Here is a note of an incident from 1545 in the parish register of Sir Thomas Butler, vicar of Much Wenlock in Shropshire:
Here was buried John Dod of the parish of Little Wenlock, who was hanged here, as also Alice Glaston, 11 yrs of age, of the parish of Little Wenlock, and Wm. Harper, a tailor.
A note slightly further down the page reads:
Three Convicts buried one a girl of 11 years old.
Although Butler’s first sentence is ambiguous, the second seems to suggest that Alice was hanged. If so, it is one of the youngest ages I have seen recorded for the execution of a girl in early modern England. That said it’s not the youngest reference I’ve seen to a child who was hanged. A John Dean from Oxfordshire was not even 10 when he was executed for arson:
At Abingdon assizes Feb 23 1629 before Whitlock justice one John Dean an infant between eight and nine years was indicted arraigned and found guilty of burning two barns in the town of Windsor and it appearing upon examination that he had malice revenge craft and cunning lie had judgment to be hanged and was hanged accordingly.
It is probably impossible to know exactly what transpired in this incident. The Wenlock quarter sessions records for this period do not survive. If Alice was hanged, the crime she was accused of committing remains lost to us. The next entry in Butler’s register states this:
A boy found dead and thither went Wm Fennymere the Coroner and of the Six men of the Franchises NB Description of the wounds and the dress.
However, it’s not clear whether this relates to the three burials mentioned above it, or whether it’s a separate burial of the boy. I think it’s probably the latter.
All I have been able reconstruct is the physical places in which Alice may have spent her last days. They would have been tried at Wenlock Guildhall, which had only been built five years previously in 1540 after the dissolution of the nearby priory. To the left of the wooden pillars on the ground floor is a stone section of the building, which was the prison:
Here Alice and others convicted of hanging offences would have spent their final hours. After their trial, they would have been taken up to Edge Top, part of the limestone ridge of Wenlock Edge that lay to the south-west and north-east of the town. There they were hanged.
What exactly happened at Alice’s trial and execution also remains lost to us. However, Butler did record what transpired in the hanging of two men four years previously:
Item on the 7th Feb 1541 here was buried Thomas Myles whose dwelling was at that time in Bockleton in the Parish of Milburge Stoke of and within the Franchises of this Borough of Moch Wenlock which Thomas Myles was cast by 12 men for felony at Wenlock at a Sessions kept and holden here the same day & the day before being Monday before John Bradley the younger Bailiff of this Franchises and Richd Whorde of Bridgenorth Justice of Quorum Recorder of this said franchises Ano Regni 33o
Memorandum that the 10th day of this instant month of Febry in the year of our Lord 1541 here was buried Wm Lowe a Cheshire man born which William was a lad of 18 years of age or thereabouts cast by the verdict of 12 men at the sd Sessions holden here before the sd Justices the day as it is written in the last of the leaf next preceding which Sessions were prorogued till friday because of the absence of the ordinary forasmuch as the sd William desired the Priviledge of the Church saying that he could read and on friday the 10th day of this february when the Justices were sitting the Ordinary Mr George Dycher parson of Stretton Dean of this Deanery being ready in presence, It was found he was no Clerk and so was put to execution of the law & buried the same day confessing openly both in the Hall and at the place of Execution on the Edge Top that he had robbed divers persons of their goods Buried out of Holmere of this Parish besides Wigwyke Atterley in this Parish.
Whether Alice confessed, or made a “good death”, is not clear, but even with the gap of 465 years between then and now it still chills me to the bone to think of an eleven-year old girl being taken up to the gallows.