©National Archives

Gallows Plan, 1881 Before 1868 executions were carried out in public, but after that date they took place behind the closed doors of the prison. The two items shown here are plans of the gallows at Newgate Gaol in London in 1881.

In the late eighteenth century there were over 200 capital offences (offences which would result in the death penalty). They varied from murder, treason and rape to blowing up Westminster Bridge or impersonating a Chelsea pensioner. With the reform of the criminal law in the early nineteenth century, the number of capital crimes was reduced. By 1838 capital punishment was rarely used except in murder cases. It was abolished in the United Kingdom in 1965 for all crimes except treason and piracy with violence.