A history of the three Derby Gaols.


With special thanks to John Grainger for providing this article.

Derby did not have a gaol until 1652 when the Cornmarket Gaol was erected slap bang in the centre of the town. Prior to that Derbyshire’s criminals were taken to Nottingham Castle. Following the part demolition of Derby’s last gaol in 1919, Vernon Street Gaol, convicted prisoners have been taken back to Nottingham, these times to the Victorian prison’s ‘C’ Wing, nicknamed ‘Beirut’ by the residents. Nothing of the Cornmarket Gaol remains today, the site now completely pedestrianised, which was part of the old A6 through road, and it was decided that a building sited in a less busy area would be better so plans were made to relocate to Nuns Green, three-quarters of a mile west of the town.

Nuns Green ran alongside and to the north of the superbly maintained Friar Gate, one side of which has today virtually avoided the ravages of time. Within just over half a mile, three of Derby’s gaols were located in what is now known as the Friar Gate Conservation Area. Nuns Green had been one of the traditional execution places in Derby, various substantial trees being used before a tricorn wooden gallows despatched victims. By 1756 Nuns Green Gaol had been erected, mostly from stone from the Cornmarket Gaol, to house 29 prisoners, but this was extended as time went on.

As Friar Gate rapidly became ‘the’ place to live while visiting Derby, the gentry’s town houses went up alongside Nuns Green and the old gaol was incorporated into the street, now known as Friar Gate Gaol. There were 58 hangings here between 1756 and 1825. By 1843 a much grander building was in use as a gaol in Vernon Street, just south of Friar Gate and the old gaol only lasted another three years, although it did maintain some cells for use as condemned accommodation prior to public hanging at the nearby Vernon Street Gaol. The last hanging at Friar Gate was that of George Batty for the rape of Martha Hawksley, a ten-year old girl. It later became the Howard Hotel and various other commercial uses before being maintained and today is part of a museum of Derby gaols below street level in the old building at 50-51 Friar Gate.

At number 44 lived a surgeon whom, it was alleged, practised his skills on hanged criminals and to this day footsteps can be heard on the top floor and, mysteriously, a cat, which is seen to walk towards a room with no outlet but cannot be seen inside.

In 1886 Vernon Street Gaol was renamed HMP Derby and lasted until 1919 when demolition of most of the building took place. Until 1929 the remaining part of the prison was used as a military prison and by 1930 the area behind the frontage had been converted into a greyhound stadium which lasted until the 7th of December 1988. Today the site contains offices and apartment buildings, the magnificent frontage remaining with the words VERNON GATE worked into the brickwork above the archway.

The most famous of Derby executions were those of the ‘Pentrich Martyrs’, who, led by Jeremiah Brandreth, had attempted a badly planned revolution against the Tory government which, amongst other aims, was to ‘release the national debt’. The government at the time were waiting for such an incident in order to make an example of participants as riots, uprisings and revolutions were becoming too popular for the downtrodden and easily led proletariat. The military had rounded up the remnants of a disbanded march on Nottingham which had started on 9 June 1817 and 35 men were consequently tried in Derby for High Treason in October. From that Brandreth, aged 27 (unemployed Frame Work Knitter from Sutton-in-Ashfield), Isaac Ludlam, aged 52 (Stonegetter from South Wingfield), George Weightman, aged 48 (Sawyer from Pentrich) and William Turner, aged 46 (Stonemason from South Wingfield) were sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered (Weightman’s sentence later commuted to transportation). However, the Prince Regent gave them clemency and they were hanged and beheaded. Of the remaining 32, six were jailed with sentences ranging from six months to two years and 14 were transported, 11 for life and three for 14 years. Twelve men were tried and released.

None of those transported ever came back to England but George Weightman, who accompanied the three condemned on their way to the gallows before being transported, whose brother was sentenced to one year in prison and had two cousins involved, died in Kiama, New South Wales in 1865 aged 68 and is commemorated in a plaque, presented to the Kiama Family History Centre by his great, great, great grandson, Paul Weightman and four other descendants, in 2001.

