The British female hanged 1868 - 1955.

Frances Kidder became the last woman to be hanged in public when she was executed by William Calcraft at Maidstone on the 2nd of April 1868 for the drowning of her stepdaughter. After the passing of the Capital Punishment Amendment Act of 1868, all executions had to take place within the walls of county prisons. Priscilla Biggadyke becoming the first to suffer this fate, later in that year.
Forty one women were hanged within the walls of British prisons up till 1955, including three in Ireland, two before independence and one afterwards. Twenty three of these executions were carried out in the 19th century and 18 in the 20th century. There were two double hangings (Flanagan and Higgins and Sach and Walters), five women were hanged alongside male prisoners. The men were either co-defendants or completely unrelated ones who had been condemned at the same Assize. The remainder were all executed individually. Women, like men, were normally executed in the prison of the county in which they were convicted. In London, five hangings were carried out within Holloway women's prison after the closure of Newgate. There were no female executions in Northern Ireland and only one in Scotland (Susan Newell). Those hanged prior to 1875 when William Marwood took over from Calcraft and Anderson, were given a short drop and typically died by strangulation. Those who suffered after Edith Thompson in 1923 were made to wear canvas underpants.
Where the name of the woman is hyperlinked below, there is a full article on her case, where a prison name is hyperlinked, there is a short article about her under that prison's history.

