Winson Green prison in
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”
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.
gallows at Winson
In 1885 Winson Green took over as the hanging prison for those convicted at Birmingham Assizes. Previously
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
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
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
The condemned man reportedly ate a good
breakfast and walked unaided to the gallows.
23 year old
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
Westwood married 24 year old Lydia Vaughan
in the summer of 1920 and they lived with his parents in Willenhall
On Saturday the 11th of September
Westwood was tried at
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
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
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
Arthur Peach, aged 23, was a soldier who
had deserted his unit based in
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
40 year old Harold Oswald Merry was married
with five children ranging in age from one to 14. The family lived at
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
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,
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
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
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
Although when first interviewed he denied any knowledge of the crime, he later confessed to the police.
He was tried at
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
Witnesses saw a man who fitted Green’s
description in The Station Hotel in
They interviewed Green’s girlfriend who
showed them some rings he had given her, which had come from
Green was tried at
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
Roberts claimed that he killed in a moment
of passion but refused all legal assistance.
He was tried at
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
Margaret Jean Bradley was walking down
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
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.