of hangman became much sought after in the mid 19th century and remained so
until capital punishment was abolished in 1964 with large numbers, including women,
applying for each vacancy. When William Calcraft retired, the post of hangman
for London and
Middlesex ceased to be a salaried position.His successors were paid a fee for each execution they carried out and
these fees remained static at £10 for the hangman and 3 guineas for the
assistant from the 1880's to the late 1940's, when the hangman’s remuneration
was increased to £15.The cost of rail
travel was also reimbursed.The fees
were paid half at the time and half two weeks later.It is therefore reasonable to suppose that
most of those who held the post of executioner did it not for financial gain
but for other, more personal, reasons.
After Berry resigned the Home
Office maintained a list of executioners and assistants that was made available
to Under Sheriffs when they had to organise an execution in their county. The
Under Sheriff selected the hangman and assistant(s) from this list.Where there was to be a double execution
there were normally two assistants.It
was also decided that all future executioners and assistants would undertake a
week’s training.This was initially at
Newgate and after it closed in 1903, at Pentonville prison.At the end of the training applicants could
be added to the list if they were deemed satisfactory.Merely being on the list did not
automatically mean that they would be chosen by the sheriffs.Normally they would attend an execution or
two as second assistant, just to observe the proceedings and for the governor
to observe them and their reaction to the hanging.Not everyone could cope with the reality of
an execution.Successful candidates had
to sign the Official Secrets Act and were not permitted to divulge any details
of what occurred in the execution chamber, especially to the press.
a short biography of all of the hangmen active in the
period 1850 - 1964.
Smith from Dudley in Staffordshire
office – 1840-1872.
George Smith was born in Rowley Regis in Staffordshire in 1805 and was a
prisoner himself at Stafford Gaol when he entered the “trade” as an assistant
to Calcraft. His first job was assisting at the double hanging of James Owen
and George Thomas outside Stafford Gaol on the 11th of April 1840. Smith was known as the
"Dudley Higgler", higgler
being a local slang term for a hangman.His first execution as principal being that of Charles Higginson at Stafford on the 26th of August 1843. He is thought to have hanged
Betty Eccles at Liverpool’s Kirkdale Gaol on the 6th of May 1843 for the
murder of her stepson and Mary Gallop at Chester
on the 28th of December
1844 for killing her father.Smith’s most famous solo execution was that of the Rugeley poisoner, Dr
William Palmer for the murder of John Parsons Cook, before a large crowd at Stafford on the 14th of June 1856. On the 7th of August 1866,
Smith failed to secure the rope adequately to the beam and William Collier fell
to the ground when the trap doors were released and he had to be hanged again a
few minutes later.This was
Staffordshire’s last public hanging. Smith was to hang 20 men and one woman,
Sarah Westwood, at Stafford, plus a further three men at Chester, one woman at
Kirkdale, two men at Shrewsbury, six men at Warwick and one man at
Worcester.George Smith carried out 33
public hangings and just one private one, this was on the 13th of August 1872, when he hanged
34 year old Christopher Edwards at Stafford
for the murder of his wife. In addition, he assisted Calcraft at the first two
private hangings in England,
of Thomas Wells and Alexander Mackay in 1868.
Smith was renowned for his long white coat and top hat which he wore at public
hangings. Smith's son, also George, may have assisted at the three executions
outside Stafford prison in 1866. Initially, it
is said that Smith was hired by the Under Sheriff of Staffordshire to save the
cost of bringing Calcraft up from London.
George Incher took over the post of Staffordshire’s hangman after Smith’s death
on the 4th of April 1874.
William Calcraft - Little Baddow, near Chelmsford, Essex (1800- 1879).
office - 1829-1874.
Calcraft was the longest serving executioner of all. It is not known precisely
how many executions he carried out but it is between 430 and 450, including
those of 34 women, of which at least 388 were public and 41 in private. In some
provincial executions in the 1830’s it is unclear who the hangman actually was.
Calcraft was a cobbler by trade and also sold pies outside Newgate on hanging
days.Here he became acquainted with the
then hangman for London
and Middlesex, James Foxen and through this was recruited to flog juvenile
prisoners in Newgate.His first
experience as an executioner was the hanging of housebreaker Thomas Lister at LincolnCastle
and highwayman George Wingfield at Lincoln’s Beastmarket
on the 27th of March 1829. The latter was a LincolnCity
execution.James Foxen died on the 14th
of February 1829 and it was announced in the Morning Post of the 18th of March
that Calcraft would succeed him as hangman for London and Middlesex on the 4th of April of
that year. His first job in London
was to execute the murderess, Ester Hibner, at
Newgate on the 13th of that month. 1829 was a busy year for him with no fewer
than 31 executions. He was assisted by Thomas Cheshire in some of these.
On the 20th of April 1849,
Calcraft, assisted by George Smith, hanged 17 year old Sarah Thomas in public
at Bristol for
the murder of her mistress who had maltreated her. This was one job which
greatly affected him on account of her youth and good looks. It is thought that
George Smith assisted at this execution as he had become Calcraft’s
preferred assistant on the few occasions when he required one. Frederick George
Manning and his wife Maria were hanged side by side on the 13th of November 1849 on the roof
of Horsemonger Lane Goal. The Mannings had murdered
Patrick O'Connor - Maria's erstwhile lover for money. A husband and wife being
executed together was very unusual and drew the largest crowd ever recorded at
a Surrey hanging - estimated at between 30,000 and 50,000.
Dr Edward William Pritchard drew an even bigger crowd, estimated at around
100,000, when he was hanged in Jail
Square in Glasgow
on the 28th of July 1865
for the murders of his wife and mother-in-law. Catherine Wilson
was a serial poisoner whom Calcraft executed in front of the Debtor’s Door at
Newgate on the 20th of
October 1862, witnessed by a crowd estimated at 20,000. She
maintained her innocence to the end and met her fate with great composure. She
reportedly died without a struggle. Hers was the last public execution of a
woman at Newgate.
1867 brought the hanging of three Fenians who had murdered a policeman in Manchester. William
O'Meara Allen, Michael Larkin and Michael O'Brien (alias Gould) suffered
together on the 23rd of
November 1867 outside Salford Prison. Afterwards, they became known
as the Manchester Martyrs and a monument was erected to them in Ireland which
can still be seen today. Calcraft received the princely sum of £30.00 for this
officiated at the last public hangings in Britain - those of Francis Kidder (the
last woman) at Maidstone on the 2nd of April 1868 for
the drowning of her stepdaughter and Michael Barrett at Newgate prison on the 26th of May 1868.Barrett was a Fenian (what we would now call
an IRA terrorist) who was executed for his part in the Clerkenwell prison
explosion which killed 12 people and injured over 100.At the time of his execution it was known
that this would be the last public hanging in England.
The Government passed The Capital Punishment (Amendment) Act of 1868, three
days after Barrett’s execution which transferred all executions inside prison
walls. The press and witnesses could still be permitted to attend, although
executions were no longer the great public spectacles that they had been.
The first hanging within prison was that of 18 year old Thomas Wells at Maidstone on the 13th of August 1868. Wells was a railway
worker who had murdered his boss, the Station Master at Dover. Although the execution was
"private," there were reporters and invited witnesses present and the
short drop was used so that they would have been treated to the sight of Wells
taking some two minutes to die. As the official hangman for London and Middlesex, Calcraft also carried
out floggings at Newgate. He received one guinea (£1.05) a week retainer and a
further guinea for each hanging at Newgate and half a crown (12.5p) for a
flogging. His earnings were greatly enhanced by executions at other prisons
where he could charge higher fees, typically £10, plus expenses.
