Travellers to early modern London, while approaching the port city up the river Thames, were greeted by a ghastly sight. The riverbank was lined with gallows, from which hung a number of rotting corpses, bound in iron cages. They swung in the wind and made a horrid creaking noise that both terrified and offended wayfarers. But the gallows at London’s infamous Execution Dock would remain for nearly four hundred years.
This was a time when Britain was expanding its empire. The British crown, driven by commercial ambitions and the necessity to one-up the competition with Spain and France, began setting up colonies at far-flung places across the oceans. The crown traded extensively with its colonies. The colonies provided essential raw materials for England, and at the same time, served as markets for British manufactured goods.
A replica gallows by the River Thames in London. Photo credit: Toby Bradbury/Flickr