On this day in 1951 King George VI officially opened the Festival of Britain, along with the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank. Intended to mark the centenary of the 1851 Great Exhibition, the Festival also served to boost the nation's spirits following the devastation and continued rationing of the Second World War. Eight-and-a-half-million people visited the exhibition in Waterloo, which promoted British science, design, art and culture.
The Festival of Britain
On this day in 1812 John Bellingham was publicly hanged outside Newgate Prison. Bellingham had been imprisoned in Russia in 1804 for an unpaid debt, and was not allowed to leave the country until five years later. Bellingham believed he was owed compensation by the British government for their refusal to intercede on his behalf, but was refused. On 11th May 1812 Bellingham took revenge by shooting prime minister Spencer Perceval in the lobby of the Houses of Parliament. Bellingham was found guilty of the murder - to date the only successful assassination of a British prime minister - and was hanged exactly one week later.
John Bellingham's plaque in St Neots [Image credit: Afterbrunel on Wikipedia Commons]
On this day in 1868 the last public execution in England was carried out. Michael Barrett, an Irish Fenian nationalist, had been convicted of murdering twelve people; he had been attempting to free one of his comrades from the Clerkenwell House of Detention on 13th December 1867 by blowing up the prison wall using gunpowder, but the explosion was too powerful and took down several neighbouring houses. Barrett was hanged outside Newgate Prison in front of a crowd of two thousand spectators - many of whom would have caught the Underground to watch the execution, which had opened just five years prior.
The execution of Michael Barrett
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