He also held the post of executioner at Horsemonger Lane Goal in the County of Surrey and received similar fees to
Newgate. Here he hanged 24 men and two women between April 1829 and October
1870. He was the exclusive executioner at Maidstone
prison, carrying out all 37 hangings there between 1830 and 1872. In addition
to these earnings, he was also allowed to keep the clothes and personal effects
of the condemned which he could sell afterwards to such as Madame Tussauds for
dressing the latest waxwork in the Chamber of Horrors. The rope which had been
used at a hanging of a particularly notable criminal could also be sold for
good money - up to 5 shillings or 25p an inch. (Hence the
expression “money for old rope”.)
Calcraft claims to have invented the leather waist belt with wrist straps for
pinioning the prisoners arms and one of the nooses he used is still on display
at LancasterCastle. It is a very short piece of
3/4" rope with a loop worked into one end with the free end of the rope
passed through it and terminating in a hook with which it was attached to the
chain fixed to the gallows beam. This particular noose was used for the
execution of Richard Pedder on the 29th of August 1857.
He was a regular visitor to Durham
where he was to hang Britain's
greatest mass murderess, Mary Ann Cotton on the 24th of March 1873, assisted by Robert
Most of Calcraft's early work came from London and the Southeast,
as the Midlands had George Smith and Thomas
Askern operated in Yorkshire and the North.
With the advent of the railway system in the mid 19th century, Calcraft was
soon able to operate all over Britain
and apparently loved travelling. There was 6,000 miles of railway by 1850 which
meant that he could effectively and conveniently work nationwide. He managed
two trips to Scotland,
one on the 28th of July 1865
to hang Dr. Edward William Pritchard who had poisoned his wife and the other to
hang George Chalmers at Perth on the 4th of October 1870 in what was Scotland’s
first private hanging.
His last London
hanging was that of John Godwin at Newgate on the 25th of May 1874, his final execution in the
provinces was that of John McDonald at Exeter
on the 10th of August 1874.
Calcraft retired on a pension of 25 shillings - £1.25) per week provided by the
City of London
in 1874 and died on the
13th of December 1879.
often stated that William Calcraft bungled his hangings because he used the
"short drop" method, causing most of his victims to strangle to
death.However this is neither true, nor
fair to Calcraft.He could not be expected
to know about something that hadn’t been invented (the long drop) and just
carried on doing what his predecessors had done.It wasn’t until near the end of Calcraft’s career that the concept of using a longer drop
began to take shape.Although at this
was part of Britain,
hangmen in Dublin
were experimenting with much longer drops in the 1860’s aided by surgeons
there, especially the Rev. Dr. Samuel Haughton.
Thomas Askern of York
Period in office 1856-1877.
Thomas Askern was initially the hangman for Yorkshire.
Askern, like all of York's
hangmen up till then, was drawn from the inmate population - he was in prison
for debt at the time. He officiated at 20 public hangings and four private
ones, working at York,
His first job was the hanging of 28 year old William Dove at
YorkCastle for the murder of his wife on the 9th of August 1856. He
hanged a total of eight prisoners at York,
the last being William Jackson on the 18th of August 1874.
He also officiated at Armley prison, Leeds
where he carried out the only public executions there.These took place on the 10th of September 1864, when Joseph Myers and James Sargisson, were hanged side by side for separate murders. Askern was
responsible for two more private executions at Armley. As with Calcraft, the
availability of a good rail network enabled Askern to work further a field and
allowed him to travel to Durham
where he carried out all five public hangings between 1859 and 1865.The last of these was of Matthew Atkinson on the 16th of March 1865.The rope broke and Atkinson had to be hanged
again. Askern was not selected again by the
Sheriff of Co. Durham and was replaced by Calcraft.
Askern carried out the last public hanging at LincolnCastle
on the 5th of August 1859 when William Pickett and Henry
Carey were hanged side by side for the murder of one William
Stevenson.George Bryce, the “Ratho
murderer” was the last person to hang in public in Edinburgh, on the 21st of June 1864, for the
murder of Jane Seaton.Askern also
officiated at the last public hanging in Scotland, that of 19 year old
Robert Smith on the 12th of
May 1868 at Dumfries, for the
murder of a young girl. Askern
carried out Britain’s first
private female hanging, that of Priscilla Biggadyke
at Lincoln in
1868. She was later found to have been innocent and was pardoned. Askern got
two jobs in Ireland,
executing Thomas Montgomery at Omagh on the 26th of August 1873 and
John Daly at Belfast
on the 26th of April 1876.He hanged James Dalgleishat Carlisle
on the 19th of December
1876. His final act as hangman was at the execution of 37 year old John Henry Johnson at Armley on Wednesday the 3rd of April 1877
for the murder of Amos Waite.Once again
the rope broke and Johnson had to be recovered from the pit and was hanged
again 10 minutes later.The Yorkshire
Post newspaper reported that Johnson struggled for 4 minutes. After this fiasco
he was not hired again in Yorkshire. Askern
died in Maltby, at the age of 62, on the 6th of December 1878.In all he carried out 21 public and eight
Marwood of Horncastle Lincolnshire (1820-1883).
office - 1872-1883.
William Marwood was born at Goulceby, near Horncastle
and was a cobbler by trade who had, over the years, taken a great interest in
the "art" of hanging and felt that it could be improved. He had never
hanged anyone or even assisted at an execution but at the age of 54 persuaded
the authorities at Lincoln
prison to let him carry out the hanging of William Frederick Horry
on the 1st of April 1872.
The execution went off without a hitch and impressed the governor of that
He introduced the "long drop" method of hanging to England, which
had been developed by surgeons in Ireland. He realised that if the
prisoner was to be given a drop of 6 to 10, feet depending upon his weight and
with the noose correctly positioned, death would be "nearly instantaneous"
due to the neck being broken. The long drop removed all the gruesome struggling
and convulsing from the proceedings and was, undoubtedly far less cruel to the
prisoner and far less trying to the governor and staff of the prison who, since
the abolition of public hangings, had to witness the spectacle at close
Marwood was duly appointed as official hangman by the Sheriffs of London and
Middlesex in 1874, replacing Calcraft, and received a retainer of £20.00 per
annum plus £10.00 for each execution, but unlike Calcraft got no actual salary.
He also was able to keep the condemned person’s clothes and received travelling
expenses. His first execution at Newgate took place on the 29th of June 1874 when he hanged Frances Stewart.
The rail system was so advanced by this time that he could travel anywhere in
the country with ease thus making it possible for him to carry out most of the
executions within England
and Scotland.He also carried out the last public hanging
in the British Isles when he executed Joseph
Le Brun at St. Hellier on
the island of Jersey on the 11th of August 1875.The 1868 Act requiring executions to be
carried out in private in Britain
had overlooked the Channel Islands.
a famous rhyme about Marwood at the time which went, "If Pa killed Ma
who'd kill Pa - Marwood". Marwood was something of a celebrity and had
business cards printed - "William Marwood Public Executioner, Horncastle, Lincolnshire" and
the words "Marwood Crown Office" over the door of his shop.
