Everywhere you ramble in this insalubrious quarter you see victims of unsuccessful hangings – they’re easy to tell: that hyperextended neck, like someone added a vertebra or three; the canted head – offset at what might otherwise be a jaunty tilt.
So who strung up who, and why?
First off, the executioner’s craft isn’t what it once was, so if you don’t get the noose and the drop right, well, the Law’s pretty clear on the subject: no do-overs.
Then there are those who are tried, convicted and sentenced in the courts of their own fellowships. But if they’re duly hanged and are still kicking after the time it takes to boil an egg, the custom is to cut them down.
And then there’s a minority, small but real, of those who attempted to do the job themselves and – whoops, there goes the gas line!
But the elephant in the alleyway is this: faulty rope. Or trick rope – rope that you test and seems weight-bearing, but in the event, just snaps, as if it’s got an autonomous break point it keeps secret until –
And then, there’s the poor quality of the hemp and braiding – no one’s got their heart in the cable-maker’s trade, and who can blame them?
But one way or another, the result is a small army of almost-killed, not quite resurrected folks who spend their days, well, hanging out, lurking and lurching, crooked and lantern-jawed in Old Nichol byways or on the Green, waiting like blasted trees for the sawyer, gaze occluded.
Once though, in a very great while, beneath the shadows of their hat brims, you’ll see their eyes flare up, like torches in a very dark night.
—Eric Darton, from Under the Linden Boardwalk, a text / visual collaboration with photographer Bill Hayward