Timeline of a hanging in the UK in the 1940ís and 1950ís.

 

Executions would normally take place either at 8.00 a.m. or 9.00 a.m. so for simplicity I have left the hour out.All timings shown are typical and the purpose of this article is to show the sequence of events in a modern execution.

 

Second 0.On the signal from the Governor the hangman enters condemned cell and immediately pinions the prisonerís arms behind their back using a double buckle strap. See photo.

 

Second 2.Warder slides wardrobe or other concealment back to open door into the execution room.

 

Second 5.Hangman walks quickly from condemned cell through now open doorway into the execution room.

 

Second 9.Hangman reaches the trapdoor and turns to face the incoming prisoner who is escorted/supported by two warders.

 

Second 11.Hangman stops the prisoner on the chalked ďTĒ on the trapdoors. See photo.

 

Seconds 12-14.Hangman draws white hood over prisonerís head and adjusts the noose around their neck, whilst the assistant simultaneously straps the ankles. See photo.

 

Second 15.Hangman bends down and removes the safety pin from the base of the lever, resumes standing position and pushes lever to release trap doors.

 

Second 15.7.0.7 seconds is the average time for the prisoner to reach the bottom of the drop. Actual time varies from 0.6 seconds to 0.76 seconds depending upon the weight of the individual.The lighter the person the longer the drop. The longest drop recorded in this period was nine feet two inches for John Joseph Dorgan at Wandsworth on the 22nd of December 1943.Dorgan weighed 113 lbs and the drop time would therefore have been 0.76 seconds.

 

Second 15.72.Noose draws tight and fracture dislocation of the upper cervical vertebrae with crushing/severance of the spinal cord occurs.In other words it takes one fiftieth of a second for this to happen.The prisoner is now deeply unconscious.

The fastest execution on record was that of James Inglis at Strangeways on the 8th of May 1951, Albert Pierrepoint, assisted by Sid Dernly, had to almost run with Inglis from the condemned cell the few steps to the gallows. Just seven seconds later his lifeless body was dangling in the cell below.

 

Minutes 2 -3.Medical officer listens to prisonerís chest with a stethoscope.Expects to hear elevated pulse rate caused by the noose constricting the carotid arteries and jugular veins and the heart beating faster to attempt to overcome the obstruction.Here are three Sphygmograph recordings of heart rate over time.

 

Minutes 5 - 6.Brain death has typically occurred due to the lack of oxygenated blood going to the brain (cerebral hypoxia or cerebral ischemia) and veinous congestion occurring within it.Pulse has weakened significantly and its rate is beginning to fall, but may still be elevated.

 

Minutes 3 - 15.Audible heartbeat (using stethoscope) ceases.The time for this varies from individual to individual.A series of war crime hangings carried out by Albert Pierrepoint at Hameln in Germany was monitored and reported. It was found that the average time for cessation of audible heartbeat was 12 minutes.

 

Minutes 10 - 20. Official notices of execution, Documents No. 279 and 280, respectively the Certificate of Surgeon and the Declaration of Sheriff were posted on the prisonís gate.The first simply certified death (Click here) and the second, signed by the sheriff or under sheriff, the governor and the chaplain declared that ďJudgement of Death was this day executed on (prisonerís name) in Her Majestyís Prison of (named) in our presence.ĒClick here.

 

Minute 25.Heart action has ceased and the pulse rate has fallen to zero.(Inaudible heartbeat can continue for another 10 minutes after audible heartbeat ceases).

 

Minute 30.Death is complete.(It may have occurred anywhere from 5 to 25 minutes after the drop.)

 

Minute 60.The pinioning straps are removed and the body is lifted using a sling under the arms for removal of the noose and hood.It is then lowered back into the drop room and is prepared for inquest and/or autopsy.

 

Minute 65 - 120.A full autopsy may be carried out.This was normal in London.

 

Minute 120 or 180.At 10 or 11 a.m. the county coroner holds a formal inquest and issues a coronerís order for burial. Here is one.

 

Minute 240 to 300.Burial normally took place in the prison yard around lunchtime, with the chaplain conducting a short service.

 

Back to Contents Page