reward; there were so many spectators that many took to boats put on the river so they could watch events unfold. He had no such luck on the second attempt. Due to his notoriety his body was tarred and placed in a special made iron cage which hung on the riverside and served as a warning to others for almost twenty years.

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