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DEATH MASK OF A HANGED CRIMINAL

This head is one of ten in the Museum’s collection. We believe they are plaster casts of the heads of Worcester criminals hanged in the early 19th Century. They were found in the 1950s in a corridor that leads under the road between Loves Grove Gaol to Worcester’s former Royal Infirmary at Castle Street. Unfortunately, no records were associated with the casts so we do not know who they were or what they were hanged for.

As there are several casts like these in other museum collections, we do know that such casts were taken to study for personality traits based on the theories  of phrenology and physiognomy. Franz Joseph Gall and others believed that it was possible to predict certain traits such as criminality from the shape of the skull. Until the Anatomy Act of 1832, the bodies of hanged criminals were the only ones officially available for dissection and study. This Act allowed unclaimed bodies (mainly those of paupers or prisoners) to be utilized in this fashion also.