The Surrey County Gaol or New Gaol, as it was known, was built by George Gwilt as the main prison for the county of Surrey, between
1791 and 1799 in Horsemonger Lane,
Southwark, in what is now south London. In those days, the county of Surrey extended
right up to the boundary with the City of London. It was to be one of the new “model prisons”
coming into vogue at this time. Due to
its location on Horsemonger Lane, the
prison was generally known as Horsemonger Lane Gaol. It was controlled by the
sheriff of the county of Surrey, the
court of quarter-sessions, and 12 visiting magistrates. Most of the inmate’s
trials took place in the nearby Sessions House, also built by George Gwilt a few years earlier.
Horsemonger Lane remained Surrey’s principal prison and its hanging jail up to closure in 1878 as it no longer met the
required standards, as laid down by the 1877 Prison
Act. As built, it
had three wings for criminals and a fourth for debtors, with a capacity of around
300 inmates. It remained a common gaol,
i.e. one that imprisoned debtors and criminals up to 1856, the last common gaol
in London. Demolition
started in 1880, with part of the site being converted into a children’s
playground in 1884 and was completed in 1892, with the old gatehouse being used
by the London County Council as a Weights and Measures office for a time. The
present Inner London Crown Court was opened on the site in January 1921.
general prisons, Horsemonger Lane had a large
number of people passing though its doors in any one year. It is recorded that
during the course of 1837, there were 1,193 male and 107 female debtors
incarcerated, together with 1,901 men and 605 women servings
sentences for ordinary crimes. The largest number of inmates at any one time
was 233 men and 62 women. The cost of all this was recorded as £3,316. 0
shillings and 2 pence for the year!
Executions at Horsemonger Lane.
Up to 1800, Surrey
executions had been carried out at Guildford, Kingston and on
Kennington Common using a cart to turn the condemned off from, prior to the
opening of Horsemonger Lane. Over
the 78 year period from 1800-1877, 131 people were hanged here, comprising of
127 men and four women. Of these, four men and one woman were executed in
private post 1868. 118 of the executions
took place between 1800 and 1836, after which there was a rapid decline in
executions nationwide. There was then a
ten year gap before the next hanging in 1846.
After 1836, only murder and attempted murder actually attracted the
death penalty and the late 1830’s and early 40’s saw very few executions
nationally. Just ten murderers were made to climb up to the gatehouse roof
between 1846 and 1867, in six single hangings and two double hangings. A new
long drop gallows was built in 1874, presumably in an execution shed as was the
fashion by then. It was transferred to
Wandsworth prison when Horsemonger Lane closed.
The first executions took place on Friday, the 4th of
April 1800, when five men were hanged by William Brunskill,
one each for coining, highway robbery and being at large and two for burglary.
A total of 12 men were executed on three occasions during 1800.
The gallows for public executions was of the “New
Drop” pattern erected on the flat roof of the main gatehouse in between the
four lanthorns or skylights. (Click here for a woodcut picture). The largest number hanged at one time being
seven, on two occasions, Monday, 21st of February 1803 and Monday, the 4th of April 1803.
The first of these executions was of Colonel Despard and his group for High
Treason. Despard and his co-conspirators had been arrested on the 16th of November 1802 at the
Oakley Arms pub in Lambeth by a large body of police. In all, some 40 people were arrested and they
all appeared before magistrates
at Union Hall police office the following day.
Their somewhat half baked conspiracy had been betrayed by one of the
group, Thomas Windsor, who was the chief witness at their trial.
Those convicted of high treason were Colonel Edward
Marcus Despard, 50, John Wood, 36, John Francis, 23, both privates in the army,
Thomas Broughton, 26, a
carpenter, James Sedgwick Wratton, 35, a shoemaker, Arthur
Graham, 53, a slater, John Macnamara, Thomas
Newman, Daniel Tyndale and William Lander. All were charged with three counts of High
Treason and tried before a Special Commission on Monday,
the 7th of February 1803, for conspiring to capture and kill the King and overthrow the
government. They had also planned to stop the mail coaches entering and leaving
London and take over the Tower. Admiral Lord Nelson appeared in Despard’s defence and gave him an excellent character
reference. However, all ten were found
guilty and were sentenced by Lord Ellenborough as
follows : “You (the
prisoners were named in turn) are to be taken from the place from whence you
came, and from thence you are to be drawn on hurdles to the place of execution,
where you are to be hanged by the neck, but not until you are dead; for while
you are still living your bodies are to be taken down, your bowels torn out and
burned before your faces) your heads then cut off, and your bodies divided each
into four quarters, and your heads and quarters to be then at the King's
disposal ; and may the Almighty God have mercy on your souls!" Newman, Tyndale and Lander were respited and the remaining seven
As happened with the Cato Street
conspirators, 17 years later, the full rigours of their sentence were reduced
to hanging until dead followed by decapitation.
