Shrewsbury prison.


With special thanks to Nick Short for providing many of the photographs.


A new county gaol for Shropshire was built by Thomas Telford, the County Surveyor for Shropshire, between 1787 and 1793 to the design of architect John Hiram Haycock, at a cost of £30,000.  A period painting of the prison is here. The main buildings are principally three and four storey brick structures.  (See photo).  It opened in 1793 with 204 cells, 179 for males and 25 for females, plus a debtors ward and an infirmary.  Here is the original building plan.  The governor’s house was two storey building just inside the main gate which later became the execution rooms.  There was an imposing stone gatehouse, in the centre of which was a large bust of prison reformer John Howard, who had been involved in design improvements.  Photo here.  The prison stood on the Dana and Howard Street and was known locally as “The Dana”.

In 1877 the control of all county gaols, including Shrewsbury, was transferred from the Quarter Sessions to the Home Office.  As a result the interior of the prison was modernised.  One of the few original features of the earlier 18th century building surviving today is the gatehouse.  In later years as H. M. Prison Shrewsbury, it had become a Category B/C men's facility until closure in March 2013.

In all 71 men and two women were hanged here between 1795 and 1961 (see list below).


The five 18th century executions at Shrewsbury.

The first execution at the new gaol took place on Saturday, the 15th of August 1795, when John Smith, aged 25, was hanged for stealing 10 cotton handkerchiefs in the shop of John Miner in the parish of Whitchurch on the 27th of March of that year.

Edward Quilt for theft and John Hill for being at large in the Kingdom (returning from transportation) were executed together on Saturday the 26th of March 1796.
Thomas Micklewright was hanged on Saturday, the 8th of April 1797, for cattle stealing and Adam Humphreys on Saturday, the 7th of April 1798, for arson.


19th century executions at Shrewsbury.

58 men and two women were executed here in the 19th century.  The first of these women was Sarah Jones, a single woman aged 27, who was hanged on Thursday, the 11th of August 1803, having been found guilty of the murder of her “female bastard”, who was born on the 19th of February 1803 and which “she threw into an Iron Stone Pit, 10 yards deep, in the Hill Top Field in the parish of Benthall” on the 18th of May 1803.  This was the first execution for murder at Shrewsbury.


Between 1800 and 1812, 15 men were hanged for what we would now consider relatively minor crimes, such as sheep and horse theft, burglary and highway robbery (street mugging).  On the 24th of August 1811, five men were hanged together for a burglary at the premises of a Mr. Norcross at Betton. This was Shrewsbury’s largest execution in a single day and was carried out on a gallows set up in front of the Gaol.


The next hanging for murder was that of John Griffiths on Monday the 23rd of March 1812.  Griffiths had been convicted of the murder of Mr. William Bailey at Ketley, near Wellington on the 31st of January 1812.  It appears that Griffiths was trying to borrow money from Mr. Bailey and when he did not get what he wanted battered him to death with an adze, a woodworking tool similar to a pickaxe.  A lot of blood was found in Griffiths’ house where the killing had taken place, together with a blood stained shirt with Mr. Bailey’s initials on it.  Griffiths was tried at Shrewsbury on Friday the 20th of March and upon being found guilty was sentenced to be hanged and then dissected.  The following year Rowland Preston shared his fate having been convicted of the murder of Francis Bruce and his servant Ann Taylor at Longford.


On the 9th of April 1814 William Wheeler was hanged for sodomising 6 year old Ann Vandrell.  Strangely this case was not considered newsworthy.


Thomas Jesson was executed on the 27th of March 1815 for the murder of his step daughter, Mary Birch, in the parish of Halesowen, by picking the little girl up by the legs and smashing her head against the floor.


The other woman to hang at Shrewsbury was 50 year old Ann Harris, as an accessory to the murder of James Harrison at Drayton.  She was executed on the 16th of August 1828.  John Cox and James Pugh who had actually committed this murder were hanged on Monday the 4th of August 1828 as required by the Murder Act of 1751.  With them on the gallows was William Stephenson who had been convicted at the same Assize of the murder of John Horton.


