In medieval times, the executed's family paid for the faggots for burning. I have seen one of the bills - I think it was Thomas Cranmer's (1489-1556), he who was executed by Mary for 'refusing' the pope. You'll remember that Cranmer had previously signed a recantation of his reforming ideals, and put the hand that signed those recantations into the flames first. To burn properly, he required more faggots than the executioner had bargained for, so extra faggots were added to the pyre and the invoice. In the illustrations, everybody seems to be sitting very close. I hope the onlookers got at least a little bit singed.
But did anybody ever pay for rope? And if so, did they still pay in 1794? Dig dig dig goes the novelist. Tick tick tick goes the clock. One sentence, almost three days' work. Well, I say work, but for me, research is real pleasure and writing is the work. So, three days' pleasure investigating a truly horrible subject, the more fascinatingly horrible the more I read. In an earlier blog, I wrote about the execution of my ancestor Francis Towneley, who was hung, drawn and quartered for his Jacobite support. Physical horror. I wasn't really prepared for the mental horror these new researches uncovered. Yes, there's worse than a good clean evisceration and a head kept in a basket on the dining room table.
'In the days of Charles !!, a father and his two sons were tried at Derby Assizes for horse-stealing. All were found guilty, but the bench of judges offered to pardon any one of them who would consent to hang the other two. The offer was first made to the father, who violently refused it. The elder son was then asked if he would kill his father and brother to save himself, but he also declined. The offer was, however, accepted by the younger brother, John, who apparently showed a certain aptitude for this work for he was eventually appointed to the post of hangman for Derby and a few neighbouring counties, holding this office to a very old age' (pp. 235-6).
Now, the father and older son may have been rotters. As a form of final redemption, they may have begged the younger son to do the deed to save himself. But to show an 'aptitude' and carrying on to a 'very old age'? John! For shame!
Enough! And where's the answer to my initial question? The answer is no, in 1794 the executed didn't pay for his or her own rope. It's not absolutely clear who did pay, but I expect the executioner did out of his salary (£40 a year in the early 1700s). He could then sell the rope as a souvenir or, for a small fee, display it in the pub.
At the end of my researches, I read the following, which gave me a jolt: 'In England today, according to evidence given before the Royal Commission on Capital Punishment, the average fee paid [to] the hangman is £10' (p.239). The piece was written in 1964 - that's after my birth. Perhaps it was supposed to be comforting to learn that by this time the rope was burned immediately after the corpse was cut down, but somehow it wasn't.
See how one sentence can lead to a lot of hanging about in unsavoury company? You're not alone in wondering why I don't just leave the beastly thing out.
Robin, Gerald D. (1964) The Executioner: His Place in English Society, The British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 15, No. 3 (Sep 1964) pp 234-253