Strangeways prison, Manchester.
Prison in Southall Street,
Manchester was built to replace
New Bailey prison in Salford which closed in
1868. It was designed by Alfred Waterhouse in 1861, using the Panopticon (radial)
concept that was being employed all over Britain at the time. Waterhouse was
assisted by Joshua Jebb, the Surveyor General of Prisons, who had also been
involved with the design of London's
Pentonville Prison. Construction was completed in 1869 at a cost of £170,000.
The new brick built prison stood on the site of the original Strangeways Park
and Gardens, hence its name, and was able to house a 1,000 prisoners. There are
two imposing gatehouses and a central dodecagonal hall, with wings A to F radiating
off from it.† The 234 feet high tower,
which was used for heating and ventilation, has been a local landmark ever
since it was built. The T-shaped F wing is used to house the administration on
ground floor with the prison chapel above.†
A plaque in the entrance commemorates the official opening on the 25th of June 1868.
became the place of execution for the area after the closure of Salford prison.
It initially had a purpose built execution shed in one of the yards, as this
was the normal practice for private executions from 1868 up to around the end
of World War I.
The later 20th century condemned cell and execution room were situated at the
end of 'B' wing in the central area. Strangeways had a permanent gallows, one
of the few English prisons to do so, up to the abolition of capital punishment.
In total, there were 100 hangings carried out within its walls, all in private.
Twenty eight men and one woman were hanged there between 1869 and 1899, the
first being a young man of 20 named Michael Johnson, who was hanged by William
Calcraft for murder on the 29th of March 1869.
A further 71 people were executed at Strangeways in the 20th century - 68 men
and three women. In the latter part of this period, executions became quite
rare - no one was to be hanged there between 1954 and 1962. James Smith was
executed in that year and then one of the last two UK hangings of all was
carried out at Strangeways at 8.00 a.m. on the 13th of August 1964. Gwynne Owen
Evans (real name John Robson Walby) was hanged by Harry Allen, assisted by
Royston Rickard, for the murder of John West, a laundryman, in the course of
robbing him in April 1964. Peter Anthony Allen was hanged at the same moment in
Liverpool's Walton prison for his part in the crime. Murder committed in the
course of robbery was still a capital crime under the 1957 Homicide Act.
There were four double hangings, all the rest being carried out individually.
William Calcraft officiated at the first three executions within the walls of
Strangeways (Michael Johnson plus Patrick Durr in December 1870 and Michael
Kennedy in December 1872) before William Marwood replaced him and introduced
the long drop method.
condemned block is reputed to be haunted by the ghost of one of the hangmen who
officiated there. Staff on night duty have reported seeing a mysterious man in
a dark suit carrying a small briefcase. He is always seen walking along 'B'
wing from just outside the condemned cell towards the central control area.
When they try to follow this dark suited man, he vanishes just before the old
iron staircase leading up to the main office. One wonders if this could be John
Ellis who committed suicide in 1932.
of the criminals who were hanged at Strangeways.
eight year old Mary Ann Britland of Ashton-under-Lyne
in Lancashire was hanged by James Berry on the 9th of August 1886, the
first woman to be executed at Strangeways.
Mary and Thomas Britland had rented a house in Ashton-under-Lyne,
which she liked very much, except for the fact that it was infested with mice.
To eliminate these, she went to the chemists and bought packets of Harrison's Vermin Killer. This contained both strychnine
and arsenic and, therefore, Mary had to sign the poison register. Mary's first
victim was to be her daughter Elizabeth in March 1886, her death being put down
to natural causes by the attending doctor. This was not unusual at the time as
food hygiene standards were not very good and there were no refrigerators to
preserve food. A few days later, Mary claimed Elizabeth's £10 life insurance. Her next
victim was Thomas, her husband. His death was diagnosed as epilepsy and again
Mary claimed on his insurance. Mary had been having an affair with her
neighbour, Thomas Dixon, and after her own husband's death, she was invited
round to the Dixon's
house by his unsuspecting wife, also called Mary. She was to become the next
and last victim of this serial poisoner. The three deaths, all with their
identical and somewhat unnatural symptoms, raised suspicion. Mary Britland was
interviewed by the police in connection with Mary Dixon's death and her body
was examined by a pathologist. It was found to contain a lethal quantity of the
two poisons and Mary was immediately arrested. She came to trial on Thursday,
the 22nd, of July 1886 before Mr.
