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Around 1500, there were eight crimes for which a person could be hanged in Britain: treason, petty treason (killing of a husband by a wife), murder, larceny, robbery, burglary, rape and arson.

In 1671, after Sir John Coventry had been attacked in Covent Garden and had his nose slit, an act was passed making it a capital crime to lie in wait with intent to put out an eye, disabling the tongue or slitting the nose. In 1699, shoplifting to the value of five shillings or more was added to the list for which one could be put to death.

In the 18th century the number of capital offences grew rapidly, with poaching, damage to forests and parks, cutting down an orchard, blacking the face or using a disguise while committing a crime among those boosting the number. Between 1779 and 1778 there were 531 hangings in London and Middlesex but the number dropped rapidly as transportation began to replace hanging. All the same, in 1810, British law recognised 222 capital crimes.

Between 1818 and 1861, less serious crimes began to be removed from the list of capital offences. Sheep, cattle and horse stealing were the first to go, followed by sacrilege, letter stealing, returning from transportation, forgery and coining, burglary and theft from a dwelling house and finally rape and attempted murder. Finally in 1861 the Criminal Law Consolidation Act reduced the number of capital crimes to four: murder, treason (including arson in Royal Naval dockyards), mutiny and piracy.

In 1965, capital punishment was suspended for five years, and in December 1969 Parliament confirmed its abolition for murder.

Nobody has been burned at the stake in Britain since 1786.

Important dates in the chronology of hanging in Britain:

23 June 1649: Twenty-three men and one woman are executed at Tyburn for burglary and robbery. This was probably the largest number of ordinary criminals put to death in a single execution in Britain.

5 May 1760: Lawrence Shirly, the Fourth Earl of Ferrers, is hanged at Tyburn for the murder of a servant, the only Peer of the Realm to hang for murder.

2 April 1868: Last public hanging of a woman - Francis Kidder at Maidstone for murder.

26 May 1868: Last public hanging in England - Michael Barrett at Newgate for the Fenian bombing at Clerkenwell.

3 January 1946: William Joyce - alias 'Lord Haw Haw' - is the last to be hanged for treason.

13 July 1955: Ruth Ellis is the last woman to hang.

13 August 1964: Peter Allen (at Walton Prison, Liverpool) and Gwynne Evans (at Strangeways Prison, Manchester) are the last to be hanged. The executions take place simultaneously at 8.00am.

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