  1. Allen, Margaret hanged by Albert Pierrepoint at Strangeways prison in Manchester on Wednesday, the 12th of January, 1949.
    Margaret "Bill" Allen was a 42 year old "butch" lesbian who battered elderly widow Nancy Ellen Chadwick to death with a hammer. Mrs. Chadwick had been her neighbour and had irritated her in various ways. She readily confessed to the police and was convicted after a short trial. This was the first female execution in England for 12 years.
  2. Ansell, Mary Ann hanged by James Billington at St. Albans on Wednesday, the 19th of July, 1899.
    Mary Ansell came from a family with a history of mental illness and was convicted of poisoning her sister, Caroline (who was a patient in Leavesden Asylum), with a cake laced with phosphorus so that she could claim £11 life insurance. She was 22 at the time of her death and confessed to her crime in the condemned cell.
  3. Barry, Mary Ann hanged at Gloucester by Robert Anderson (Evans) on Monday, the 12th of January, 1874.
    Thirty one year old Mary Ann Barry was executed alongside her partner in crime, 32 year old Edwin Bailey, for the poisoning murder of his illegitimate one year old child, Sarah, whom they considered a nuisance. With them on the gallows, set up in the quadrangle of Gloucester Gaol, was Edward Butt, who had shot his girlfriend. Mary became the last woman in England to suffer short drop hanging and reportedly struggled for some three minutes on the rope and had to be forced down into the pit by Anderson.  The two men became still almost immediately.
  4.  Berry, Elizabeth hanged by James Berry at Walton prison Liverpool on Monday, the 14th of March, 1887. Thirty one year old Elizabeth Berry poisoned her 11 year old daughter for £10 life insurance. It was an unusual coincidence that the executioner and the criminal had the same surname and had also actually met previously when they danced together at a police ball.
  5. Biggadyke, Priscilla, was hanged at 9.00 a.m. on Monday, the 28th of December, 1868, at Lincoln by Thomas Askern for poisoning her husband with arsenic. It was alleged that she killed him because he discovered she was having an affair with one of their lodgers. Thirty five year old Priscilla was the first woman to be executed in private in Britain. She ascended the steps to the platform where she said "Surely all my troubles are over" and "Shame on you, you are not going to hang me." But Askern did, in his usual clumsy way and she reportedly died hard.
  6. Britland, Mary Ann was executed by James Berry at Strangeways on Monday, the 9th of August, 1886, becoming the first woman to be hanged there.
    Thirty eight year old Mary Ann Britland was convicted of poisoning Mary Dixon, with whose husband she had been having an affair. She had also previously poisoned her own husband, Thomas and daughter, Elizabeth.
  7. Bryant, Charlotte, hanged by Tom Pierrepoint at Exeter on Thursday the 15th of July 1936.
    Charlotte Bryant (33) was convicted of poisoning her husband with arsenic.
    She was having an affair with their lodger and it seemed a simple way to remove her husband from the scene. Whilst awaiting execution, her previously black hair turned completely white.
  8. Calvert, Louie, hanged by Tom Pierrepoint at Strangeways prison Manchester on Thursday, the 24th of June, 1926.
    Louie Calvert, also 33, had criminal tendencies and was known to the police.
    She battered and strangled her landlady, Mrs. Lily Waterhouse, who had confronted her over things that had gone missing from the house and had reported Louie to the police.
    In the condemned cell, she also admitted to the murder of a previous employer - John Frobisher - in 1922. She was the first woman to be hanged at Stangeways since Mary Ann Britland in 1886.
  9. Chard Williams, Ada, hanged at Newgate prison in London by James Billington on Tuesday, the 6th of March, 1900.
    Twenty four year old Ada Chard-Williams was convicted of drowning a small child whom she had "adopted" for a few pounds. She was suspected of killing other children and was another "baby farmer."  She was the last woman to hang at Newgate, subsequent female executions in London taking place at the newly converted women's prison at Holloway.
  10. Christofi, Styllou, hanged by Albert Pierrepoint at London's Holloway women's prison on Monday, the 13th of December, 1954.
    Styllou Christofi, 53, was a Greek woman who brutally murdered her German born daughter-in-law, Hella, by battering her and then strangling her. Afterwards, she tried to burn her body. It is thought that she had also committed another murder in Cyprus.
    She asked for a Maltese Cross to be put on the wall of the execution chamber and this wish was granted - it remained there until the room was dismantled in 1967. Coincidentally, the murder was committed in the same street where a few months later Ruth Ellis was to commit hers - South Hill Park, Camden in London.
  11. Churchill, Catherine. Fifty five year old Catherine Churchill was hanged by William Marwood at Taunton on Monday, the 26th of May, 1879 for the murder of her husband, 82 year old Samuel Churchill.
  12. Cotton, Mary Ann, hanged by William Calcraft, assisted by Robert Anderson, at Durham on Monday, the 24th of March, 1873.
    Forty year old Mary Ann Cotton was Britain's first female serial killer and until recently held the record for the greatest number of murders - all by poisoning with arsenic. Although only convicted of the murder of her stepson, she is suspected of 14-15 murders. 21 people who had been close to her had died in the preceding 20 years.