On Saturday the 31st of March 1832, 32 year old James Lea and 20 year old Joseph Grindley were hanged in front of the prison for arson, probably by Samuel Burrows, Chester’s hangman.  They had been convicted of setting fire to haystacks at Whitchurch, the property of a Mr. Nunnerly.


At noon on Saturday the 13th of August 1836, England’s last hangings for robbery took place here when 21 year old Lawrence Curtis, 30 year old Patrick Donelly and 42 year old Edward Donelly, all from Ireland, were hanged atop the gatehouse of the prison.  The trio had robbed a Mr. Woodward and a Mr. Urwick at Burlton, near Shrewsbury.  The hanging reportedly drew an “unprecedented crowd”.  Both prior to execution and on the gallows the men also confessed to other robberies.  The hangman was Samuel Burrows.  Soon after this robbery ceased to be a capital crime.


John Williams was hanged at noon on Saturday the 2nd of April 1842.  The 24 year old was to suffer for the robbery and murder of Emma Evans at Chirk.  According to his published confession, he, with an accomplice named Williams, had gone to Emma’s house with the intention of stealing her purse.  He knocked on her door and asked her for tobacco.  She went to fetch him some and as she turned away from him he hit her over the head twice and then cut her throat.

He was hanged by William Calcraft and reportedly died without a struggle.


27 year old John Lloyd was hanged on Friday the 4th of April 1854, by George Smith from Dudley, for the murder of blacksmith John Gittins at Nesscliffe on the 28th of February 1854.  Lloyd had lodged with Gittins’ but had been evicted by John for being over familiar with his wife.  Lloyd shot John Gittins through the kitchen window in revenge for this.  He made a full confession to the Chaplain and reportedly died without a struggle.


30-year-old Edward Cooper was executed on the 11th of April, 1863 for the murder of his son at Baschurch. This hanging reportedly drew a huge crowd.  George Smith officiated at this execution.


Shrewsbury’s last public hanging was that of 35 year old John Mapp (drawing of Mapp) for the murder of ten year old Catherine Lewis at Longdon, near Shrewsbury.  It is unclear from contemporary newspaper reports whether the motive was sexual, but it seems that Catherine refused Mapp’s advances and when she did so a second time he cut her throat and hid the body under a hedge.  Mapp was an obvious suspect for the killing of Catherine as he had previously been convicted and sentenced to transportation for the rape of a 60 year old woman in 1859.  He was tried on the 23rd of March at Shrewsbury Assizes before Sir Fitzroy Kelly.  The jury had little trouble in reaching their verdict.  In the condemned cell he maintained his innocence but on the eve of his execution made a full confession.  He was hanged by William Calcraft at 8.00 a.m. on Thursday the 9th of April 1868, in what would be England and Wales’ pre-penultimate public execution.  An estimated 5,000 witnessed the spectacle carried out on the gatehouse roof.  Calcraft made the usual preparations but just as the drop fell, Mapp turned his head and displaced the noose so that the eyelet was under his chin.  He reportedly struggled hard for about 30 seconds.  Here is a broadside on the case and here is a superb painting of the scene, by Steve Abbott, which he kindly gave me permission to use.  It sums up the spectacle perfectly.


An execution shed is constructed.

After the ending of public hanging an execution shed was constructed in an alcove against the back wall of the prison, as shown here.  Most county prisons had execution sheds built around this time.

In the period 1869 to 1899 just two men would hang at Shrewsbury.  They were William Samuels on Monday the 27th of July 1886 who had been convicted of poisoning William Mabbotts with strychnine at Welshpool.

William Arrowsmith, was executed on Wednesday the 28th of March 1888 for the murder of his 80 year old uncle, George Pikerill, whom he had battered to death for financial gain at Prees Lower Heath on the 11th of November 1887.  In both cases James Berry was the executioner.


A new condemned suite.