The death warrants were read to the men on the Sunday evening, (20th of
February 1803) and the execution took place on the Monday morning. A block and bags of sawdust had been placed
upon the gaol roof beside the gallows.
At 7.00 a.m., the men were brought out of their cells and had their iron
fetters removed and replaced with rope bindings. They were placed on hurdles and pulled round
the yard by horses in a procession led by the sheriff, Sir R. Ford, accompanied by the
chaplain, Mr. Winkworth, and Mr Griffith, a Catholic
priest. (Despard was Catholic). They were then taken back into the prison and
up to the roof where Despard addressed the huge crowd from the gallows
proclaiming his innocence, his fellow prisoners remaining silent. Brunskill prepared each of the men and at the signal from
the Sheriff, the drop fell at 8.53 a.m.
They were left hanging for half an hour before being taken down and
having their heads cut off by a masked man.
Despard was the first to be decapitated.
The severed heads were held aloft by the hangman with the cry of,
“Behold the head of a traitor.” Despard was buried near the north
door of St Paul's Cathedral and the other 6 buried in one grave at a chapel, in
London Road, St George's Fields.
April the 8th of 1806 saw the executions of a married
couple, Sarah and Benjamin Herring who had been convicted of the high treason
offence of coining and Richard Patch who had been convicted of the murder of
Isaac Blight. Once again a husband and
wife being hanged bought out the crowds.
morning of Tuesday, the 4th of April 1809, Brunskill
had a quadruple hanging to perform. The
prisoners were James Bartlett, who had been convicted of sodomy, highway robber
Henry Edwards and John Biggs and Samuel Wood who were to hang for burglary. A large
crowd had assembled to watch the execution and it is reported that “the
unfortunate men met their fate with great fortitude and died acknowledging the
justice of their punishment.” Biggs sarcastically observed to Brunskill, when he was pinioning him in the usual way,
"I wish you had a better office."
Valentine Thomas was hanged by William Brunskill on Monday,
the 3rd of September 1810 for forging and uttering a cheque for the sum of £400 & 8 shillings
on Messrs Smith, Paine and Smyth in London, purporting to be drawn by Messrs Diffell and Son.
This was a huge sum in its day and Thomas had the cheque cashed into
large denomination notes, most of which were discovered and traced back to
him. Uttering and forgery were both
offences which regularly resulted in execution at this time and were not
de-capitalised until 1836.
Horsemonger Lane seemed to get it share of traitors. On the 16th of March
Smith and William Cundel were to die for treason
having been convicted of serving with the French during the Napoleonic Wars
having been taken prisoner by them. In
accordance with the law they had been sentenced to be hanged drawn and quartered
but again the disembowelling and quartering were remitted.
George Chennel jnr.
and Willian Chalcraft were
imprisoned in Horsemonger Lane,
awaiting their trial and subsequent execution for the murder of Chennel’s father George snr. As was not unusual at this time, in the case
of particularly heinous murder the trial judge ordered that they were hanged at
or as near as possible to where the crime took place which was at Godalming in Surrey. The execution was carried out on Friday the 14th of August 1818.
At around 9.00 a.m. on Monday, the 23rd of April 1827,
Daniel Buckley and Jeremiah Andrews, both of whom had been convicted at the
Surrey Assizes of the high treason offence of coining, were hanged by Thomas
Foxen. Prior to the execution, they were
drawn across the yard on a hurdle with Foxen standing behind them with a drawn
sword, to the foot of the staircase leading to the roof and then brought up
onto it for their brief walk to the gallows.
William Banks, a career criminal, was executed on the 11th of January 1830 for the
crime of housebreaking, still a capital crime at this period. Banks had been a member of the "Moulsey
Gang" who were betrayed by a fellow criminal in July 1829 to save himself
from a sentence of transportation for life. Banks had been convicted at the
Surrey Assizes of breaking into the house of the Reverend William Warrington at
Grove Cottage, West Moulsey, in Surrey, on the night
of Wednesday, the 19th of November 1828.