    Cotton was pregnant with her seventh child at the time of arrest and trial and the execution had to be delayed until after she had given birth, as was the usual custom. However, because of her pregnancy, there was a petition for her reprieve. This was denied and she was hanged in the prison yard. Newspaper reporters who witnessed the execution reported that she struggled hard for about three minutes after the trap fell.
  13. Daly, Mary. 40 year old Mary Daly was hanged by William Billington at Tullamore prison in Ireland on Friday, the 9th of January, 1903 for the murder of her husband John. Her co-accused, Joseph Taylor, was executed two days earlier.
  14. Dyer, Amelia Elizabeth, hanged by James Billington at Newgate prison on Wednesday, the 10th of June, 1896.
    Amelia Dyer (57) was hanged for the murder of 4-month old Doris Marmon, a baby who had been entrusted to her care, having received £10 to look after them.
    This particular form of murder was known at the time as "Baby Farming" and it is thought that Dyer had murdered 6 or more other babies for money. Each baby had been strangled with white tape, which as she told the police, "was how you could tell it was one of hers."
  15. Ellis, Ruth, hanged by Albert Pierrepoint at Holloway prison, North London on Wednesday, the 13th of July, 1955.
    Ruth Ellis became the last woman to be executed in Britain - for the murder of her boyfriend David Blakely, who had refused to see her over the Easter of 1955.
    She lay in wait for him outside the Magdala pub and when he came out, shot him 5 times with a revolver. She was arrested immediately by an off-duty policeman and equally quickly convicted by an Old Bailey jury. Her execution caused a great deal of public controversy at the time.
  16. Flanagan, Catherine. 55 year old Flanagan was hanged at Kirkdale prison, Liverpool by Bartholomew Binns, side by side with her sister, Margaret Higgins (see below) on Monday, the 3rd of March, 1884. Binns was assisted by Samuel Heath as it was a double execution.
  17. Higgins, Margaret, Monday, the 3rd of March, 1884.
    Flanagan and Higgins were both convicted of the poisoning of 44 year old Higgin's husband, Thomas, for his life insurance. He was not their only victim (there were at least three) and they were not the only female poisoners operating in this area of Liverpool in the 1880's. As was usual at the time, the Crown simply prosecuted one capital case at a time and did not go for anymore if the first resulted in a guilty verdict and death sentence.
  18. King, Jessie. King, aged 27, was hanged by James Berry at Calton prison Edinburgh on Monday, the 11th of March, 1889 for the murder, by strangling, of Alexander Gunn, one of two children in her care whom she murdered and buried in her cellar. She was a baby farmer and was thought to have murdered a third child who’s body was not recovered.
  19. Lefley, Mary, hanged by James Berry at Lincoln on Monday, the 26th of May, 1884.
    Mary Lefley, aged 44, poisoned her husband, William, with arsenic and had to be dragged to the gallows screaming "Murder, Murder" and struggling with the warders.
  20. Major, Ethel Lillie, hanged by Tom Pierrepoint at Hull prison on Wednesday, the 19th of December, 1934.
    Forty three year old Ethel Major poisoned her husband, Arthur, with strychnine and her ghost is said to still haunt the prison.
  21. Masset, Louisa (Louise) Josephine, hanged at London's Newgate prison by James Billington on Tuesday, the 9th of January, 1900.
    Thirty six year old Louisa Masset killed her four year old son, Manfred, and dumped his naked body in the ladies’ toilet at Dalston Junction railway station in London. The reason for the murder is that Manfred was a hindrance to her relationship with her boyfriend, so she took him to the station and battered him and suffocated him to death. Hers was the first British execution of the 20th century.
  22. Merrifield, Louisa, hanged by Albert Pierrepoint at Strangeways on Friday, the 18th of September, 1953.
    Louisa Merrifield, 44, poisoned her employer, Mrs. Sarah Ann Rickets for whom she worked as housekeeper, to obtain her bungallow which had been left to Louisa under her newly changed will. She used a phosphorus based rat poison called Rodine and was tried with her husband, Alfred, who was acquitted.
  23. Sheil, Margaret was executed with her brother Lawrence at Tullamore in Ireland on Friday the 27th of May 1870 for the murder by shooting of 30 year old Patrick Dunne over a land dispute.  It appears that this was the culmination of a long running feud between the two families.  Lawrence had served a prison sentence for an earlier assault on Dunne and upon his release Margaret was reputed to have said “If no one will shoot the scoundrel I’ll do it myself!” The pair ambushed Dunne on his way home from the pub at Philipstown, County Offaly, where she shot him and then cut his throat. These were the first hangings in Ireland carried out within the prison walls.
  24. Newell, Susan, hanged by John Ellis at Duke Street prison, Glasgow on Wednesday, the 10th of October, 1923.
    Susan Newell, aged 30, strangled newspaper boy John Johnston who would not give her an evening paper without the money. Having killed the boy, she wheeled his body through the streets on a handcart accompanied by her eight year old daughter, Janet, whose evidence helped to convict her.
    She was the first woman to hang in Scotland since Jessie King in 1889 and on the gallows, refused the traditional white hood.
  25. Wheeler (Pearcey), Mary Eleanor, hanged by James Berry at Newgate on Monday, the 23rd of December, 1890.
    Twenty four year old Mary Pearcey was hanged for the murders of Mrs. Phoebe Hogg and her daughter (also Phoebe). She had cut Mrs. Hogg's throat and smothered the 18-month old child. She was having an affair with Phoebe's husband, Frank Hogg.
    Her father, Thomas Wheeler, had also been hanged for murder some 10 years earlier.