These executions are remembered as being the last time an axe was used in an official execution. They paid the ultimate price on the 7th of November 1817 at Friar Gate Gaol, a gallows being built at the front of the prison in Friar Gate on the same morning. Having emerged from the chapel each of the condemned placed themselves on the one hurdle and were driven individually along the prison passage, Brandreth asking if he could take another turn back along the passage, but was refused. Now all standing at the foot of the gallows on Friar Gate, they could not help but notice the bench and block on which the last part of their sentence was to be carried out.

Three nooses were placed over the beam as ordered and Brandreth came up first, but the noose was too high to reach him so a hasty adjustment was made and the noose tightened, with the knot placed behind the left ear. Turner went up next followed by Ludlam and with the noosing completed the chaplain read separate prayers with the men, then they all joined him in the Lord’s Prayer, after which the chaplain took his leave. The two executioners pulled the hoods over the men’s’ faces when the prisoners exclaimed, “Into thy hands, O God! I commit my spirit.” They continued to call on their Creator and Redeemer for mercy and Ludlam was once more giving utterance to the last part of the prayer when the trap dropped at 12:45pm. They were left hanging for 30 minutes then cut down, Brandreth’s body was laid on the block with the face downwards and the head pointing towards the street, in full view of the crowd. The masses watched in horror as the head was cut off by the axe and the executioner held it up by the hair and shouted: ‘Behold the head of Jeremiah Brandreth, the Traitor!’ The heads of Turner and Ludlam were exhibited in the same way. The heads and bodies were then thrown into the coffins and interred at dusk in St. Werburgh’s Church Yard, number 1 Friar Gate, Derby.

Dates of first and last executions.

Old place of execution

Derby Gaol (Friar Gate)
18 executions in public

Derby Gaol (Vernon St.)
8 executions in public

Derby - Nuns Green





Last used 03/04/1807







Derby Gaol (Vernon St.)
12 executions in private








Click here to see Friar Gate Gaol today.


Here is the Broadside for Brandreth, Turner and Ludlam.


Click here to see Vernon Street Gaol in 2010, although Vernon Street ran from opposite this entrance to Friar Gate. The prison was actually in South Street.

A woodcut of a public hanging atop the gatehouse of Vernon Street is here and the execution shed used for private executions is here.


Derby executions 1735 - 1907.


Nun’s Green. (48 executions)


On Friday, the 15th of August 1735, John Smith hanged for breaking into the house of Mr Bowyer of Roston and stealing a silver cup.


Richard Woodward was hanged on Thursday, the 30th of March 1738 for highway robbery.


On Wednesday, the 9th of April 1740, William Dolphin, age 33, was executed for the highway robbery of a Mr Lord near Chesterfield.


George Ashmore was hanged for counterfeiting on Friday, the 29th of August 1740.


William Elliott was hanged for privately stealing on Friday, the 10th of April 1741.


On Friday, the 7th of August 1741 Robert Bowler suffered for shooting at Edward Rivington on the highway between Belper and Pentrich


Mary Dilke was hanged on Saturday, the 23rd of March 1754 for the murder of her bastard on the 1st of January 1754.


Ann Williamson was executed on Friday, the 1st of August 1755 for picking the pocket of George White of 6 guineas and a Portuguese gold coin (valued at 36/-) at Ashbourne Fair.


John Ratcliffe was hanged on Friday the 2nd of April 1756 for stealing a horse.


Thomas Hulley was hanged for being at large in the Kingdom (i.e. returning from transportation) on Friday the 29th of April 1757.


Charles Kirkman was hanged for murder of his bastard child on Saturday the 24th of March 1759 and dissected in accordance with Murder Act of 1752.


James Perry and Amos Mason were hanged on Friday the 12th of August 1763 for highway robbery of a Mr. Staveley.


John Lowe was hanged for house breaking on Wednesday the 20th of April 1768.


Charles Pleasants was hanged for forgery on Wednesday the 4th of May 1768.


On Thursday the 21st of March 1776, Mathew Cocklane was hanged and gibbeted for the murder of Mary Vickers during the course of a burglary at her house on Sunday 18th December 1774, when he stole £300 in money and rings. He was the last person to be gibbeted in Derby.