at Manchester Assizes. Her defence was absence of motive - it was contended
that the small insurance payouts were no compensation for the loss of her
husband and daughter. It took the jury some time to convict her, although in
the end they did. After she was sentenced, she declared to the court, "I
am quite innocent, I am not guilty at all."
She was in a state of collapse on her last morning and had to be assisted to
the gallows and held up on the trapdoors by two male warders while Berry prepared her for
man called John Jackson, who had been a plumber by trade, was mortified when
his teenage idol, Charles Peace, was hanged at Leeds'
Armley prison on the 25th of February 1879.
After a session of heavy drinking in the pubs of Leeds,
he made up his mind to join the army. He was convicted of horse stealing while
serving with the army and was sentenced to six months in prison, which he began
to serve at Wakefield
prison and from which he managed to escape. He was recaptured and sent to
Armley prison in Leeds from which he was released in the summer of 1885. He was
soon breaking into houses and was to move to Manchester by 1888, where he was caught
red-handed outside one of the properties. He was sentenced to another six
months - this time in Strangeways. His old plumbing skills were to come in
useful when the matron of Strangeways smelt gas in her home. Jackson was taken to the house in charge of
warder Webb on Tuesday, the
22nd of May 1888. After completing the repair, he hit Webb on the
back of the head with a hammer fracturing his skull. He stole Webb's boots and
then escaped into the roof void from where he was able to remove the slates
with the hammer (murder weapon) and get out onto the roof. He was thus able to
escape from the matron's house and get down into the street. On the run, he
supported himself by housebreaking, as usual, before being finally caught in Bradford on the 2nd of June 1888, where he gave himself up without a struggle
and immediately confessed to the killing. He was taken back to Manchester for
trial. He was convicted of Webb's murder and hanged by James Berry on Tuesday,
the 7th of August. Jackson
was described in a contemporary newspaper report as "a daring and adroit
criminal, the recital of whose exploits caused wonder and consternation
throughout the land,"
Frederick Rothwell Holt was hanged by John Ellis, assisted by William Willis,
on the 13th of April 1920.
In the early morning of Christmas Eve 1919, the body of 26 year old Kathleen
(Kitty) Breaks was found among the sand dunes at Lytham St. Annes near Blackpool. She had been shot three times with a revolver.
Holt's footprints, together with his Webley service revolver and bloodstained
gloves, were found in the dunes. Holt, who had been her lover, was arrested and
charged with her murder. He was tried at Manchester Assizes between the 23rd
and 27th of February before Mr. Justice Greer. His barrister, the famous Sir
Edward Marshall Hall, tried to put forward a defence of insanity but this was
rejected. The prosecution's case was that Holt had murdered Kitty for her
substantial life insurance, having persuaded her to make him the sole
beneficiary under her will. Holt appealed his death sentence and was,
unusually, allowed to have new evidence submitted which showed that he had
contracted syphilis in Malaya which might have unbalanced his mind. Having been
examined by Home Office psychiatrists, this was rejected and a new execution
33, had criminal tendencies and was known to the police. She battered and
strangled her landlady, Mrs. Lily Waterhouse, who had confronted her over
things that had gone missing from the house and had reported Louie to the
police. In the condemned cell, she also admitted to the murder of a previous
employer - John Frobisher - in 1922. Louie Calvert was hanged by Tom
Pierrepoint at Strangeways prison on the 24th of June 1926. Click here for the full story behind
Buck Ruxton murdered his common law wife, Isabella Ruxton, and his housemaid,
Mary Jane Rogerson, at their home in Lancaster
on the 15th of September
1935. He was hanged at Strangeways on the 12th of May 1936. For a
detailed account of this interesting case click here.
