Winson Green prison in Birmingham.

HM Prison Birmingham, known locally as Winson Green prison, was built between 1845 and 1849 in the Winson Green area in the west of Birmingham.  Initially the Birmingham Borough Gaol, to give its official name, it had in total 321 cells for men, woman and juveniles. It was designed on the “Panopticon” principle by Birmingham architect Daniel Rowlinson Hill with four wings radiating from a central rotunda.  The main gate was designed to resemble a castle. (see photo).  It opened on the 29th of October 1849 and its first governor was George Glossop who was rapidly succeeded by Captain Alexander Maconochie. He experimented with various prison reform ideas before he was sacked in 1851 for being too lenient.

Initially only three of the four radial wings were constructed.  The main building is a three storey brick construction.  In 1854, 42 cells for women prisoners, a wash house and laundry were added, this becoming G Wing.  B Wing was completed in 1859, a male hospital wing (H Wing) was added in 1892 and a female hospital wing in 1903.  F Wing contained the chapel and offices.  D Wing had accommodation for 40 juveniles, while E Wing held up to  18 debtors.  K Wing was constructed in the early 1900’s.  The original male and female cells measured 13’ x 7’ x 9’ high.  By 1903 the prison could hold 498 men and 121 women.  Further wings were added in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

This photo was most likely taken in 1936 at the execution of Dorothea Waddingham and shows Violet Van der Elst’s Rolls Royce in which she had arrived to protest the hanging.

The gallows at Winson Green.
In 1885 Winson Green took over as the hanging prison for those convicted at Birmingham Assizes.  Previously Birmingham executions had taken place at Warwick Gaol.  A new, rather cramped brick built execution shed was erected against the front wall of the prison adjacent to C Wing.  Inside the shed the walls were whitewashed with the beam set into sockets in the sidewalls, 11’ above the trap doors which were level with the floor, thus not requiring the condemned to climb any steps.  Beneath the trap was a ten feet deep, brick lined pit.
In 1903 two condemned cells were constructed in C Wing These were C1 30 and C1 31, with C1 32 forming an entrance lobby to the execution shed.  This obviated the long walk from the hospital wing (H wing) where condemned prisoners had been housed. This remained in use until the early 1930’s when a modern Condemned suite was built in C Wing out of seven ordinary cells.  It comprised a room for the beam on the 2nd floor, a condemned cell, bathroom, toilet and visiting area on the 1st floor.  The condemned cell was immediately adjacent to the gallows, which was reached via double doors.  The drop room on the ground floor had double doors to the exterior for removal of the body.  Graves in the prison yard were dug by grave-diggers provided by Birmingham City Council.
Winson Green also took over as the hanging prison for murderers sentenced in Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire and Nottinghamshire which had ceased to have execution facilities during the early part of the 20th century.  After the abolition of the death penalty the condemned suite was dismantled and turned back into ordinary cells.

Hangings and hangmen at Winson Green.

A total of 41 men and one woman were hanged at Winson Green between 1885 and 1962.  James Berry carried out the first four hangings.  James Billington carried out the next three.  William Billington executed Charles Dyer and Samuel Holden.  Thomas Pierrepoint did twelve hangings here.  John Ellis performed eight executions.  William Willis and Steve Wade did two each.  Albert Pierrepoint performed six and finally Harry Allen carried out the last three.  There were two double hangings, those of George Daniels and Harry Jones and Peter Barnes and James McCormack.  All the rest were individual executions.


Below is a selection of cases that ended here.

Henry Kimberley (see photo) became the first man to be hanged here at 8 am. on Tuesday the 17th of March 1885, by James Berry.  Reporters were present and death was instantaneous.  53 year old Kimberly had been convicted of shooting Emma Palmer in her husband’s pub, The White Hart in Paradise Street, Birmingham.  He was tried at Birmingham on Thursday the 26th of February before Mr. Justice Field.  Kimberly had been living with a Mrs. Stewart but the relationship had ended.  On the 27th of December 1884 he met Mrs. Stewart who was with Emma Palmer and tried to persuade her to have him back.  She refused and he followed her and Emma back to the White Hart.  Here he drew a revolver, intending to shoot Mrs. Stewart but hitting Emma instead.  She died almost instantly.  He then shot Mrs. Stewart but, although badly injured, she survived.  The shootings were witnessed and Kimberley was overpowered by customers and arrested at the scene.