James Meadows, aged 30, from Handsworth Birmingham was hanged for highway robbery on Friday the 31st of March 1780. He had robbed William Featherstone of £40 at Gag Lane near Tissington on Sunday 31st October 1779.


William Buxton, aged 26, was hanged for highway robbery on Friday the 25th of August 1780. Buxton had been convicted of robbing John Kennedy of 6 Guineas in gold some silver and also another highway robbery on the 20th of July between Buxton and Ashbourne.


On Thursday March the 28th 1782, James Williams, aged 25, was hanged for stealing a dark brown gelding (horse) valued at £15.15s, the property of Mr Worthington of Altrincham.


John Shaw was hanged on the 2nd of August 1782 for being at large, having broken out of Derby Jail to avoid transportation.


On Thursday, the 8th of April 1784 Thomas Greensmith for executed for a burglary in the premises of Messrs. Rea and Co. watchmakers of Walton-on-Trent.


William Rose aged 59 was hanged for horse stealing on Friday the 16th of April 1784.


On Friday, the 1st of April 1785, William Grooby aged 23 and George Grooby aged 21 also James Peat alias Peet and Pits were hanged for burglary in the shop of Samuel Leam of Pentrich.


On Friday, the 7th of April 1786 John Shepherd, 49 was executed for breaking into the house of Mr Smith at Sandiacre and stealing therefrom. With him on the gallows was William Stanley, aged 25, convicted of breaking into the house of Thomas Parker at Winshill.


James Haliburton was hanged on Saturday, 2 September 1786 for the rape of Millicent Smith of Biggin.


John Porson was hanged on Monday, the 9th of April 1787 for picking the pocket of John Johnson of 8 gold guineas and 11 silver shillings.


Thomas Grundy was hanged and dissected on Saturday the 22nd of March 1788 for poisoning his brother with arsenic at Dale Abbey in November 1787.


Joseph Allen was hanged for shop breaking on Friday the 12th of August 1790, for stealing 2 silver candlesticks from the premises of Thomas Barker of Derby.


On Friday the 1st of April 1791 William Rider was executed for the rape of Mary Barton near Mackeney toll bar and robbing her of 3 pence.


James Murray, aged 35, was hanged for house breaking on Friday the 4th of April 1794. He had broken into the house of Mr Farnworth at Codnor Park in November 1793.


Thomas Nevill was hanged on Friday, the 10th of April 1795 for the highway robbery of John Morley on the 2nd of January 1795; robbing him of 14½ gold guineas and some silver.


James Preston (70) was executed on Thursday, the 17th of March 1796 for the murder of Susannah Moreton’s bastard.  Susannah Moreton was also condemned for this murder, but was reprieved.


On Friday, the 5th of September 1800, Thomas Knowles was executed for uttering a forged guinea note with intent to defraud.


Friday, the 14th of August 1801 saw a quintuple hanging when John Dent (47) suffered for the theft of two cows, the property of Mr Creswell of Ravenstone, John Evans (22) for stealing two sack fulls of oats from a barn, Lacy Powell and John Drummond (23 & 26) for a highway robbery, and James Gration (25) for a burglary in the house of Philip Yeomans of Shuttle in March 1801; stealing therefrom 8 gold guineas, 7 shillings and other goods.


A double hanging was carried out on Friday, the 27th of August 1802 when James Mellor (22) was hanged for the theft of a pony, the property of Mrs Taylor of Wirkstone and Thomas Spencer (31) suffered for a burglary in the house of Mr Flint of Biggin.


On Saturday, the 19th of March 1803, William Wells was executed for the murder of George Bingham at Barlborough His body was afterwards dissected in the Shire Hall in St. Marys Gate.


Richard Booth (40) and John Parker were hanged on Friday, the 6th of April 1804 for the theft of 2 black horses, the property of Mr. Bayliss of Rothwood.


William Webster aged 34 was hanged and dissected on Friday the 20th of March 1807 He had been convicted of the poisoning deaths of Thomas Dakin, Elizabeth Dakin and Mary Roe.