In his eleven years of service, Marwood hanged 179 people, including eight
women. 26 of these were carried out in Ireland, seven in Scotland and
one on Jersey. There were 14 double
executions, three triples and one quadruple (at Newgate). He worked without an
assistant for most executions but one assumes that if needed, the warders would
also made improvements to the noose and pinioning straps and requested improvements
to the gallows, especially the removal of steps up to the platform.He found it far easier for all concerned to
have the trap door level with the floor or ground.
execution was that of James Burton on the 6th of August 1883 at Durham.Burton’s
pinioned arm caught up in the free rope hanging down his back and the poor man
had to be hanged twice (See Durham prison). Less
than four weeks later, on the 4th of September 1883, William Marwood died of
"inflammation of the lungs".
Marwood's most notable cases were : Charles Peace
was a burglar and murderer whom Marwood hanged on the 25th of February 1879 at Armley Goal in Leeds. Peace was the archetypal Victorian criminal who
struck fear into the hearts of everyone at the time. Kate Webster, an
Irish servant girl, who murdered her mistress and cut up her body
was executed on the 29th of
July 1879 at Wandsworth Prison, the only woman to be hanged there.
Percy Lefroy Mapleton murdered Isaac Fredrick Gold on
a train on the Brighton Line so that he could steal Gold's watch and some
coins. He was arrested almost immediately but managed to escape from custody
before being arrested again, convicted and finally hanged at Lewes prison on the 29th of November 1881.
Marwood travelled to Ireland
from time to time and had the job of executing Joe Brady and four other members
of the "Invincibles" gang for the murders in Phoenix Park Dublin of
Lord Frederick Cavendish and Thomas Harry Burke the Permanent Under Secretary for Ireland. These hangings took place
on the 14th of May 1883
at Kilmainham jail in Dublin.
Marwood worked with George Incher on the occasions that needed two
executioners, i.e. doubles, until 1881 and then used Bartholomew Binns as an
assistant until 1883 when Binns took over as No. 1.
Anderson (Evans) - from Carmarthen, Wales (c1816 -
Period in office - 1873-1883.
Robert Anderson was born Robert Evans and later changed his name to Anderson. He was a
lawyer’s son who had trained as a doctor but had not practiced as such.He was a man of private means who did not
need to work or need the small income derived from executions and in fact gave
his fee to William Calcraft for the privilege of assisting him. This he did on
at least three occasions, notably at the hanging of serial poisoner Mary Ann Cotton at
Durham on the 24th of March 1873 and at Calcraft’s
last execution at Newgate, that of John Godwin in 1874. (see
"Evans the hangman" as he was known, acted as principal executioner
on seven occasions in England
in 1874 and 1875. His first job as executioner was the hanging of Thomas
Corrigan at Liverpool on the 5th of January 1874 for the murder
of his mother.He hanged John M’Crave and Michael Mullen, two members of Liverpool’s notorious Corner Men gang at Kirkdale Gaol on
the 4th of January 1875,
together with William Worthington who had murdered his wife.He also carried out a treble hanging in the
open courtyard of Gloucester
prison on the 12th of
January 1874, when 31 year old Mary Ann Barry and her
common law husband, Edwin Bailey, were executed for the murder of his
illegitimate child, together with Edward Butt who had shot his girlfriend. His
last recorded execution was in Ireland, that of Joseph Poole at Richmond
prison in Dublin
on the 18th of December
1883.Anderson applied to succeed William Marwood
but was not appointed. He lived to 85, dying on the 26th of August 1901.
Incher or Insher– of Dudley (1831 – 1897).
Period in office -1875-1881. Incher a cted as executioner at Stafford on three occasions, between 1875 and 1881 for
the hangings of John Stanton, Henry Rogers and James Williams.Dudley was in Staffordshire at this time.
He also assisted William Marwood at the multiple execution
of the four Lennie Mutineers at Newgate in May 1876.
His last execution was that of 24 year old James Williams at Stafford
on the 22nd of February 1881,
for the murder of his girlfriend.He was
given a drop of four feet and reportedly died without a struggle.
Bartholomew Binns from Dewsbury in Yorkshire (1839 -
Period in office – 1883-1884.
When William Marwood died an amazing 1400 applications were received to replace
him.Two men were seriously considered
for the post, Bartholomew Binns and James Berry.Binns was born in Wakefield in 1839.In September 1883 the Sheriffs of London and Middlesex
interviewed 20 men to replace Marwood.They short listed James Berry and a Mr. Taylor who had assisted Marwood
at Lincoln, but
decided against employing either and sent a telegram to Binns.He was appointed at Newgate on the 28th of
September 1883, possibly because he was a single man.His first "solo" execution was that
of Henry Powell on the 6th
of November 1883 at Wandsworth Prison.
On the 17th of December 1883 Binns officiated at Newgate for the hanging of
Patrick O'Donnell, an Irish Republican, who murdered the chief witness in the PhoenixPark murder case (see Marwood above). He
carried out the double hanging of Catherine Flannagan and Margaret Higgins at
Kirkdale Gaol on the 5th of
March 1884, assisted by Samuel Heath.The execution of Henry Dutton at Kirkdale on the 3rd of December 1883
was botched by Binns.The twenty two
year old was to die for the murder of Hannah Henshaw,
his wife’s grandmother at their home in Athol Street Liverpool.Dutton weighed just 128 lbs and was given a
drop of 7’ 6” using an over thick rope with the eyelet positioned at the back
of his neck.Death resulted from
strangulation and his heart continued to beat for 8 minutes after the
drop.Dr. James Barr, the prison doctor,
was dissatisfied with the way Binns had conducted the hanging and again there
was a strong suspicion that he had been drinking beforehand. His last job was
the hanging of 18 year old Michael McLean at the same prison, on the 10th of
March 1884.He was seen to be in a
drunken state and the execution was not entirely satisfactory – it took 13
minutes for McLean‘s heart to stop. After the formal complaint about this and
his drunken behaviour, The Court of Aldermen decided to no longer retain his
services in September 1884. However, he later assisted Tommy Scott on several
occasions in 1900/01.Binns was perhaps
one of the least successful British hangman, only
holding the job as principal for a year, during which time he carried out ten
executions in England and Wales and one, Peter Wade, in Dublin.
James Berry of Heckmondwike
Period on Home Office List - 1884-1891.
James Berry was born on the
8th of February 1852.He
carried out a total of 130 hangings, including those of five women plus that of
John Lee (see below). He was the first British executioner to write his
memoirs, "My Experiences as an Executioner" which is still available
in libraries and also on line at https://ia800300.us.archive.org/19/items/MyExperiencesAsAnExecutioner/Berry.pdf
He was, like Marwood, proud of his calling and both had their own
waxworks in Madame Tussauds. Berry
had previously been a policeman in Bradford
and had met Marwood and became acquainted with his methods.He worked in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, but
strangely not in his native Yorkshire, where
James Billington always got the job.
His seven years in office were not without event.
His first commission was the double hanging of William Innes and Robert
Vickers at Edinburgh’s
Calton prison on the 31st of
March 1884. Innes and Vickers were two poachers who had shot and
killed two gamekeepers. Mary
Lefley was to be his first English execution, on
the 26th of May at LincolnCounty jail. Lefley, aged 44, poisoned her husband with arsenic and had
to be dragged to the gallows screaming "Murder, Murder" and
struggling with the warders. In both of these executions Berry was assisted by “Richard Chester”, not
his real name which he kept concealed. He assisted Berry on a few other occasions when
required, although Berry
normally worked alone.
