If you were a sawyer in the late eighteenth-century, you might not have begun your day’s work as early as other craftsmen and labourers, for the sawpit could, on occasion, be a hazardous place at the break of day.
Duellists, who customarily chose to square-up to one another at dawn, often did so within the confines of a sawpit. By the end of the eighteenth-century, dueling with swords had declined in favour of puff-bang pistols and the like: The walls of a sawpit would have arrested any stray lead, thus protecting on-lookers from potential injury. Plus, being an illegal activity, the pit would have gone some way to muffle the sounds of the shots.
Thomas Rowlandson, Slugs in a Saw-Pit, circa 1791.
William Heath, Slugs in a Saw-pit Hell to Pay, circa 1810. (Lewis Walpole Library)
The banner above the vacillating duellists in Heath’s print reads, ‘Did you mean to Offend me? indeed Sir not I. – indeed Sir I’m very glad on’t!!!‘
Interesting, I had never heard about this.