George Nathaniel Daniels and Harry Jones were executed on the 28th of August 1888, also by James Berry.  34 year old Daniels had been convicted of the murder of his girlfriend Emma Hastings in Birmingham while Jones was to hang for the murder of Florence Mabel Harris, aged two and a half at Aston.  Jones’ drop was inadequate and he struggled hard for four minutes after the drop fell, according to reporters, whereas Daniels died almost instantly.

Frank Taylor was hanged by James Billington on Tuesday the 18th of August 1896.  A crowd estimated at a 1000 people had formed outside the prison to see the black flag raised signifying Taylor’ death.  They broke into applause when it was, at 8.02 am.


The condemned man reportedly ate a good breakfast and walked unaided to the gallows.  Taylor made a statement admitting to the crime and acknowledging the justice of his sentence.

23 year old Taylor abducted, raped and murdered 10 year old Mary Lewis at Vyse Street in Birmingham on the 10th of March 1896.  Taylor took Mary to the house in Vyse Street, where his father was the caretaker and where he got meals from his parents, knowing that at the time he could be undisturbed.  Having raped the little girl he smashed her head in with a brick.  He then tried to dispose of the body be hiding it in a cistern in the attic.  This he was unable to do and he dragged it through several rooms of the house before concealing it in the yard, where it was discovered the following day by passing workmen. When Mary had not returned home from school her parents and neighbours searched for her.  Initially Taylor’s parents were arrested for the crime but soon released.


Taylor was tried at Birmingham on the 30th of July before Mr. Justice Wills.  Witnesses told the court that they had seen Taylor with Mary on the afternoon of the 10th of March.  Other witnesses told the trial that he had tried to drown himself the following day and that they had rescued him from the canal.  The jury retired briefly before finding him guilty.


26 year old Samuel Westwood had served as a soldier in the 1st World War and had had been severely concussed by a shell exploding near him.  He was captured by the Germans and spent eight months in a PoW camp.  On returning to the UK his family noted that he was short tempered and angry. These are typical symptoms of what we now know as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.


Westwood married 24 year old Lydia Vaughan in the summer of 1920 and they lived with his parents in Willenhall in Staffordshire.  Lydia didn’t get on with her mother in law and after just six weeks returned to he mother’s home in Cross Street Willenhall.


On Saturday the 11th of September Lydia told her mum that she wanted to see her husband and they went searching for him at the fair.  Just as it looked like Lydia was going to go back to Westwood her mother interfered and said she was against it.  Westwood snapped and stabbed Lydia in the neck with his pocket knife.  This occurred in Walsall Street, a few yards from the police station where Westwood went and gave himself up.   The police rushed to try and save Lydia but it was too late.


Westwood was tried at Stafford before Commissioner Young on the 19th of November 1920 and evidence of his wartime sufferings was adduced.  In 1920 this didn’t sway the jury, however. 

He was hanged on Thursday the 30th of December 1920 by John Ellis.


49 year old Jeremiah Hanbury was in some sort of a relationship with 39 year old Jessie Payne.  Jesse was still married and it is unclear whether she was prostituting herself with Hanbury or whether it was a deeper relationship.  In any event after ten weeks she wanted to end the affair.  Hanbury thought she had taken up with one Bert Eardley and informed her husband.

In the early afternoon of Monday the 17th of October 1932, Hanbury went to Jessie’s home at 11 The Leys in Brockmoor in Brierly Hill.  Here he battered Jessie with a hammer before cutting her throat and then turning the knife on himself. He then staggered into the street mumbling: “Jerry said revenge, Jerry’s had revenge.” As he went down the street with blood pouring from a throat wound he was arrested.