One of his most famous (non) jobs was the strange case
of John Lee - "The man they could not hang" on the 23rd of February 1885 at Exeter prison. Twenty year
old John Lee was convicted of the murder of his elderly employer Emma Keyse, for whom he worked as a footman.All the normal preparations were made on the
gallows, set up in the coach house at Exeter
prison, but when Berry
operated the lever, nothing happened. Berry
stomped on the trap but to no avail, and Lee was then taken back to his cell whilst
the trap release mechanism was tested. It worked perfectly.The process was now repeated but with the
same result and yet again the trap worked perfectly after Lee was removed.
After the third unsuccessful attempt, the governor stayed the hanging whilst he
obtained directions from the Home Office. Lee was later reprieved.
Various theories abounded as to why the trap would not open with Lee on it,
ranging from divine intervention through the wood swelling in the damp weather
to the more unbelievable one of the prisoners who had helped to erect it
placing a wedge between the leaves of the trap which he removed again as soon
as Lee was taken off and reinserted at each new attempt.The reality was much more prosaic.When the trap had been erected in the coach
house at Exeter,
having been previously used at a different location for the hanging of Annie
Tooke in 1879, the metal work was not installed correctly and one of the long
hinges fouled on the side of the pit when there was weight on the trapdoors but
not when there wasn’t.
On the 7th of October
1885, the Home Office wrote to the Prison Commission advising them
that the hangman should be required to lodge within the prison on the night
before an execution to avoid their getting drunk and entertaining the locals in
hotels and pubs with stories of their executions.This was advisory rather than mandatory as
the Home Office recognised that it was the sheriff who appointed the hangman
and oversaw the execution.In Berry’s case drunkenness
was not an issue at this time as he was a teetotaller.
unfortunate experience concerned the execution of Robert Goodale
at NorwichCastle on the 30th of November 1885. Goodale
who weighed 15 stone (95 Kg.) but was in poor physical condition, was
decapitated by the force of the drop, the only recorded instance of this in
Britain, although two other of Berry's victims, Moses Shrimpton at Worcester
and John Conway at Kirkdale were nearly decapitated by the drop. Berry blamed the prison
doctor, Dr. Barr, for interfering with his calculations in the Conway case.
The opposite problem occurred in at least three of Berry's other hangings when the condemned
clearly strangled to death due to the length of drop being insufficient. These
were David Roberts, hanged at Cardiff
on the 2nd of March 1886,
Henry Delvin, executed on the 23rd of September 1890 in Glasgow’s Duke Street prison for murdering his
wife, and Edward Hewitt who was executed at Gloucester in June of 1886.
government were concerned about these incidents, especially as they resulted in
bad publicity and were raising questions over the continuing use of hanging as
the form of capital punishment. So in 1886, the Conservative Home Secretary,
Sir Richard Assheton Cross, commissioned a former
Liberal Home Secretary, Lord Aberdare, to chair a committee with a brief to
inquire into and report to the Home Secretary upon “the existing practice as to
carrying out the sentence of death and the causes which in several recent cases
have led either to the failure or to unseemly occurrences and to consider and
report what arrangements may be adopted (without altering the existing law) to
ensure that all executions may be carried out in a becoming manner without risk
of failure or miscarriage in any respect”.The Committee issued its report in June 1888,
none of its recommendations required any legislation to allow them to be
implemented. The Capital Sentences Committee, to give it its full title, took
evidence from James Berry in June 1877 which included a discussion of the elasticity
of the ropes supplied by the Prison Commission, known as “government
ropes”.The elasticity issue was very
important because if the rope stretched significantly the condemned got a
greater drop and therefore an increased chance of decapitation. There was also discussion of the correct
position for the eyelet or thimble of the noose, Berry was of the view that it should be
placed behind the left ear, the sub-aural position.It can be equally well positioned under the
right ear if the hangman is left handed.Up until now there had been no official table of drops, Marwood and Berry had devised their
own.Click here for further
details of the report the Capital Sentences Committee. A number of other
recommendations were made by the Committee.Executioners were no longer to be paid a salary as Calcraft had been,
but rather hired by the individual county sheriffs on a by the job basis.Properly trained assistants were to be used
of who would be able to take over if the hangman became ill or fainted and
would also be available to carry out an execution if the “No.1” was busy with
one elsewhere. This particular recommendation did not totally take effect
until after James Berry resigned in 1892.The sheriffs were then able to choose from a list of hangmen and
assistants approved by the Prison Commissioners. The suggestion that the
hangman and assistant should stay in the prison from in the afternoon prior to an
execution was endorsed by the Committee and became standard practice.
On the 8th of February 1886Berry had an unusual
assistant for a triple hanging at Carlisle.Sir Claude de Crespigney
was a magistrate who was expecting to be the next Sheriff for the County of Essex and wanted to assist at a hanging
in case he had to organise one.He
allegedly gave Berry
£10 for being allowed to help hang James Baker, James Martin and Anthony Rudge. A question was asked in Parliament over the
participation of a Knight of the Realm at an execution.
strange coincidence, Mr. Berry
was called upon to hang Mrs.
Berry who had poisoned her 11 year old daughter for £10 life insurance. The
execution took place on the
14th of March 1887
at Walton prison Liverpool (the first in that prison). Not only did the
executioner and the prisoner have the same surname, and although not related,
they actually knew each other, having danced together at a police ball in Manchester some years previously.
He was to hang Mary Ann Britland at Strangeways
prison in Manchester on the 9th of August 1886 and Mary Eleanor Wheeler
(who’s father had also been hanged 10 years earlier) at Newgate prison on the
23rd of December 1890. His final execution was carried out at Greenock
on the 11th of January 1892 when he hanged Frederick Storey. James Berry was
not popular with the Home Office because of his holding 'court' in local pubs
after executions, which had led to questions being asked in Parliament, and his
behaviour at the hanging of John Conway within Liverpool’s Kirkdale prison on
the 20th of August 1891.He was not
selected again and subsequent English executions were carried out by James
Billington.Berry formally resigned on
the 4th of March 1892.James Berry died
on the 21st of October 1913.
Henry Scott - Huddersfield.
Home Office List 1892-1895.
Thomas Scott was a rope maker and a stone mason by trade who worked as an
assistant to James Billington on 13 occasions and acted as chief executioner on
two occasions, both at Stafford.His last execution in England should
have been assisting James Billington with the hanging of Elijah Winstanley on the 17th of December 1895 at Walton prison.On the preceding evening he left the Gaol and
got in a cab with a prostitute who stole his wallet after having sex with him.
He was not allowed to work the following morning and was removed from the Home
Office List. Most of his work as No. 1 was in Ireland, his last job there was the
execution of John Toole at Mountjoy prison in Dublin on the 7th of March 1901.The Irish authorities decided that they would
no longer employ him as he was not on the Home Office List.
Warbrick - Blackburn in Lancashire.
Home Office List 1893-1910.