At some point in the early 20th century a new condemned cell and execution suite was constructed at the far end of what had been the women’s wing.  The entrance to the condemned cell can be seen here.  The exterior and entrance to the condemned cell from the yard is here.  The execution suite was converted from the original governor’s house and is the two story building shown here and here, which is just to the right of the main gate.  The upper two windows are the gallows room the lower windows are the drop room and the last window on the right is the autopsy room.  The marble autopsy table was destroyed when it was being removed.  Note the unusually large windows, left over from its former role.  The condemned cell is in the three story building behind it and an access was created by turning the last cell on the left into a lobby to join what had originally been two separate buildings.  The gallows room is much larger than usual and the big windows were fitted with shutters.  This facility remained in use until the last hanging in 1961.  The white safety line around where the trap doors had been can still be discerned. See photo.


20th century executions at Shrewsbury.

It is interesting that all eight cases involved the murder of a woman.


Richard Wigley - “murder for love”.

The first man to hang here in the 20th century was 34 year old Richard Wigley. 
Wigley was in a long term relationship with 28 year old Mary Ellen Bowen.  She had worked as a barmaid the Lion Inn at Westbury in Shropshire (which is still in business) but moved to the village of Berrington to be able to be closer to Wigley who worked as a slaughterman there.


For reasons unknown Mary decided to end the relationship after some years and moved back to Westbury and back to her old job.  Wigley visited her when he could but Mary did not want to continue seeing him.

On Saturday the 30th of November 1901, Wigley arrived at the Lion Inn around 10 am.  He was wearing his work apron and a pouch containing two of his butcher’s knives was on his belt.  He was served a first pint of beer but Mary refused to serve him another and turned her back on him and left the bar.  Wigley followed her into the passageway where he grabbed her from behind with one hand and drew a knife across her throat with the other hand.  Mary died almost immediately.

Wigley was quickly arrested and told the police that he had killed Mary for “love” and that if he could not have no one else could.  Searching his possessions, police found a letter detailing his intentions and saying that he was willing to die for killing Mary.


He was tried at Shrewsbury before Mr. Justice Phillimore on the 27th of February 1902.  The usual defence of insanity was offered but rejected by the jury.  He was hanged on Tuesday the 18th of March 1902.  This would be Henry Pierrepoint’s first job as No. 1 and he was assisted by John Ellis.  Henry gave the 200 lb. bull necked Wigley a drop of 4 feet 10 inches which proved sufficient to cause dislocation of the cervical vertebrae.


Thomas Cox - wife murder.

Thomas Cox cut his wife’s throat at Ludlow on Saturday the 11th of August 1917.  Thomas aged 50 and Elizabeth aged 49 lived at 37 Upper Galeford in Ludlow and argued constantly over everything.  They had two children, 13 year old Henry and 8 year old Benjamin.  All four slept in the same room and Henry did his best to protect his mother and his brother from his father’s often violent outbursts.  At 2.30 a.m. on the Saturday morning Henry was woken by the sounds of yet another argument, during which Cox hit Elizabeth.  She asked Henry to fetch her a bowl of water and as he went out of the bedroom to do so he heard his mother scream and turned to see a razor in his father’s hand.  Cox now turned the razor on himself but his wound wasn’t fatal.  At first light he sent Henry to get help and Henry went to his aunt Mary Ward who returned home with him and PC Charles Morris.  Elizabeth was by now dead and Cox was weak from blood loss.

Cox was tried at Shrewsbury on the 8th of November 1917 before Mr. Justice Atkin.  His defence of insanity was rejected by the jury and he was duly hanged by John Ellis and William Willis on Wednesday the 19th of December 1917.  In view of the suicide attempt, Ellis gave Cox a slightly shorter drop of 6’ 9” for his 135 lb. weight which proved sufficient, although there was “slight separation” of the sides of the wound according to the LPC4 form.


William Griffiths - a matricide.

57 year old Griffiths lived with his mother, 80 year old Catherine Hughes, at Stafford Street, Eccleshall in Staffordshire.

On Friday May the 25th, 1923, Griffiths had been drinking heavily all day.  Initially he was in the Eagle Inn and left there around 2 pm. with his workmate, Henry Wood, when the landlord refused to serve him anymore.  Griffiths and Wood walked to their workplace where Griffiths threatened Wood.  Griffiths returned to the Eagle around 6 pm and stayed an hour. 