Hanbury was tried at Birmingham before Mr. Justice Humphreys on the 8th of December 1932.  As usual the defence was insanity and equally as usual it failed.  He was hanged on Thursday the 2nd of February 1933, by Thomas and Robert Wilson.  As Thomas went to pinion him, he reportedly told the warders “Be good, everyone” and thanked the governor for his kindness. Albert Pierrepoint was also there for “instruction only” according to the LPC4 form.

Dorothea Waddingham was the only woman to be executed here for the murders of Louisa Baguley and Ada Baguley, hanged on the 16th of April 1936.  The.  Click here for details of this case.

Peter Barnes and James McCormack alias James Richards were to be the first men to suffer the death penalty in 1940.  This was for an IRA bombing in Coventry that claimed the lives of a woman and four men on the 25th of August 1939.  A huge explosion occurred in Broadgate when a bomb left in a bicycle basket went off in the crowded shopping area at around 2.30 on that Friday afternoon, injuring some 70 people and causing a lot of damage.  The dead were John Corbett Arnott aged 15, Elsie Ansell aged 21, Rex Gentle aged 33, Gwilym Rowlands aged 50 and James Clay aged 82.  The bomb had been assembled at a safe house at 25 Clara Street in the Stoke area of Coventry and then brought into the city on the bike and the alarm clock used to detonate it set.  Here is a photo of the aftermath.

Peter Barnes was charged, along with Joseph Hewitt and Mary Hewitt, her mother, Brigid O’Hara and James Richards who lodged with the Hewitt’s.  The defendants came to trial at Birmingham from the 11th to the 14th of December 1939.  The Hewitt family were acquitted of all charges leaving just Barnes and Richards to face the guilty verdicts.  When asked if they had anything to say, before sentence, Barnes continued to deny his innocence whilst Richards admitted his part in the crime, seeing himself as freedom fighter.  Their appeals were dismissed and both were hanged on the 7th of February 1940 by Tom Pierrepoint, assisted by Albert, Thomas Phillips and Stanley Cross.  Their bodies were exhumed in 1969 for re-interment in Ireland.


Arthur Peach, aged 23, was a soldier who had deserted his unit based in Devon and stolen a revolver before leaving.  He was on a foot path in the Walsall suburb of Rushall on Wednesday the 21st of September 1941, when he saw two young girls approaching him.  They were 18 year old Kitty Lyon and her friend Violet Richards.  As they passed him he fired a shot, hitting Violet.  Kitty tried to run but was also shot.  As she lay wounded, Peach fired another shot at close range into her head, killing her. He then pistol whipped Violet into unconsciousness with the gun.  However Violet made a full recovery and was able to give evidence and the trial.  Peach made off with Violet’s handbag.

Another witness was Thomas Thomas who had seen a soldier close by and a search revealed the murder weapon which was traced back to Peach’s army unit.  Peach was arrested the following day as a deserter and as he fitted the description of the attacker he was questioned about the murder.

He admitted stealing the revolver but claimed that it had, in turn, been stolen from him the day before the murder.  He then made up another story that had sold the gun to another soldier, whom he named as Jock.  He suggested that he and Jock were on the path in Rushall for Jock to try out the gun and that Jock had accidentally shot Violet.  He claimed he ran over to help her but heard two further shots and decided to make a run for it. 

None of this stood up as all the witnesses, including Violet, testified that there was only one soldier present.  Peach was tried before Mr. Justice McNaghten at Stafford on the 24th - 26th November 1941 and was found guilty.  The apparent motive being robbery.  He was hanged by Thomas Pierrepoint on Friday the 30th of January 1942.


40 year old Harold Oswald Merry was married with five children ranging in age from one to 14.  The family lived at 205 Hewell Road in Redditch, Worcestershire.

In July 1941 Merry started a relationship with 27 year old Joyce Dixon, passing himself off as single to her.  In January of the following year Joyce took him to meet her mother, Kate Dixon in Birmingham.  They told Kate that they wanted to get engaged and go to London to buy a ring.  This they did on the 21st of March 1942, staying at the Museum Hotel until the 27th of March and according to the manageress were apparently very much in love.