William Warbrick assisted James Billington at 21 hangings in the 19th century,
including that of baby farmer, Amelia Dyer and a further three in the 20th
century.He assisted James Billington at
Newgate with the first hanging of 1900, that of Louise Massett.His
last job was assisting Thomas Pierrepoint, with the execution of John Coulson at Armley on the 9th of
August 1910.You may find references to
an assistant called Wilkinson.This was
Warbrick, who had changed his name from Wilkinson in 1896.
James Billington of Farnworth near Bolton in Lancashire
Period on Home Office List - 1884-1901.
James Billington had a life long fascination with hanging and had
unsuccessfully applied for Marwood's post but managed to secure the Yorkshire
hangman's position. Like Henry Pierrepoint he was to found a dynasty of
hangmen. James ran a barber shop in Farnworth when
not engaged in executions. He executed 141 men and five women in England and Wales, at least
one man in Ireland
and three men in Scotland.
James' first execution was at Armley Gaol in Leeds
on the 26th of August 1884,
when he hanged Joseph Laycock, a Sheffield
hawker, for the murder of his wife and four children. Laycock
was to have said just before being hanged, "You will not hurt me?" to
which James Billington replied, "No, thaalnivver feel it, for thaal be out
of existence i' two minutes." This execution was judged to be successful
and he carried out a further seven hangings at Armley and one at York Castle
before succeeding Berry as the executioner for London and the Home Counties in
1892 and then effectively working nationwide.His first commission outside Yorkshire
was at Shepton Mallet on the
15th December 1891 where he hanged Henry Dainton
for the murder of his wife at Bath
James Billington hanged 24 men and three women at Newgate prison, including
Henry Fowler and Albert Milsom on the 9th of June 1896 for
beating to death 79 year old widower Henry Smith.
Perhaps his most interesting execution was that of the poisoner, Dr. Thomas
Neil Cream, on the 15th of
November 1892, again at Newgate. Cream waited till the very last moment as he felt the mechanism under the trap begin to
move, to utter the words, "I am Jack the...." It is highly unlikely
that Cream could have been Jack the Ripper but it certainly caused a stir at
He hanged Amelia Dyer at Newgate for the murder of four month old Doris Marmon,
a baby who had been entrusted to her care, having received £10 to look after
her. This particular form of murder was known as "Baby Farming"
and it is thought that Dyer had murdered at least six other babies for money.
Each baby had been strangled with white tape. As Mrs. Dyer said, that was how
you could tell it was one of hers. At 57, she was the oldest woman to go to the
gallows since 1843.
The last female hanging of the 19th century was that of Mary Ann Ansell at St. Albans prison on the 19th of July 1899.She was executed for the poisoning of her
James Billington conducted Britain’s
first hanging of the 20th century, that of 33 year old Louise Masset at Newgate on the 9th of January 1900 for the murder of her
illegitimate son. In all James Billington carried out 146 executions on England and Wales,
including five women.His last job was
at Strangeways prison in Manchester
on December 3rd, 1901
the hanging of Patrick M'Kenna, who was to die for
murdering his wife. James Billington died of severe bronchitis on the 13th of December 1901
and was succeeded by his two sons, William and John.
Thomas Billington (1872-1902).
Home Office List 1897-1901.
Thomas Billington was James Billington's eldest son and assisted his father at two hangings and his
brother William at three, before dying of pneumonia aged 29, on the 10th of January 1902.
Home Office List - 1899-1905.
The second of James Billington's three sons, William,
took over from his father and was assisted by his younger brother John. William
was to carry out 60 executions as principal in England
and Wales, his first job
being the hanging of Edward Bell at Lincoln
on the 25th of July 1899.He had
assisted at 15 executions.He also
travelled to Ireland
for eight executions between 1902 and 1905 and carried out two in Scotland.
William carried out Newgate’s last execution, that of George Woolfe on the
2nd of May 1902. He also dealt with Annie Walters and
Amelia Sach who were hanged at Holloway prison on
the 3rd of February 1903 for baby farming. These were the first executions at
the newly created female only Holloway prison.He executed Mrs. Emily
Swan and her boyfriend, John Gallagher, who died together at Armley prison Leeds on the
29th of December 1903 for the murder of Emily's husband. Hooded and
noosed on the gallows 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.John Ellis assisted at
this double hanging.
Assisted by Henry Pierrepoint, he also carried out the first hanging at
Pentonville on the 30th of
September 1902, when they executed John McDonald who had stabbed
one Mr. Henry Greaves to death. His last execution was also at Pentonville,
that of Charles Wade on the
13th of December 1904.
Office list issued in 1901, comprised James, Thomas and William Billington,
plus William Warbrick, Robert Wade, Henry Pierrepoint and John Ellis.
Home Office List - 1902-1905.
John was added to the Home Office's approved list of executioners in 1902. He
carried out 14 hangings as principal in England
having assisted William at 24 executions. His first execution as “No. 1” was at
Strangeways prison when he hanged Charles Whittaker on the 2nd of December 1903. He hanged
John Thomas Kay on the 17th
of August 1904 at Armley prison in Leeds, while his brother was
dealing with Samuel Holden at Winson Green prison in Birmingham on the same day.His final commission was at Armley for the
execution of Thomas Tattersall on the 15th of August 1905. He
died a few months later in October 1905.
Henry Albert Pierrepoint (1878-1922) from Bradford Yorkshire.
Home Office List - 1900-1910.
Henry Pierrepoint assisted at 35 hangings and carried out 70 executions
himself, 63 in England
four in Ireland,
two in Scotland
and one on Jersey during his nine year term of
office. He took great pride in his work and calculated the drops most carefully
- he is said never to have had a single bungled hanging.
Henry’s first commission was at Newgate assisting James Billington, at the
execution of Marcel Fougeron on the 19th of November
1901. Between January 1902 and March 1903 he assisted at a further 15 hangings
and is thought to have carried out some of them as principal. The first lead
role was to be the hanging of Richard Wigley at Shrewsbury on Tuesday the 18th of March 1902.
Wigley had murdered his girlfriend. He was judged a
“success” at this execution..
Henry, assisted by his brother Tom, hanged Rhoda Willis at Cardiff on the 14th of August 1907.
She was executed on her 44th birthday for the murder of a day old baby whom she
had agreed to look after for £6.00 paid to her by its unmarried mother. She was
thus, in effect, another baby farmer. Her good looks and golden hair made a big
impression on Henry.
Like James Billington, Henry Pierrepoint was the founder of a family dynasty,
persuading his older brother Tom and son Albert to follow in his footsteps.
Files recently released by the Public Record Office show that Henry Pierrepoint
was sacked because he arrived for the execution Frederick Foreman in Chelmsford on the 17th of July 1910
"considerably the worse for drink" and had got into a fight with John
Ellis, his assistant, on the preceding afternoon.
John Ellis of RochdaleLancashire (1874-1932).
Home Office List - 1901-1923.
John Ellis was a notably mild mannered man who ultimately committed suicide
possibly through the stresses incurred by his job as hangman and possibly
through the effects of the slump on his business as a barber. He had a
particular dislike of hanging women for reasons that will become apparent.
assisted at 42 executions, his first time being at Newcastle on the 7th of
December 1901, helping William Billington at the hanging of John Miller. Ellis
executed 134 people as principal in England and Wales plus 11
and three more in Ireland
between 1906 and 1923, including several notable criminals.