Joseph West, age 29, became the last person to be hanged at Nuns Green when he suffered for forgery on the 3rd of April 1807.


Friargate Gaol. (18 executions)


On the 10th of April 1812 James Tomlinson aged 27 and Percival Cook aged 26 became the first to be hanged on the New Drop in front of the County Gaol in Friargate. for housebreaking in Ockbrook.


Paul Mason, aged 34, Richard Hibbert aged 24 and Peter Henshaw aged 40, were hanged for burglary on the 9th of April 1813.


21 year old Anthony Lingard was hanged and gibbeted for the murder of Hannah Oliver, who was keeper of the Turnpike Gate at Wardlow Miers. The execution took place on the 28th of March 1815.


Joseph Wheeldon, aged 27, was executed and afterwards dissected on the 9th of August 1816 for the murders of his niece, Mary Ann Wheeldon and nephew, Isaac Wheeldon.


John Brown, age 38, Thomas Jackson, age 20, George Boothe, age 21, and John King, age 24, were hanged on Friday the 15th of August 1817 for arson, having been convicted of setting fire to hay and corn stacks at South Wingfield.


On the 7th of November 1817, Jeremiah Brandreth, William Turner and Isaac Ludlam, who became known as “The Pentrich Martyers” were hanged and beheaded for high treason.  The disembowelling and quartering part of the sentence being remitted.


Thomas Hopkinson aged 20 was hanged on the 2nd of April 1819 for the highway robbery of William Bucknall near Dronfield.


On the 22nd of March 1819, 16 year old Hannah Bocking was hanged and afterwards dissected for poisoning Jane Grant at Wardlow Miers in sight of the gibbet of Anthony Lingard. Click here for details of her case


Hannah Halley of Brook Street derby was hanged on the 25th of March 1822, for the murder of her bastard child, becoming the last woman hanged in Derby and the last to be dissected. Click here for details of her case.


On the 8th of April 1825 George Batty, aged 40, became the last person to be hanged at the Friargate Gaol when he was put to death for the rape of Martha Hawkesley, age 16, in the parish of Beauchief.


Vernon Street Gaol. (20 executions, 8 in public and 12 in private)


On the 12th of April 1833, 20 year old John Leedham from Ashbourne became to the first to be hanged at Vernon Street Gaol, for bestiality with a sheep


At midday on Friday the 31st of March 1843, John Hulme, age 24, Samuel Bonsell, age 26, & William Bland, age 39, were hanged together by Samuel Haywood for the murder of Miss Martha Goddard in the village of Stanley.


22 year old John Platts was hanged by Samuel Haywood on Thursday the 1st of April 1847 atop of the gatehouse of the county gaol for the murder of George Collis at Brampton.  He died hard, struggling for two minutes according to newspaper reports.


On Friday the 26th of March 1852, 49 year old Anthony Turner was hanged by William Calcraft for the murder of his employer, Mrs. Phoebe Barnes at Belper. She had written to him dismissing him from the post of her rent collector.  In an intoxicated state he stole a carving knife from a grocer’s shop and broke into her house slit her throat.  An estimated 15-20,000 people witnessed the execution.


At noon on the 16th of August 1861, 20 year old George Smith was hanged by Calcraft for the murder of his father by shooting at Ilkeston on the 1st of May.


Richard Thorley, aged 35, was hanged by Calcraft at midday on Friday the 11th of April 1862 for cutting the throat of Eliza Morrow at Derby on the 13th of February because she rejected his advances.  This would be Derby’s last public hanging and attracted a very large number of spectators.


The 4th of August 1873 saw Derby’s first private execution when 24 year old Benjamin Hudson was hanged by William Marwood for the murder of his wife, Eliza during a quarrel at West Handley on the 24th of April.


28 year old John Wakefield was hanged by Marwood on the 16th of August 1880 for the murder of 9 year old Elizabeth Wilkinson.  She had called at his house in Derby selling combs and he dragged her inside and cut her throat.  His motive was apparently suicide by judicial hanging and he gave himself up to the police soon afterwards. 