During that time Kate had found out that Merry was married and confronted her daughter with this news on her return.  Joyce, whilst upset, was not about to break off the relationship.  On Saturday the 29th of March she left home in mid afternoon to meet Merry.  When she had not returned by Sunday morning her brother, Oliver, went looking for her.  He drove to Merry’s home in Redditch and was talking to Merry’s wife, Florence, when he heard strange noises from upstairs.  He and Florence found Merry trying to strangle himself with a cord.  They got it away from him and Oliver asked him what he had done with Joyce.  Merry confessed that he had killed her and told him where the body was.  Oliver took Merry in his car to Redditch police station, where he was searched and a pocket book found containing a joint suicide note that bore the genuine signatures of both parties.  The police found the body where Merry had said - in a pool at Turves Green in the Northfield district of Birmingham.  She had been partially strangled and then drowned.

Merry gave the police a full statement in which he said “All I can say is that I am guilty” and he was charged with her murder.  The post mortem conducted by Professor James Webster revealed that Joyce wasn’t pregnant so that motive could be ruled out.

He withdrew his confession on the 2nd of April and claimed that the couple had made a suicide pact and that after killing Joyce he had tried to strangle and then drown himself but had succeeded in neither. .


Merry was tried at Birmingham on the 17th and 18th of July 1942 before Mr. Justice Croom-Johnson.

Joyce had a history of mental illness which was used by the defence.  They asked the jury for a verdict of manslaughter or attempted murder, but they convicted Merry of wilful murder.

His appeal was dismissed on the 26th of August 1942.  A petition for mercy was got up in Redditch and was signed by over 2,000 people.

On Thursday the 10th of September 1942 walked his last few paces onto the gallows where he was hanged by Thomas Pierrepoint, assisted by Harry Critchell.


Horace Carter, age 31, was hanged on New Year’s Day 1952 at Winson Green.

Carter had raped and strangled 11 year old Sheila Attwood whom he had found playing with friends in Caversham Road on the afternoon of the 1st of August 1950. Carter lived at No. 34 Caversham Road. Sheila’s body was discovered the next morning discarded behind a hedge, with a cord around her neck. (photos of both here)

Although when first interviewed he denied any knowledge of the crime, he later confessed to the police.

He was tried at Birmingham on the 12th of December before Mr. Justice Cassels and attempted a defence of insanity. The jury of nine men and three women took just 15 minutes to reject this and three weeks later Carter had his 8 am appointment with Albert Pierrepoint and Syd Dernley.


Leslie Green.

62 year old Alice Wiltshaw and her husband Cuthbert were a wealthy couple who lived in a large house named “Estoril” at Barlaston in Staffordshire.  They had employed 29 year old Leslie Green as a gardener/chauffer, but had sacked him in May 1952, after six months, for using the car without permission.


On Wednesday the 16th of July 1952, Cuthbert returned home to a horrifying scene.  His 62 year old wife was lying in a pool of blood in the kitchen.  She had been chased and beaten through the house, according to blood evidence and finally killed in the kitchen by having a poker several times rammed upwards through her mouth and on into her brain.


Investigating officers found no sign of a forced entry and questioned Cuthbert about former members of staff, as it was clear that the perpetrator was familiar with the house and it’s routines.  The police discovered a bloody footprint, a pair of gloves, one of which had a cut in it and some £3,000 worth of jewellery missing.  They methodically interviewed all former members of the household, the only one they couldn’t eliminate being Green.

He was aware of the police interest and went to Longton police station to “clear his name”.  He claimed to have been sleeping in a park in Stafford prior to catching a train to Leeds to visit his girlfriend.


Witnesses saw a man who fitted Green’s description in The Station Hotel in Stafford around 3.30 pm. on the day of the murder and again around 6.30 pm. which fitted in with the time of the crime.

They interviewed Green’s girlfriend who showed them some rings he had given her, which had come from Alice.  When they arrested Green they found an almost healed cut in the web of his left thumb which exactly matched the one on the glove recovered from the crime scene.  Detectives asked the railway police to check lost property offices for a great-coat that had been stolen from the Wiltshaw’s and this had been found on a train.  It was bloodstained.  A shoe in Green’s possession matched the footprint from the crime scene.