  26. Pearson, Elizabeth, 32 year old Pearson was hanged by William Marwood at Durham Castle on Monday, the 2nd of August, 1875.
    Pearson was one of three unrelated murderers who suffered at Durham on that August day. She had poisoned her uncle, James Watson, with rat poison administered in his medicine.
  27. Sach, Amelia, hanged by William Billington and Henry Pierrepoint at Holloway prison together with Annie Walters (see below) on Tuesday, the 3rd of February, 1903
    Twenty nine year old Amelia Sach was another "baby farmer" and she and Walters became the first women to hang at Holloway which had become London's women's prison. Previously, female executions were carried out at Newgate.
  28. Stewart, Francis, hanged at Newgate prison by William Marwood on Monday, the 29th of June, 1874. Forty eight year old Stewart was executed for the murder of her infant grandson, the only grandmother to be executed for this crime. She was the first British woman to be hanged using the “long drop” method.
  29. Swann, Emily, hanged by John Billington and John Ellis at Armley jail Leeds on Tuesday, the 29th of December, 1903.
    Emily Swann, 42, went to the gallows with her 30-year old lover John Gallagher for the murder of Swann's husband, William.
    Hooded and noosed on the trap doors, Emily said "Good morning John" to which he replied "Good morning love."  Emily replied "Goodbye, God bless you" before the drop fell ending any more conversation.
  30. Taylor, Louisa Jane, hanged by William Marwood at Maidstone on Tuesday, the 2nd of January, 1883.
    Louisa Jane Taylor, 37, was executed for the poisoning, using a lead salt, of 82-year old Mrs. Tregellis at Plumstead. Her motive may have been money but equally may have been the sadistic pleasure of watching someone die slowly from lead poisoning.
  31. Thompson, Edith Jessie, hanged by John Ellis at Holloway prison on Tuesday, the 9th of January, 1923. Edith Thompson aged 28 and her lover Frederick Bywaters were hanged in separate prisons at 9.00 a.m. on this day for the murder, by stabbing, of Edith's husband, Percy.
    Her execution caused considerable public disquiet as many doubted her guilt and the meaning of the various love letters that passed between her and Bywaters.
    She had to be carried to the gallows and it was reported that her underwear was covered in blood after the hanging. John Ellis committed suicide in 1932 and like everyone else present had been deeply affected by this execution.
    The bodies of Edith Thompson and Stylou Christofi were reburied in an unmarked pauper's grave in Brookwood, Surrey when Holloway was rebuilt in 1970.
  32. Tooke, Annie, hanged by William Marwood at Exeter on Monday, the 11th of August, 1879. Forty year old Annie was executed for the murder of 6-month old Reginald Hyde.  She may have been a baby farmer.
  33. Waddingham, Dorothea, hanged by Tom and Albert Pierrepoint at Birmingham's Winson Green prison on Friday, the 16th of April, 1936.
    Thirty six year old "nurse" Waddingham, as she called herself, used morphine to poison one of her elderly patients, 89 year old Mrs. Louisa Baguley and her disabled daughter, Ada, the motive being gain.
  34. Wadge, Selina, hanged by William Marwood at Bodmin on Thursday, the 15th of August, 1878. Selina Wadge, aged 28, suffered for the murder of her illegitimate son, a sadly not uncommon crime in those days.
  35. Walber, Margaret. 53 year old Margaret Walber was hanged at Liverpool’s Walton prison by James Billington on Monday, the 2nd of April, 1894 for murdering her husband.
  36. Walsh, Annie, hanged at Mountjoy prison, Dublin by Tom Pierrepoint on Wednesday, the 5th of August, 1925 for the murder of her husband, 60 year old Edward. Thirty one year old Annie became the last woman to be executed in Ireland. Her co-defendant, nephew and lover, 24 year old Michael Talbot was executed at 8.00 a.m., Annie following him to the gallows 45 minutes later.  She had to be strapped to a collapse board.
  37. Walters, Annie. Fifty four year old Walters was hanged at Holloway Tuesday, the 3rd of February, 1903 with Amelia Sach (see above). Theirs was the last double female execution and the first and only double at Holloway.
  38. Waters, Margaret, hanged by William Calcraft at Horsemonger Lane Goal (County of Surrey) on Tuesday, the 11th of October, 1870. Waters, 35, was another baby farmer convicted of murdering an infant named John Walter Cowen.
  39. Webster, Catherine, hanged by William Marwood at Surrey’s Wandsworth prison on Tuesday, the 29th of July, 1879. She was the only woman ever hanged at Wandsworth.
    Thirty year old Kate Webster murdered her elderly employer, Mrs. Julia Martha Thomas, with an axe. She then dismembered the body leaving parts in various places around London and throwing some into the Thames. The severed head was never found. She sold Mrs. Thomas's furniture and belongings and fled back to Ireland with the takings. She finally confessed her guilt to the chaplain the night before she was hanged.
  40. Williams, Mary. Thirty year old Williams was hanged by William Marwood at Liverpool’s Kirkdale prison, Liverpool on Monday, the 31st of August, 1874 for the murder of Nicholas Manning. With her on the gallows was 22-year old Henry Flannigan, who had been convicted of murdering his aunt.
  41. Willis, Rhoda, also known as Leslie James was hanged by Henry and Tom Pierrepoint at Cardiff prison on Wednesday, the 14th of August, 1907. Willis, 44, was another baby farmer and was executed for the murder of a one day old girl child by the surname of Treasure. She was an attractive woman and her blaze of golden hair had a profound effect on Henry Pierrepoint.  She was the last woman to be hanged for baby farming.