Albert Robinson, age 20, was executed by Marwood on the 28th of February 1881 for the murder of his wife at Hadfield near Glossop.  The two had quarrelled and he had stabbed in the neck.


On the 21st of November 1881, 34 year old Alfred Gough was hanged by Marwood for the rape and strangulation of 6 year old Eleanor Windle in a lane at Brimington near Chesterfield.  He confessed prior to execution.


31 year old Arthur Delaney was hanged on Friday, the 10th of August 1888 for the murder of his wife at Chesterfield on the 12th of July. James Berry gave Delaney a drop of 5 feet and death was reported as “instantaneous”.


George Horton, aged 37, was hanged by Berry on the 21st of August 1889 for the murder by poisoning of his 7 year old daughter in order to obtain her life insurance of £7.


21 year old William Pugh was executed by James Billington on Wednesday the 5th of August 1896 for the murder of 20 year old Elizabeth Boot at Brackenfield on the 9th of May 1896. She was hacked to death with a bill hook in the barn of the farm she was a servant at.  A new gallows had been built for this hanging, housed in a purpose built brick building in a different position to the previous wooden shed used at Vernon Street.


John Cotton was a 66 year old boatman who had beaten his wife, 30 years his junior, to death with a poker at Stockport.  The alleged motive was jealousy.  It is thought that he had also murdered two previous wives.  He was hanged on the 21st of December by Thomas Billington.


On Wednesday the 30th of July 1902, William Billington hanged 41 year old John Bedford for the murder of his girlfriend, 48 year old Nancy Price at Sutton-cum-Duckmanton on the 25th of June of that year.  Nancy was married to an older man and was having an affair with Bedford.  He had beaten her to death in her home with a fire poker.


30 year old John Silk was hanged by Henry Pierrepoint on Friday the 29th of December 1905 for the murder of his mother, 51 year old Mary Fallon at Chesterfield on the 5th of August.  He had battered her to death in a drunken rage over a minor issue.  Discharged from the army in 1903 after serving in India and South Africa, John Silk returned home to Chesterfield, Derbyshire, to live with his mother. She could get about only with crutches and her son gave her a hard time.

On the evening of 5 August 1905, the 30-year-old ex-soldier was seen drunk near his home, swearing there would be a murder that night. When his mother asked him to fetch her half a bottle of whisky, he refused, stormed off and resumed drinking.  When he returned at 11.15 his mother’s lodger, Thomas Meakin, had come home. The lodger would later testify that Silk was spoiling for an argument. He complained about a lamp in the room being in the wrong position and struck his mother when she went to move it. The lamp overturned, leaving the room in darkness and Meakin went to fetch a policeman. As he left he heard glass breaking, and on his return – having failed to find a constable – he found he had been locked out for the night.


The door was no longer bolted the next morning, however, when a newsvendor called and found Mary Fallon lying dead on the floor, the leg of a broken chair and a broken crutch beside her. They had been used to beat her about the head, and when police were called to the scene they found Silk asleep in bed.

An autopsy revealed that in addition to her head injuries Mary Fallon had also suffered four broken ribs. Charged with her murder, Silk pleaded at his trial that he’d been too drunk to know what he was doing. But that was no excuse, the judge instructed the jury. They found John Silk guilty and, on 29 December 1905, he was hanged at Derby’s Vernon Street Goal.


Walter Marsh, 39, was hanged by Henry Pierrepoint on Thursday the 27th of December 1906 for cutting the throat of his 22 year old wife, Eliza.  This was the culmination of a series of quarrels and assaults between them.


Derby’s final execution took place on Tuesday the 16th of July 1907 when 47 year old William (also given as Wilfred) Slack was hanged by Henry Pierrepoint for the murder of 40 year old Lucy Wilson at Highfield Road Chesterfield on the 18th of March.  She was attacked with a hatchet in the street by Slack, because he said she would not leave him alone after he had broken off their affair.


A further four Derbyshire executions were carried out at Nottingham between 1922 and 1928, and thereafter at Winson Green in Birmingham.


Main Contents Page