Allen was a "butch" lesbian who dressed in men's clothes and
preferred to be called "Bill."†
She lived at Rawtenstall, a few miles outside Blackburn,
where she had worked as a bus conductor. On the 28th of August 1948, she battered Nancy
Ellen Chadwick to death with a hammer. Mrs. Chadwick was an elderly widow and
had come to her door to borrow a cup of sugar. She had irritated Allen in
various ways over the years. Allen readily confessed to the police saying,
"I didn't do it for money, I was in one of my funny moods." She was
convicted after a short trial, lasting just one day - the 8th of December 1948.† Forty two year old Allen was hanged by Albert
Pierrepoint, assisted by Harry Kirk, on the 12th of January 1949. This was the first female
execution in Britain
for 12 years and only the third at Strangeways.
fastest execution on record took place at Strangeways on the 8th of May 1951.
Albert Pierrepoint, assisted by Sid Dernly, had to almost run with James Inglis
from the condemned cell to the gallows. Just seven seconds later his
lifeless body was dangling in the cell below.
Inglis had been convicted of the murder of 50 year old Alice Morgan, whom he
had battered and strangled to death. Alice was a prostitute and she and Inglis
quarrelled over her payment, having spent some time drinking together before
she took him home for sex. The following day, he nearly killed his landlady. He
confessed immediately when he was interviewed by the police. At his trial, the
defence of insanity was put forward but rejected by the jury. He was thus
sentenced to death by Mr. Justice Ormerod on the 20th of April and hanged three
weeks later, as he had no wish to appeal his sentence. Sid Dernley recalls in
his memoirs that Inglis tried to help Pierrepoint pinion his arms and was
smiling when they entered the condemned cell.
fourth and last woman to be executed at Strangeways was 46 year old Louisa May
Merrifield who had been convicted of poisoning Mrs. Sarah Ricketts. Sarah
Ricketts was a 79 year old, bedridden widow who lived in Blackpool.
She had hired Louisa and her husband Alfred to look after her in March 1953 and
soon made a new will leaving her bungalow to Louisa. Mrs. Ricketts had some
rather strange dietary habits. Apparently, she was very fond of very sweet jams
which she ate directly from the jar by the spoonful, washed down with rum or a
bottle of stout. Louisa, having got the will made in her favour, capitalised on
these peculiar habits by adding Rodine, a phosphorus based rat poison, to the
jam. Mrs. Ricketts' death was considered suspicious and so a post-mortem was
carried out which quickly revealed the presence of the poison. A local chemists
had recorded the sale of the Rodine to Louisa, but the police could not find
the poison container which she had purchased, but felt that they had enough
circumstantial evidence to charge both her and Alfred. She had talked openly of
inheriting the bungalow and this also threw suspicion on her. The pair came to
trial at Manchester Assizes on the
20th of July 1953. Alfred was acquitted, there being no real
evidence that he was part of the plot, but Louisa was found guilty.
She was duly hanged by Albert Pierrepoint, assisted by Robert Stewart, on the
morning of Friday, the 18th
of September 1953. Several hundred people gathered outside the
prison gates that morning to see the death notices displayed. It is said that
there was an unwritten rule in the Home Office that poisoners should always
Britainís worst prison riot.
A huge riot took place at Strangeways between the 1st and the 25th of April
1990 and virtually destroyed some of the original buildings and also some of
the prison records. 147 staff and 47 prisoners were injured and one prisoner
was killed. On the first day of the riot, Prison Officer Wally Scott suffered a
heart attack and died in hospital a few days later, leaving a wife and two
young children.† These riots led to the
Woolfe Inquiry The prison was rebuilt and continues as the main prison for the Manchester area.†
part of the rebuild the prison cemetery was removed and the remains of the
executed prisoners cremated and reinterred in two communal plots at Blackley Cemetery
in Manchester.† It is now known as Her Majesty's Prison,
Manchester, in accordance with current thinking which has removed the names
from these prisons (e.g. Birmingham's Winson Green prison is now just called HMP Birmingham)
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