Catherine Hughes’ neighbour, Emma Hibbs, heard an argument next door between mother and son at around 10.15 pm.  They were quarrelling over the amount Griffiths spent on drink.  Emma then heard screams and moaning followed by a knock on her front door.  When she opened it Griffiths told her that he had killed his mother.  Emma sent one of her children for the doctor and told Griffiths to go to the police, which amazingly he did.  He found PC Frank Thomas near the Royal Oak pub and confessed to him.  PC Thomas noted that Griffiths was bleeding from a small head wound.  At the police station, he told officers that his mother had hit him with an enamel jug.  When police arrived at the murder scene they found that Catherine’s throat had been slashed with a razor and one thumb nearly severed as she tried to defend herself.  She had in fact struck Griffiths with a candlestick, but he may well have been too drunk to have known what she used.


He came to trial at Stafford on the 4th of July 1923, before Mr. Justice Roche.  The defence contended that Griffiths was too drunk to form the intention to kill and that therefore the crime was manslaughter, not murder.  However given the evidence of constant quarrels and of threats to kill his mother previously, the jury found him guilty of murder.

As Stafford prison no longer had an execution facility, Griffiths was transferred to Shrewsbury where he was hanged by John Ellis, assisted by Seth Mills, on the morning of Tuesday the 24th of July 1923.


Frank Griffin - another murder at the pub.

74 year old Jane Edge was the landlady of the Queen’s Head Inn in Ketley in Shropshire.  On Wednesday the 6th of September 1950, 40 year old unemployed Frank Griffin came into her pub at lunch time and drank two pints of beer.  He asked for another but Jane suggested a cup of tea instead.  She went into the back to make it and while she was gone Griffin decided to empty the till.  Jane caught him in the act, telling him “The money won’t do you any good, my lad.” He pushed her, causing her to fall and hit her head on a crate.

Her body was discovered sitting in a chair, by her son John when he returned from work that afternoon.  Some of Jane’s jewellery was missing.

The following day the police called at the Apley Industrial Hostel and searched several rooms, including the one occupied by Griffin.  Here they found a blood stained shirt and a bag containing coins.  Griffin had gone and was staying in the Tontine Hotel in Ironbridge.  The owner, having read about the murder was suspicious of the guest in Room 5 and called the police.  The arrived and interviewed “Mr. Jenkins” the name Griffin had booked in under.  He told them “It was not worth it. I did not get much.  She fell down.”  He also said that he had hit her with a pint mug, although later would withdraw that.


Griffin was tried at Shrewsbury before Mr. Justice Cassells on the 20th to the 22nd of November 1950.  The jury asked for clarification of the law on murder and manslaughter and after a further 30 minutes of deliberation decided that Griffin was guilty of murder.


His appeal was dismissed on the 19th of December 1950 and he was hanged on Thursday the 4th of January 1951, by Albert Pierrepoint and Herbert Morris. 


1952, Shrewsbury’s busiest year for hangings since 1836.

43 year old Harry Huxley would be the first of two men to hang at here during 1952, the only year since 1836 where there was more than one execution.  He had been convicted of the murder of his mistress, 32 year old Ada Royce in the village of Holt, near Wrexham on Saturday the 29th of December 1951.  It was a somewhat peculiar relationship that had been going on since 1945 - Ada was married to Charles Royce and lived with him.  She had three children, the youngest, Anthony being by Huxley, for whom he paid Ada maintenance.  Before Christmas 1951 Ada wanted to end the affair and told Huxley so.  On Christmas Day he borrowed a shotgun and two cartridges from a friend on the pretext of shooting a pheasant.

On the fateful Saturday, Ada went out to the Geddington Arms pub for a drink with her sister-in-law, Ellen Royce.  Huxley was drinking at a separate table so Ada and Ellen moved on to the Golden Lion.  Huxley followed them there and sent a message to Ada saying he wanted to talk to her.  She refused and the two women left the pub together to walk home.  Huxley approached them and tried to speak to Ada.  Ellen saw Ada’s brother, William Bithell and went over to speak to him.  Huxley took the opportunity of the women separating and fired a single shot at close range into Ada, killing her.  William Bithell went to help his sister and Huxley fired the second cartridge into his own chest.  However a lot of the pellets were stopped by the metal buckle of his braces and he survived, being released from hospital on the 11th of February 1952.


