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Law and Order in LondonCrime and Punishment: Clench and Mackley
Posted on Jan 21, 2003 - 03:09 AM by Bill McCann

Believed to be innocent of a Charge of Murder, they were executed before Newgate, 5th of June, 1797. The Gallows collapsed before the blindfolds were in place and the clergymen, executioner and his assistant went down with the hanged men.


HIS is another case wherein, it was believed, the unfortunate men, Martin Clench and James Mackley, died innocent of the crime alleged against them.

Sydney Fryer, Esq., a gentleman of considerable property, on Sunday, 7th of May, 1797, called, by appointment, on his cousin, Miss Ann Fryer, who resided in Shepherd Street, Oxford Street, in order to take a walk with her into the environs of London, to pay a visit to their aunt. When they had proceeded across the fields to the back part of Islington Workhouse they heard, as they thought, a female voice in distress; upon which Mr Fryer, contrary to his cousin's advice, leaped over the hedge into the field whence the voice seemed to proceed, but instead of seeing a woman he met with three men, who, upon his rashly drawing his tuck-stick (the sword of which dropped out), fired, and wounded him a little above the left eye, and he fell into a small pond.

One of the villains took the watch out of his pocket and a purse from the lady, and another took her cloak, Mr Fryer died two hours after. Several were taken up on suspicion and strictly examined, in the presence of Miss Fryer, but dismissed for want of evidence. On the 27th of May the Worship Street officers apprehended Clench, Mackley and one Smith, a chip-hat maker; but no criminality appearing in the latter, he was discharged, and the other two fully committed.

The prisoners were most impartially tried by Mr Justice Grose. They had four counsel: Messrs Const, Knapp, Alley and Gurney; so that no ingenuity was wanting to plead their case effectually to the jury. Indeed there was no positive evidence except Miss Fryer's, who swore to the identity of the two prisoners' persons. The jury, having retired for half-an-hour, returned with a verdict of guilty. These two men were accordingly executed, and their bodies were publicly exposed in a stable, in Little Bridge Street, near Apothecaries' Hall, Blackfriars.

A short time before their caps were drawn over their eyes the platform, by some improper management, suddenly went down, with the two clergymen, the executioner and his man. The Catholic priest who attended Clench, being very lusty, suffered most, but fortunately not materially.

When the two men died, most of the people were of opinion that their fate was just; but, soon after, the confessions of three separate criminals, who could have had no interest in taking the crime upon themselves, threw a different light upon the transaction, and recalled to mind the strong assertions which Clench and Mackley had made of their innocence; for Clench, upon retiring from the bar, returned thanks to the Court for the fairness of his trial, but observed (though in a rough way) that, though they were condemned to die, and be teased afterwards, alluding to their dissection, they were no more guilty of murder than their prosecutrix. One Burton Wood, who was afterwards executed at Kennington Common, and another, while under sentence of death, wrote a letter to Carpenter Smith, Esq., magistrate of Surrey, declaring the innocence of Clench and Mackley, for that they were, with another not then in custody, the murderers. Soon after the third man suffered for another offence at Reading gallows, and made the same confession. His name was Timms.

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