Green was tried at Stafford on the 3rd to the 5th of December 1952, before Mr. Justice Stable.  The physical evidence against Green was very strong.

There was no appeal and he was hanged by Albert Pierrepoint and Syd Dernley on Tuesday the 23rd of December 1952.


46 year old Corbett Montague Roberts was of Jamaican origin and lived with his wife 41 year old Doris at 113 Frederick Road in Aston, Birmingham.  The couple quarrelled over some money that he had been accused by the family of stealing and Doris had not believed his innocence.  On the morning of Tuesday the 31st of May, Roberts had reached across the breakfast table to pick up some money for travel and lunch expenses but Doris snatched it and told him he would have to kill her for it.  This he did, battering her to death with two hammers.  Once he was certain that he had killed her he walked to the police station and at 8.40 am. gave himself up, telling the desk sergeant “I have done my wife in.”

Roberts claimed that he killed in a moment of passion but refused all legal assistance.  He was tried at Birmingham before Mr. Justice Gorman on the 22nd of July 1955.

Steve Wade, assisted by Harry Allen carried out the execution on Tuesday the 2nd of August 1955.  Just a week later Steve would be back at Winson Green to hang Ernest Harding for the murder of Evelyn Higgins.

Dennis Howard was hanged on the 4th of December 1957 for the murder of David Keasey. A detailed article on his case is here.

Oswald Augustus Grey was the last man to be executed at Winson Green. The 20 year old Jamaican was hanged on Tuesday the 20th of November 1962 by Harry Allen and Samuel Plant.
Grey had been convicted of the capital murder of 47 year old Thomas Arthur Bates who ran a newsagents at 176 Lea Bank Road in Edgbaston, Birmingham at 6.30 pm. on Saturday the 2nd of June 1962. It was a capital murder because the apparent motive was robbery, an empty cash box was found in the shop. Thomas and his mother, Louisa, lived above the shop and both were in the back room when Thomas heard the bell ring and went into the shop to answer it. His mother then heard a gunshot and rushed to her son’s aid. He had been shot once in the chest and died minutes later.

Margaret Jean Bradley was walking down Lea Bank Road when she heard what she thought was a car backfire and then saw a pale coloured man running from the newsagents.
A massive police search ensued and ended four days after the murder when several men, including Grey were arrested in a swoop on Ladywood. Grey was arrested at his home in Cannon Hill Road, Edgbaston where he was seen outside reaching into a dustbin attempting to retrieve bullets from it. He appeared before magistrates the following day accused of stealing a pistol and ammunition from the room of 60 year old Hamilton Bacchus, in Handsworth. He admitted stealing the gun but denied using it. He was picked out in an identification parade by Cecelia Gibbs and charged with Thomas’ murder the following day.
Grey was tried at Birmingham Assizes, before Mr. Justice Paull, on the 10th to the 12th of October 1962. Grey pleaded not guilty. He claimed that he had sold the gun before the murder and also that he had an alibi. He had been with his father and a lady called Phyllis Shields. They agreed that they had all been for a drink together but could not confirm the exact time. The jury took just 15 minutes to convict Grey. His appeal was dismissed on October the 29th.

Christopher Simcox, a 55 year old double-murderer, would have been the last man to be hanged here.  He was scheduled for execution on Tuesday the 17th of March 1964, but was reprieved on the grounds that the injuries he had inflicted upon himself after the murders made it impossible to hang him humanely.  He had murdered his second wife in 1948 and had received the death sentence.  He was reprieved as were all prisoners at this time, when the death penalty was temporarily suspended and served ten years in prison.  On the 11th of November 1963, he shot his third wife, Ruby, who survived, her sister, Hilda Payton who sadly died and her husband who also survived.  He then turned the gun on himself.  Simcox died in 1981.

Winson Green also held Fred West who was charged together with his wife, Rosemary, with the murders of 12 people found buried in the garden of his home in Gloucestershire.  Fred West was found hanged in his cell where he was awaiting trial in 1995.

HMP Prison Birmingham remains in use today.


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