The York Insider - Who The Fawkes Was Alice?

As I noted in my recent post about reclaiming the old names of York's streets, Lund's Court used to be called Mad Alice Lane.

Mad Alice Lane

Numerous sources state that the Alice in etymological question was Alice Smith, and that she was executed in York Castle in the 1820s for being mad:

Travel Lady Magazine - "poor mad Alice Smith!  The lane was her home until 1825 when she was taken to the castle and hanged for the ‘crime’ of insanity"

Wikipedia - "Mad Alice Lane... named after a woman hanged in 1823 for poisoning her husband"

Original Ghost Walk of York (as quoted in the Guardian) - "Alice Smith... confessed to crimes she didn't commit and was hanged"

Even the excellent Snickelways of York book claims that "Alice Smith lived here until 1825, when she was hanged at York Castle for being mad."

York Castle. (It's only a model!)

Sadly, like so many strange and fascinating local tales, this one has no basis in fact.  The comprehensive Capital Punishment UK website shows that no-one called Alice Smith was executed in York in the 1820s.  Indeed, as far as I can ascertain, no-one called Alice Smith has ever been executed in York.  In the list of women executed publicly between 1800 and 1868, only two are called Alice, and neither of them died in York.

It seems a pity to debunk such a popular story, but I am a boffin after all.  I don't like stories without evidence (and anyway, the truth is almost always more interesting).  I'm almost tempted to offer my own guided* tours of York in which I assure the audience that everything I tell them is historically accurate and then lead them round the city in silence.

In the mean time, though, the mystery not only remains, but in fact expands.  We know even less about Alice than we thought we did.  I presume there must have been an Alice, but who was she, and why was she mad?

If I ever find out, I will let you know...



*In fact, I might call them Guy-dead tours, and discuss the gruesome and unequivocal execution of one of York's best-known terrorists.

0