Dr Hawley Harvey Crippen is perhaps the most famous criminal to come Ellis's
way. He was hanged on the
23rd of November 1910 at Pentonville prison for the murder of his
wife, Cora Crippen. Crippen was the first person to be caught by the use of the
new wireless telegraph system allowing him to be arrested aboard the S. S.
Montrose on which he had sailed to Quebec
with his lover, Ethel Le Neve. At the time, it was
seen as the "Crime of the Century" and has held a fascination for
many ever since.
George Smith was the famous "Brides in the Bath" murderer whom Ellis hanged on the 13th of August 1915 at Maidstone prison. Smith had married and then drowned
Alice Burnham, Beatrice Constance, Annie Mundy and Margaret Elizabeth Lofty for
financial gain, via their life insurance policies and wills.
Sir Roger Casement was unusual in that he had been convicted of treason, having
tried to get the Germans to send arms and equipment to Ireland to
start the 1916 Easter Uprising. He was hanged at Pentonville on the 3rd of August 1916.
Herbert Rowse Armstrong was hanged on the 31st of May 1922 at Gloucester prison for the
murder, by arsenic poisoning, of his wife. There is some doubt now over
Armstrong's guilt and new evidence has been unearthed by another, present day
solicitor, who acquired Armstrong's practice in Hay on Wye and works in his old
office and even bought his house.
On the 9th of January 1923, Ellis had the worst job of his career when,
assisted by Robert Baxter, he hanged Edith Jessie Thompson
at Holloway for her part in the murder of her husband, Percy, who was stabbed
to death by Frederick Bywaters. (see below). She had
to be carried to the gallows and it was reported that her underwear was covered
in blood after the hanging. After this, all other women were made to wear
Ellis and Baxter also hanged Susan Newell at Duke Street prison Glasgow on the 10th of October 1923.Thirty year old Newell had strangled
newspaper boy, John Johnston, who would not give her an evening paper without
the money. She was the first woman to hang in Scotland for over 50 years and on
the gallows refused the traditional white hood. John Ellis carried out his
final execution on the 28th
of December 1923, when he hanged John Eastwood at Armley prison in Leeds, for the murder of his wife. In March of 1924, he
tended his resignation due to poor health, having executed a total of 203
people. Before his suicide on the
20th of September 1932, Ellis wrote his memoirs "Diary of a
Hangman" which has been recently reprinted.
William Willis from Manchester. (c1876-1939).
Home Office List 1906-1926.
Willis had assisted at 75 executions, helping Ellis, Henry and Tom Pierrepoint
and Robert Baxter, before undertaking 12 as “No. 1” including a series of six
Strangeways prison between 1924 and 1926 and two in Northern Ireland in 1923 and 1924.
While Ellis was hanging Edith Thompson, Willis was doing the same to Frederick
Edward Bywaters at Pentonville Prison.
Willis was sacked in 1926 after he was seen to be drunk and aggressive at the
hanging of Johannes Mommers at Pentonville on the 27th of July 1926.
Home Office list had Thomas Pierrepoint and Robert Baxter as hangmen and Robert
Wilson, Thomas Phillips, Henry Pollard, Lionel Mann and Alfred Allen as
Thomas Pierrepoint (1870 -
1954) from Sutton Bonnington, Notts.
Home Office List - 1906-1946.
Tomas was six years older than his brother Henry and worked as a hangman for 40
years before retiring in 1946, in his mid seventies. Thomas assisted at 35
executions and carried out 203 civilian hangings in England and Wales and four
in Scotland.Thomas was the official executioner for IrishRepublic
after it gained independence from England
in 1923 and carried out 28 executions at Dublin’s
Mountjoy prison between 1921 and 1944, plus four in Belfast.
He was also appointed by the US Military in Europe, being responsible for the
hangings of 16 US
servicemen at Shepton
Mallet prison during World War II, assisted by his nephew, Albert in at
least six of the hangings at Shepton Mallet. He was flown over to Normandy in France
in August 1944 to hang a US
serviceman, who had been convicted of rape.
Some of Thomas’ famous cases were :
Alfred Arthur Rouse, hanged on the 10th of March 1930 at Bedford prison for the murder of an unknown
man. Rouse had killed the man and then put him in his (Rouse's) car and set it
ablaze in an attempt to fake his own death for the insurance money. Ethel Lillie Major
hanged on the 19th of
December 1934 at Hull Prison for the murder of her husband. Nurse Dorothea
Waddingham, who was hanged on the 16th of April 1936 at Winson Green prison in Birmingham for poisoning
two vulnerable women patients in her nursing home.
In the same year he also hanged Buck Ruxton at
Strangeways on the 12th of May, who had murdered his wife and maid and Charlotte Bryant, who
went to the gallows at Exeter
on the 15th of July for the murder of her husband by arsenic poisoning.Tom Pierrepoint died on the 10th of February 1954 in Bradford.
Robert Wilson from Manchester.
Home Office List - 1920-1936.
Robert Wilson assisted at 38 executions in England and Wales.
Robert Orridge Baxter of
Hertford (1877 - 1961).
Home Office List - 1915-1935.
Robert Baxter carried out 41 executions as principal and assisted at 39 in England and Wales plus
three in Scotland
Baxter’s first execution as principal, assisted by Willis and Thomas Phillips,
was that of Jean-Pierre Vaquier at Wandsworth prison
on the 12th of August 1924 for the poisoning, by strychnine, of his lover's
husband.Most of Baxter’s work came from
Pentonville and Wandsworth, plus the odd trip to Maidstone
(1), Ipswich (1), Norwich (1), Cardiff (4) and Swansea (1). He undertook 24 consecutive
executions at Pentonville and nine at Wandsworth between 1924 and 1935.
He also hanged Frederick Guy Browne on the 31st of May 1928 at Pentonville prison for his part in
P.C. Gutteridge's murder. At
the same moment his co-defendant, William Henry Kennedy was being hanged at
Wandsworth by Thomas Pierrepoint.Due to
being blind in his left eye, an unfortunate mishap occurred at Swansea on the 11th of December 1928, at the
execution of Trevor Edwards.Baxter
failed to see that his assistant, Alfred Allen had not got clear of the drop,
before he pulled the lever, Allen plummeting down with Edwards, although unlike
him, surviving the experience.Baxter’s
last execution was that of Alan Grierson at
Pentonville on the 30th of
Alfred Allen - from Wolverhampton
(c1888 - 1938).
Home Office List 1928-1937.
Allen assisted at 14 hangings and acted as executioner at three more between
1932 and 1937.In the last two cases,
Frederick Field at Wandsworth on the 30th of June 1936 and Frederick Murphy at
Pentonville on the 17th of August 1937, the spinal cord was not crushed or
severed, due to Allen effectively botching the execution by putting the noose
on with the eyelet facing towards the back of the neck.He was removed from the list on the 24th of
Thomas Mather Phillips from Farnworth near Bolton (1889 - 1941).
Home Office List 1918-1941.
Phillips worked as chief executioner on two occasions in 1939 and 1940, having
previously assisted at 39 hangings, including that of Edith Thompson at
Holloway. He died on the
27th of March 1941.
Stanley William Cross -
from Fulham in London.
Home Office List 1932-1941.
Cross assisted at least 12 executions and acted as chief executioner on four
occasions. His first and most memorable execution was the hanging of Udam Singh at Pentonville on Wednesday the 31st of July 1940. Singh, a Sikh
extremist, was condemned for the murder of Sir Michael O’Dwyer.