Huxley was tried at Ruthin on the 19th and 20th of May 1952, before Mr. Justice Croome-Johnson.  His defence was that the shooting was an accident and that he only took the gun to scare Ada.  However the prosecution were able to produce a note written to his mother apologising in advance for what he had done and for taking his own life.  Given the clear premeditation and the use of a gun the jury found him guilty.


As Ruthin no longer had an execution facility, Prisoner 1041, Huxley was transferred to Shrewsbury.  He was duly hanged by Albert Pierrepoint, assisted by Harry Allen on Tuesday the 8th of July 1952. 


Donald Neil Simon - double murder.

Simon was born in 1920 and in 1943 married Eunice, four years his junior.  They emigrated to Canada soon after but Eunice became homesick and they returned to Britain in 1947.  Simon began drinking heavily and as a result he and Eunice separated in late 1951.  She went to live with her mother in Seymour Road in Slough while he lived in Northampton Road in Slough.  Eunice soon began dating 27 year old Victor Brades who was her dancing partner. 


On the evening of Saturday the 21st of June, Eunice and Brades had been out for a drink with his cousin and his wife and around 11.40 pm, Brades walked Eunice home.  Simon was laying it wait for them in Seymour Road and when they came into range fired all six shots from a revolver.  Brades died immediately from four bullet wounds and Eunice succumbed the following day.  The shots were heard by Norman Broad who found Simon cradling Eunice and crying out “What have I done?’  Simon was arrested at the scene and readily confessed.


Simon came to trial at Birmingham on the 29th of July 1952, before Mr. Justice Jones.  Evidence of premeditation was produced, showing that Simon had visited Eunice’s mother earlier on the evening of the 21st and had asked her if her daughter was still seeing Brades.  The possession of a gun was also further evidence of premeditation.  Simon’s appeal was dismissed and as prisoner 1445, he was hanged on Thursday the 23rd of October 1952 by Albert Pierrepoint, assisted by Syd Dernley. Here is a photo of Albert Pierrepoint and Syd Dernley waiting for their train at Shrewsbury station after the hanging.


There are some strange anomalies in this case.  Why was Simon tried at Birmingham, hanged at Shrewsbury (when Birmingham had an execution suite) and why was there such an unusually long interval between sentence and execution?  It is possible that there was a problem with Condemned Suite or gallows at Winson Green at this time.


Desmond Donald Hooper - child murder.

27 year old Hooper was convicted of the murder of 12 year old Betty Selina Smith on Tuesday the 21st of July 1953.  Betty had been strangled and then drowned in an air shaft on the Shropshire Union Canal near Shrewsbury.  Hooper’s jacket was found near the inlet of the shaft and was positively identified by his brother.

Betty had gone to Desmond and Margaret Hooper’s house at Atcham voluntarily on that evening and played dominoes with their seven year old son Keith.  After Keith went to bed Betty left to go home.  Soon afterwards Hooper told his wife that he was going to get some pigeons.  Betty’s mother called on the Hooper’s looking for her daughter when Hooper returned about 1.45 am on the Wednesday morning, without his tie and with his trousers wet and muddy.  She persuaded him to call the police.


Betty’s body was discovered on the 24th of July 1953, together with Hooper’s jacket and his tie knotted around her neck.  Police investigations found that Hooper had not visited the farm of Richard Harris to get the pigeons as he had intended.


Hooper came to trial at Shrewsbury on the 23rd to the 27th of November before Mr. Justice Cassells.  Although the evidence was purely circumstantial Hooper could provide very little in the way of a convincing defence, especially as to how his tie and jacket were found at the murder scene.


Hooper’s appeal failed and he was hanged by Albert Pierrepoint, assisted by Robert Leslie Stewart, on Tuesday the 26th of January 1954.  The motive for the crime remains unclear and Hooper never confessed to it.


George Riley, Shrewsbury’s last hanging.