One of the
best known cases at Horsemonger Lane was that of Maria and Frederick
Manning who were hanged there on the morning of Tuesday,
the 13th of November 1849. This led to angry outbursts in
the Times newspaper from Charles Dickens deploring the behaviour of the crowd
at public executions and helped lead to the abolition of public hanging. Click here for the full details of this famous case.
William Godfrey Youngman was hanged by William Calcraft on Tuesday, the 4th of September
1860 for the murder of his girlfriend, Mary Streeter, in Walwoth
Road, London for her life insurance.
Youngman greeted Calcraft and asked him to “strap my legs tight and be
sure to shake hands with me before I go.”
Calcraft did as requested.
A public execution was witnessed by a Mr. Shephard Taylor on the 12th of January 1864, who recorded
the event as follows:
“Saw Samuel Wright hanged on the roof of Horsemonger
Lane Jail for the murder of a paramour. This man, a bricklayer, three years ago
found and returned to me a silver watch which I had lost at a fete. It was a remarkable case in the fact that the
murder, the coroner's inquest, the magisterial investigation, the trial, and
sentence all took place in a week.”
“The general public
and all the newspapers without exception advocated clemency on the part of the
Crown, but the Home Secretary was inexorable. The blinds were down in all the
neighbouring streets and the military were called out in case of an attempted
rescue. When the unfortunate man appeared on the scaffold, loud cries of “Take
him, take him down” were heard in every direction, to which the unhappy man
responded by repeated bows to the multitude, he still continued bowing and was
actually bowing when the drop fell.”
The last public
execution here was that of Louis Bordier on the 15th of October 1867. He was hanged by William Calcraft for the
murder of Mary Ann Snow at Walworth.
Margaret Waters became the first to die in
private at Horsemonger Lane. She was
a baby farmer who took in the babies of unmarried mothers for a fee and then
killed them. She was convicted of the
murder of John Cowan but is thought to have murdered between 16 and 19 babies in the Brixton area. Her case filled the papers in the summer of 1870 with graphic descriptions
of how she had poisoned babies, wrapped their bodies in old rags and newspapers
and dumped them on deserted streets. When she was arrested, nine babies in very
poor health were discovered at her home and taken to the Lambeth Workhouse, the
majority of them died soon afterwards.
She was tried at the Surrey Assizes on the one count of murder and
hanged by William Calcraft on the 11th of October 1870.
The last two executions both took place in
1877. The first was that of 23 year old Isaac Marks, a Jewish antiques
dealer on the 2nd of January. Marks had
been convicted of shooting Frederick Bernard on the afternoon of the 24th of
October 1876, outside a shop in Lambeth. Marks had been engaged to Caroline
Bernard, Frederick’s daughter. Mark’s
house burnt down in 1876 and his prospective father-in-law offered to help him
sort out the insurance claim. Having
done so, he presented Marks with the bill for his services which led to a major
row. Marks laid in wait for Bernard and killed him coming out of the shop. A defence of insanity was mounted but the
jury refused to accept it and so young Mr. Marks got his date with William
eight year old Caleb Smith murdered his common-law wife, Emma Elizabeth Osbourne, at their home in Croydon on the 14th of April
1877. He and Emma had one of their
regular drunken quarrels during which she slapped him across the face. In a
rage, he pulled out his razor and cut her throat before turning the blade on
himself in an unsuccessful suicide attempt. He was tried for murder at the
Central Criminal Court (Old Bailey) on the 24th of July, and offered a plea of
guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of provocation. The jury did not accept
this and found him guilty of murder, thus he was sentenced to hang. He was executed
in private by William Marwood on the 14th of August 1877 in the execution shed
at Horsemonger Lane, becoming the last person to be hanged there. After this, Surrey executions took place at the newly
opened Wandsworth prison.
Executioners at Horsemonger Lane.
William Brunskill carried
out all of the first 68 hangings here up to April 1814. He was succeeded by John Langley for the next
six up to April 1817 and then by Jeremy Botting with six until 1819. Thomas Foxen carried out the next 21 up to
January 1829, before being replaced by William Calcraft who carried out the 25
public hangings and the first private one - baby farmer, Margaret Waters. William Marwood officiated at the last four
October 1874 and August 1877.
book on Surrey Executions.
A complete history of Surrey
executions from 1800 to 1899 is available. “Surrey Executions” written and
researched by Martin Baggoley and published by Amberley Publishing in 2011. Price £12.99. Orders placed online at www.amberley-books.com will be
subject to a 10% discount on the cover price. Packaging and postage is free for
This is an interesting and well written
book with a lot more details on individual cases than I have space for on this
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