Cross was also responsible for the executions of two German spies, Jose Waldeburg and Carl Meier, at Pentonville on the 10th of
December, 1940 and Charles Albert Van DerKieboom on the 17th of December 1940.His last job was assisting Thomas Pierrepoint
at Winson Green on the 19th
of September 1941 with the execution of Eli Richards.
Office list of 1938 contained the names of seven men who were "competent
to carry out the duties". They were apparently ordinary, stable married
men who worked in normal occupations.Reliability and stability were seen as the key issues. Any form of
misbehaviour or poor performance would result in the person being removed from
Pierrepoint from Clayton Nr. Bradford Yorkshire
Home Office List 1932-1956.
Albert Pierrepoint was by far the most prolific hangman of the 20th century
having been assistant or principal at the hangings of an estimated 434 people
including 16 women in his 24 years of service in this country and abroad. His
tally of executions was greatly increased as a result of World War II, working
at Hameln (Hamelin) prison in the British controlled sector of Germany between
1945 and 1949 (201 executions, including 149 men and ten women who were
convicted of war crimes, 40 for civilian crimes plus two British soldiers
convicted of murder). The most notable of this series of executions was the
first batch which took place on the 13th of December 1945, when he hanged 13
prisoners at Hameln.
They were 11 members of staff from the Belsen
Concentration Camp, includingIrma Grese, Elizabeth Volkenrath
and Johanna Bormann,
Josef Kramer, the "Beast of Belsen" (the
Commandant of the Bergen-Belsen concentration
camp) and 7 other male staff.A further
two men convicted of the Almelo
murders of a British soldier and a Dutch civilian were the last pair to hang on
carried out 14 hangings in other countries, including Austria (eight
male hangings in Graz-Karlau prison), where he
trained Austrian hangmen to carry out other death sentences passed by British
Military Courts there.There were four
executions in Egypt of British servicemen, three in 1950 and the fourth in 1952,
plus two hangings in Gibraltar of war
criminals in 1944.
and Wales Albert assisted at 29 hangings and carried out 138 civilian
executions for murder as principal, including those of the last four
women to hang. He carried out nine hangings in Scotland between 1948 and
1954.As assistant or principal Albert
was to execute 14 men convicted of espionage, treachery and treason during and
immediately after World War II. These included John Amery, who told Albert that
he had always wanted to meet him, as he was about to be led to the gallows at
Wandsworth on the 19th December 1945 and Nazi propagandist "Lord
Haw-Haw," real name William Joyce, at Wandsworth for treason on the 3rd of
January 1946. Theodore Schurch was the last person to
be executed for treachery in Britain when Albert hanged him at Pentonville on
the 4th of January, 1946..
experience of the family “trade” was assisting his uncle
Tom in the hanging of Patrick McDermott at Mountjoy Prison in Dublin on the 29th of December 1932. His first job as an
assistant in England
was again with his uncle, at the execution of Richard Hetherington at Liverpool’s Walton prison on the 20th of June 1933.
Albert is credited with the quickest hanging on record when he, assisted by Sid
Dernley, executed James Inglis in only 7
seconds on the 8th of May 1951 at Strangeways in Manchester. His first
execution as "Number 1" was that of gangster, Antonio
"Babe" Mancini, at Pentonville Prison on the 17th of October 1941. Albert took over
from his uncle as the hangman for the IrishRepublic
and carried out the last four executions there, up to 1954, when Michael
Manning became the last person to be executed in Eire.
his notable executions were :
Neville George Clevelly Heath who was hanged on the 16th of October 1946
at Pentonville Prison for the sexual/sadistic murder of Margery Gardner who was
found dead in a hotel bedroom. When discovered, she was lying on her back in
one of the single beds nearest to the door. She was naked and had her ankles
bound with a handkerchief. She had a lot of bruising to her face and her
nipples had been almost bitten off. Something had been inserted into her vagina
and sharply rotated. On her back were 17 criss-cross lash marks. The cause of
death had been suffocation, but only after the horrific injuries had been
During World War II, Albert assisted his uncle Tom in
the hanging at least six of the 16 American soldiers at Shepton Mallet
military prison in Somerset.They had been condemned by Courts Martial for
murder and/or rape.
John George Haigh, the famous "Acid bath murderer," came his way on
the 10th of August 1949 at Wandsworth prison for the murder of Mrs. Olive
Durand-Deacon. Her gallstone and dentures were not dissolved by the acid in
which he had dissolved the rest of her body and remained to convict Haigh. She
was one of Haigh’s six victims.
Derek Bentley was
hanged on the 28th of
January 1953, at Wandsworth, for his part in the murder of PC
Miles. The case has been the subject of books and the film "Let him have
Another controversial case was that of Timothy John Evans whom Albert hanged on
the 9th of March 1950
at Pentonville for
the murder of his wife at 10 Rillington Place, the home of
John Reginald Christie. Christie admitted killing seven women in total. He was
hanged on the 15th of July
1953 at Pentonville Prison. In 1966, Evans was granted a posthumous
pardon. On Tuesday
the 28th of November 1950 Albert hanged James Corbitt
at Strangeways in Manchester
for the murder of his girlfriend. Corbitt had been a
regular at Albert’s pub and they had sang together on
a Saturday night. The had nicknamed each other “Tish” and “Tosh”.Allegedly it was only when Albert went to look at the prisoner on the
Monday night he realised who he was about to hang.They greeted each other with their nicknames
the following morning.
On the 13th of July 1955
at Holloway Prison, Ruth
Ellis became the last woman to be hanged in Britain. Albert’s last execution
was that of 25 year old Norman Green at Liverpool’s
Walton prison on Wednesday
the 27th of July 1955. Green had stabbed two children to
death in separate murders in 1954 and 1955. There were only three more
executions in 1955 and none in 1956.All
other condemned prisoners were reprieved during this period whilst Parliament
debated the subject and came up with the Homicide Act of 1957.
Pierrepoint resigned over a disagreement about fees in 1956. He had driven to
Strangeways on a bitterly cold day in January 1956 to hang Thomas Bancroft. He
arrived at the prison only for Bancroft to be reprieved later in the afternoon.
He claimed the full fee of £15, (more than £200 at today's prices), but was
offered just £1 in out of pocket expenses by the Under
sheriff of Lancashire. Pierrepoint appealed to
his employers, the Prison Commission, who refused to get involved. The Under
sheriff sent him a cheque for £4 in final settlement. But to Albert this was a
huge insult to his pride in his position as Britain's Chief Executioner so he
tendered his resignation. Albert died in a nursing home in Southport,
Lancashire, on the 10th of July 1992 at the age of 87.
His autobiography, "Executioner - Pierrepoint" is still available.
Harry Kirk from Huntingdon (1893 - 1967).
Home Office List - 1941-1950.
Henry Kirk, who was always known as Harry, including on LPC4 forms, had worked
as an assistant to Stanley Cross, Tom and Albert Pierrepoint on 35 occasions.
He had a very short career as a hangman. When he executed Norman Goldthorpe at Norwich on
the 22nd of November 1950 for the murder of 66 year old Emma Howe at Yarmouth, snorting sounds
were heard coming from the prisoner. This was apparently due to the hood
jamming in the eyelet of the noose. This was thus Kirk's first and last hanging
Stephen Wade from Doncaster
(1887 - 1956).
