On the night of 3rd October, 1799, Sarah Lloyd, a 22 year old servant girl, let her
'abandoned seducer' into her mistresses house, and became apparently 'the
instrument in his hand of crimes of robbery and house-burning. She stole 40
shillings and suffered the ultimate penalty of those harsh times - death by hanging. A
barrister Capel Lofft, fought strenuously for a reprieve, even to an extent that turned
the story more into a romance than a political quest, though she admitted to have
been "debauched" by her lover. Lofft made this description of Sarah Lloyd:
"She was rather low in stature, of a pale complexion, to which anxiety and near
seven months' imprisonment had given a yellowish tint. Naturally she appears to
have been fair, as when she coloured, the colour naturally diffused itself. Her
countenance was very pleasing, of a meek and modest expression, perfectly
characteristic of a mild and affectionate temper. She had large eyes and eyelids, a
short and well-formed nose, an open forehead, of a grand and ingenuous character,
and very regular and pleasing features; her hair darkish brown, and her eyebrows
rather darker than the hair: She had an uncommon an unaffected sweetness in her
voice and manner".
The sentence might have been commuted had it not been for the arson - had she not
also betrayed the bond between mistress and servant "a crime that must be
She was hanged on April 23, 1800:
In pouring rain on the morning of 23 April Sarah Lloyd, with her arms pinioned,
was conveyed the mile from Bury Prison to the scaffold. Astonishingly Lofft sat in
the chart with her, comforting her as she sheltered under his umbrella. He mounted
the scaffold with her, and stood by her facing the crowd. Then he spoke for fifteen
minutes. The hangman faltered as he prepared for the fatal moment, according to
Lofft, Sarah calmly assisted him by holding back her hair as he placed the noose
round her neck. According to Lofft her poise was astonishing as she hanged.
" After she had been suspended more than a minute, her hands were twice evenly
and gently raised, and gradually let to fall without the least appearance of
convulsive or involuntary motion, in a manner which could hardly bemistaken,
when interpreted, as designed to signify content and resignation."
Sarah's bodily reactions were however not very uncommon for someone being
hanged with a short drop.
Lofft had paid the hangman for Sarah's body, and removed her as soon as she was
allowed to be taken down. Lofft made an attempt to restore her life, but she had
been left hanging for a sufficiently long time to ensure death, and finally he had to
Lofft decided on eight in the evening for the burial, but turned up with the body in
the abbey burial ground an hour later, in the dark. A thousand people had assembled,
and Lofft told them how Sarah's mother had tried to hang herself when she learnt
that the appeal had failed.
Two month later a tombstone was erected in the abbey yard. The tombstone can
still be seen today.
Sarah Lloyd portraited in a servants gown beside her tombstone.