On this day in 1961 21 year old George Riley was hanged for the robbery/murder of 62 year old Adeline Mary Smith who had been battered to death at her home in Westland Road in Shrewsbury on Saturday October the 8th 1960.  Here is a photo of Riley.

Riley had been out drinking with a friend on the Friday evening and later to a dance at the Sentinel Works in the town.  Here he had got into a scuffle with another man and they were separated by PC Reginald Mason who noted there were no scratch marks on Riley’s face.  Riley was dropped off at home by a friend around 1 30 am, and was very drunk.


On discovery of the body residents of the nearby houses were interviewed by the police.  Riley was one of these and they noticed that he now had scratch marks on his face.  He also had previous convictions for robbery. Further investigation found mud on his shoes and trousers.  Officers told Riley they had sufficient evidence to convict him and he made a statement admitting that he had killed Adeline and that his motive had been to rob her.  After the passing of the Homicide Act of 1957, robbery was one of the five factors which made a murder a capital crime rather than a non capital one.


Riley stood trial at Stafford between the 7th and 12th of December 1960, before Mr. Justice Barry. 

Despite petitions and other agitation for a reprieve he was hanged by Harry Allen, assisted by Samuel Plant, at Shrewsbury Prison at 8 am. on Tuesday the 9th of February 1961.


The case against Riley, apart from his statement, was weak and lacking in any forensic evidence.  Many people thought that there had been a miscarriage of justice.  In 1961 there was no DNA testing which would probably have resolved the case one way or the other.


In 1972 the remains of ten men were exhumed from the prison yard and nine were cremated, the other being returned to relatives.


Below is a full list of hangings at the Dana.


18th century




John Smith

Stole in shop


Edward Quilt

Stole in dwelling house


John Hill

At large (returning from transportation)


Thomas Micklewright

Cattle theft


Adam Humphreys



19th century




Daniel Bedsmore

Sheep theft


William Griffiths 



James Lafferty

Highway robbery


Thomas Bennet

Horse theft


Thomas Nutts 

Sheep theft


Francis Jones

Horse theft


William Thomas



William Hooper 



Samuel Young 



Sarah Jones

Murder of her bastard child


Thomas Smith



George Taylor



Isaac Hickman



James Baker



William Turner



Abrahm Whitehouse



John Griffiths

Murder William Bailey


Rowland Preston

Murder Francis Bruce


William Wheeler

Sodomy of Ann Vandrell (6)


Thomas Jesson

Murder Mary Birch (stepdaughter)


Thomas Williams



William Barker

Sheep theft


Edward Mitchell



Samuel Bowdler



Edward Potter



John Richards



John Denny



Samuel Thomas

Killed a cow


John Rogers



Richard Lewis

Sheep theft


Samuel Lewis

Sheep theft


Thomas Palin

Plugging boilers (Luddite)


Richard Davies



John Turner

Sheep theft


William Griffiths



Thomas Farmer



John Newton

Murder wife


Richard Overfield

Murder child


Richard Smith



Henry Moss

Horse theft


John Cox &

Murder James Harrison


James Pugh

Murder James Harrison


William Stephenson

Murder John Horton


Ann Harris

Accomplice to the murder James Harrison


John Evans

Shooting at


James Lea



Joseph Grindley



William Handley

Shooting at


George Hayward

Murder John Causer


Lawrence Curtis

Robbery (last executions for robbery in the UK)


Patrick Donelly



Edward Donelly



Josiah Misters

Attempted murder of William Makreth


John Williams

Murder Emma Evans


John Lloyd

Murder John Gittins


Edward Cooper

Murder son


John Mapp

Murder Catherine Lewis


William Samuels

Murder William Mabbotts


William Arrowsmith

Murder uncle


20th century




Richard Wigley

Mary Ellen Bowen (girlfriend)


Thomas Cox 

Elizabeth Cox (wife)


William Griffiths 

Catherine Hughes (mother)


Frank Griffin

Jane Edge


Harry Huxley

Ada Royce (girlfriend)


Donald Neil Simon

Eunice Simon (wife) and Victor Brades


Desmond Hooper

Betty Smith


George Riley

Adeline Smith





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