Home Office List - 1940-1955.
Steve Wade was another man who always wanted to be an executioner having first
applied when he came out of the army at the end of World War I in 1918, then
aged 21.His application was rejected
due to his age, but he kept trying and finally made it onto the list in
1940.His first job was assisting Thomas
Pierrepoint with the hanging of George Armstrong at Wandsworth on the 9th of
July 1941.After the war he worked for a
coach dealership in Doncaster.Having assisted both Tom and Albert
Pierrepoint he was finally allowed to be the No. 1 at the execution of Arthur
Charles at Durham
on the 26th of March 1946.He was
generally selected by the Sheriff of Yorkshire for hangings at Armley prison Leeds from 1947 on.In his autobiography, Albert Pierrepoint, spoke highly of Steve Wade and
always found him reliable. Steve Wade also worked as an assistant to both Tom
and Albert Pierrepoint on 18 occasions and carried out 29 executions in his own
right, including two after Albert Pierrepoint’s
resignation, those of Corbett Roberts at Birmingham on the 2nd of August 1955
and Ernest Harding at Birmingham on the 9th of August 1955. His last job,
assisted by Robert Leslie Stewart, was the execution of Alec Wilkinson on the 12th of August 1955 at
Armley jail. Steve resigned due to failing health in late 1955 and died on the
22nd of December of the following year, aged 69. In all he had carried out 29
hangings as principal, including one double at Durham on the 13th of December 1949 and assisted
at 19 others during the period 1941-1955.
Harry Bernard Allen from Manchester (1911-1992).
Home Office List - 1941-1964.
Harry Bernard Allen was born on the 5th of November 1911 at Denaby
in Yorkshire, but brought up in Ashton under Lyne in Lancashire.He got his first job as an assistant at
Strangeways in February 1941, under Tom Pierrepoint, for the hanging of
Clifford Holmes, having been second assistant (i.e. observer) at the hanging of
William Cooper at Bedford
prison in November 1940.Harry and Steve
Wade assisted Albert Pierrepoint at the execution of five German prisoners of
war at Pentonville on the
6th of October 1945.Harry
Allen always wore a black bow tie at executions and two of these were sold in
November 2008 along with other items, including his diary for £17,200.Like Albert, Harry Allen was also a publican,
keeping a pub called the Rope and Anchor in Farnworth
on the outskirts of Bolton.He later took over the Junction Hotel at
Whitefield in Manchester.
Albert Pierrepoint’s resignation, Steve Wade and
Harry Allen took over as joint No. 1. However, executions were becoming fewer
and fewer in the run up to and as a result of the Homicide Act of 1957 (There
were none at all in 1956). Allen assisted at 53 executions, (40 with Albert
Pierrepoint) and carried out 29 executions as principal (21 in England and Wales). John Vickers
became the first man to die for a murder committed under the provisions of the
new Homicide Act of 1957 when he was hanged by Allen at Durham on the 23rd of July 1957.
Allen hanged George Riley on the
9th of February 1961 at Shrewsbury Prison for the murder of his
neighbour, Adeline Mary Smith.
In 1959 he performed the last execution on the Channel Islands,
that of Francis Joseph Huchet at the Newgate Street
prison in St. Hellier, Jersey.
On 20 December 1961 Allen was to carry out the last execution in Northern Ireland when he hanged Robert McGladdery
in Belfast.He also carried out Scotland’s last three hangings, the final one
being that of Henry
John Burnett at Craiginches prison in Aberdeen on the 15th of August 1963.
Perhaps his most controversial case was that of James Hanratty, who
was convicted of the A6 murder and hanged at Bedford prison on the 4th of April 1962. There have been serious
doubts raised over Hanratty's guilt and several
attempts to win him a pardon. In 2002, Hanratty's
family had their appeal turned down after DNA
evidence showed conclusively that Hanratty was guilty.
Allen's last job was the hanging of Gwynne Owen Evans at Strangeways Prison at on the 13th of August 1964, whilst his
accomplice, Peter Anthony Allen, was suffering the same fate at Walton. (See
below) Allen and
Evans were the last men to suffer the death penalty in Britain. Harry Allen died on the 14th of August 1992, at
Fleetwood in Lancashire, just a month after
A book on Harry Allen, entitled “Harry Allen Britain’s Last Hangman” is
available from the True Crime Library - go tohttp://www.truecrimelibrary.com/and then click on
the “Our Shop” tab.
Robert Leslie Stewart from Chadderton
Home Office List - 1950-1964.
Robert Leslie Stewart was born in Edinburgh and assisted Albert Pierrepoint and
Steve Wade in 20 executions between 1952 and 1959 before becoming a principal
himself in 1958, when he officiated at the execution of Vivian Frederick Teed,
the last man to be executed in Wales,
at Swansea on
the 6th of May of that year. He was to hang a further five men before abolition
and was on the final list of executioners issued by the Home Office in February
His first recorded job as an assistant (to Albert Pierrepoint) was at the
hanging of Alfred Bradley at Strangeways Prison, Manchester on the 15th of January 1952.
Stewart shared the distinction of carrying out one of the two last hangings in
Britain when he executed Peter Anthony Allen at Walton prison, Liverpool, at
8.00 a.m. on the 13th of August 1964 for his part in the murder of John Alan
West, a 53 year old laundryman who was killed during the course of a robbery
carried out by Allen and Evans. Stewart assisted Harry Allen at the last
hanging at Glasgow’s
Barlinnie Prison, that of 19 year old Anthony Joseph Miller on the 22nd of December 1960.
Miller had been convicted of the robbery murder of John Cremin
in a GlasgowPark.Stewart emigrated to South Africa and died there on the 1st of November 1989.
Click here for a
picture of some of Britain’s
Click here for
the most comprehensive list of Britain’s
hangmen from 1800 – 1964 and here for Ireland’s
normal at 20th century hangings for their to be an assistant executioner, but
on at least five occasions in the early part of the century no assistant was
employed and in 19 cases the name of the assistant, if one was used, has not
been traced. From 1892, an assistant could be employed under Home Office rules,
although they were not generally used until 1900. The assistant had four roles
to play. One was to assist in setting up and testing the drop, the second
was to strap the prisoner’s legs on the gallows, the
third was to assist in taking down the body and preparing it for inquest.
Finally he had to able to take over in case the hangman fainted or became
otherwise ill at the last moment.
In addition to those listed above who carried executions themselves, having
been previously trained by being assistants, there were a further 21 men who
only were ever assistants and never acted as principal, see below. Amongst the
better known of these was Syd Dernley, who assisted at 19 executions in England and Wales between
1950 and 1952 and also wrote a book called "The Hangman's Tale"
detailing his experiences. Dernley died in 1994. A less well known name is that
of Royston Lawrence Rickard, who assisted at 13 executions between 1953 and
1964, including those of Ruth Ellis and James Hanratty and also at one of the
two final British hangings, that of Peter Anthony Allen (see above). The assistant at the other execution on that day (that of Gwynne
Owen Evans) was Harry Robinson.
list of executioners and assistants issued in February 1964, comprised Robert
Leslie Stewart and Harry Allen as principals with Royston Rickard, Harry
Robinson, Samuel Plant and JohnUnderhill as assistants.
List of 20th century executioners and assistants with number of
executions in England and Wales.