The youngest to be hanged was Mary Ansell, aged 22, and the oldest was Elizabeth Dyer, aged 57.
In the 1900's and early part of the 20th century, divorce was a very difficult business that left both parties damaged and stigmatised (particularly the woman) and for some, murder of their abusive or unwanted partner was the easy way out. It is noticeable how much rarer such a crime is today when divorce is so much easier.
Infanticide (the murder of a newborn baby by its mother) ceased to be a capital crime in 1922. In 1938, the law was further revised to make the murder of a child of under one year old a non-capital offence. The government recognised that women can be emotionally disturbed for a period after giving birth and may suffer from post-natal depression.
In the 20th century, 145 women were sentenced to death in England and Wales, but only 14 of these sentences were carried out, giving a reprieve rate of just over 90%. (Louise Masset was sentenced in 1899 and Susan Newell was executed in Scotland, where far fewer women were sentenced to death. They are therefore excluded from this figure.) Including the two women who were hanged in Ireland, a total of 18 women were executed in 20th century Britain.

The crimes committed by these women break down as under. (chronological listing)

Name

Date executed

Age

Victim

Murder method

Alleged Motive

Priscilla Biggadyke

28/12/1868

35

Husband

Poison

"Love"
Later pardoned

Margaret Sheil

27/05/1870

-

Neighbour

Shooting

Revenge

Margaret Waters

11/10/1870

35

Babies

Poison

Gain

Mary Ann Cotton

24/03/1873

40

Relatives

Poison

Gain

Mary Ann Barry

12/01/1874

31

Child

Poison

Unclear

Francis Stewart

29/06/1874

48

Grand child

Drowning

-

Mary Williams

31/08/1874

30

Adult

Shooting

Revenge

Elizabeth Pearson

02/08/1875

32

Relative

Poison

Gain

Selina Wadge

15/08/1878

28

Son

Drowning

"Love"

Catherine Churchill

26/05/1879

55

Husband

Battered

-

Kate Webster

29/07/1879

30

Employer

Axe

Temper/Gain

Annie Tooke

11/08/1879

40

Child

Smothering

Gain

Louisa Jane Taylor

02/01/1883

37

Adult

Poison

Unclear

Catherine Flanagan &
Margaret Higgins

03/03/1884

55
41

-
Husband

Poison

Gain

Mary Lefley

26/05/1884

44

Husband

Poison

-

Mary Ann Britland

09/08/1886

38

Adult female

Poison

"Love"

Elizabeth Berry

14/03/1887

31

Daughter

Poison

Gain

Jessie King

11/03/1889

27

Children

Strangling

Gain

Mary Pearcey

23/12/1890

24

Adult/child

Cut throat/
suffocation

"Love"

Margaret Walber

02/04/1894

53

Husband

Battered

Unclear

Amelia Dyer

10/06/1896

57

Babies

Strangling

Gain

Mary Ann Ansell

19/07/1899

22

Sister

Poison

Gain

Louise Masset

09/01/1900

33

Son

Battery

"Love"

Ada Chard-Williams

06/03/1900

24

Babies

Drowning

Gain

Mary Daly

09/01/1903

40

Husband

-

-

Annie Walters

03/02/1903

54

Babies

Strangling/poison

Gain

Amelia Sach

03/02/1903

29

Babies

Strangling/poison

Gain

Emily Swann

29/12/1903

42

Husband

Battered

"Love"

Rhoda Willis

14/08/1907

44

Child

Suffocation

Gain

Edith Thompson

09/01/1923

28

Husband

Stabbing

"Love"

Susan Newell

10/10/1923

30

Child

Strangling

Temper/gain

Annie Walsh

05/08/1925

31

Husband

Axe

Love??

Louie Calvert

24/06/1926

33

Adult

Strangling

Gain

Ethel Major

19/12/1934

43

Husband

Poison

Gain

Dorothea Waddingham

16/04/1936

36

Adults

Poison

Gain

Charlotte Bryant

15/07/1936

33

Husband

Poison

"Love"

Margaret Allen

12/01/1949

43

Adult

Battered

Unclear

Louisa Merrifield

18/09/1953

44

Employer

Poison

Gain

Styllou Christofi

13/12/1954

53

Adult relative

Strangling

Jealousy

Ruth Ellis

13/07/1955

28

Boyfriend

Shooting

Jealousy

In 16 of these cases, gain would appear to be the principal motive. Of these, eight were "baby farmers" who were regarded as wholly despicable and got no public sympathy.
Seven were hanged for "love" related crimes.
Seven suffered for murdering their husbands and one for murdering her boyfriend.
Fourteen were poisoners - Poison has often been said to be the woman's method of choice because its administration requires no physical strength. It has always been thought that the Home Office had an un-written rule - that poisoners and gun murderers were never reprieved.
Eight were executed for child murder (other than the baby farming cases).

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