Wandsworth Prison, London.
The Surrey House of Correction.’
Wandsworth Prison opened in November 1851, being originally called ‘The Surrey House of Correction.’
Like Pentonville prison, it was built on the ‘Panopticon’ design to enable the ‘separate system’ to be used for 700 prisoners in individual cells, each having toilet facilities.
It was designed by D. R. Hill and constructed on a 26 acre site at a cost of £140,319 11 s. 4d. The main part of the prison, having 4 wings which radiate from the centre, was for male prisoners with a smaller building for females. Two further wings were added in 1856 to give added accommodation for any influx of prisoners. From 1870 conditions at Wandsworth deteriorated and the toilets were removed from the cells to make room for extra prisoners and the practice of ‘slopping out’ was introduced. This practice was to remain in force right up to 1996, barely 20 years ago.
With the closure of Horsemonger Lane Gaol, its execution duties were taken over by Wandsworth and in 1878, an execution shed was constructed in one of the prison yards. However, there was just one ‘Condemned Cell’ at Wandsworth. As a result it sometimes necessitated the use of a hospital wing cell when there was more than one prisoner under sentence of death.
In total, 135 prisoners were to be put to death her between the years of 1878 and 1961.This comprised of 134 men and just one woman. The seventeen 19th century executions were all for murder. A further 117 men were hanged there in the 20th century comprising of 105 murders, 10 spies (one in World War 1 and nine in World War 2.) There were also two traitors who were hanged, John Amery and William Joyce, after the end of World War 2 hostilities.
The gallows were housed in what was loosely called at the time ‘The Cold Meat Shed.’
This was the first execution chamber at Wandsworth and contained the gallows which had been transferred from the Horsemonger Lane Gaol on its closure in 1878.
The ‘Shed’ was cited close to the coal yard at the end of ‘A’ wing. The beams were situated 11 feet above the trap doors which when the lever was released had a drop of a 12’’ deep brick lined ‘pit’ which had been dug into the ground. This facility remained in use until 1911. After that a new facility was built between ‘E’ and ‘F’ wings. This was built adjacent t the ‘Condemned Cell.’ This was a 2-story building with the platform and the beam on the first floor level. There was a gate placed on the ground floor level for the removal of the body after the execution
The third and final execution suite, using three cells, one above the other in ‘E’ wing was constructed in 1937. As at Pentonville, the top floor contained the beam with three floor traps through which hung chains for the attachment of the ropes. The beam was fitted with three chain adjusting blocks, with the centre one for use with a single execution and the other two for any double executions. The first floor contained the 9 feet by 5 feet wide trap-doors and the operating lever.
There were also two other ropes that hung down in order that the warders could hold onto as they stood on planks over the drop to support the condemned man. There were handrails on the wall for use by the warders in ‘double executions. ’The ground floor Cell’ was the ‘pit’ and had a gate to the yard through which the dead body was brought out. When Sid Dernley assisted at an execution there in the 1940’s, he recalled how clean and tidy it all was. He stated that even the wooden floor was varnished. The gallows were finally dismantled in 1994, having been tested every six months, because the death penalty still remained a possibility for treason, piracy with violence and mutiny within the Armed Forces. Today, the former execution chamber is a rest room for the prison staff.
Marwood and the Pierrpoint family
William Marwood carried out the first four executions at the prison between 1878 and 1882. The last four hangings were carried out by Harry Allen.
However it was the Pierrpoint family that executed the most prisoners; Henry hanged six men, his brother Tom hanged 27 men while his son, Albert executed 48 men up to the year 1955. Wandsworth took condemned prisoners from Surrey in the first instance but when Lewes Prison stopped their executions then those prisoners from Sussex and later still those from Kent, when the facility at Maidstone Prison closed down they were all executed at Wandsworth Prison.
There were quite a number of famous murderers who were executed at Wandsworth. One man was hanged there during World War One for spying. He was Robert Rosenthal on the 15th July 1915. He had been reporting British ship movements to the German Admiralty. Another 11 men were convicted for spying against Britain. They were all shot by a firing squad at the Tower of London. They had been housed at Wandsworth Prison but the day before their execution they were moved to the Tower. The Government who expected an influx of German Spies introduced a new Act, The Treachery Act of 1940.
Albert Pierrpoint stated that he only had one man gave him any serious problems. That was Karl Richter, a big and powerful man. He fought Pierrpoint and his assistant and a number of warders were called to try and quell the man. He managed to get his hands strapped behind him but as Pierrpoint led the procession out Richter managed to burst the leather strap that was holding his arms and another fight ensued. Eventually they got Richter on the gallows and were in the act of pulling the lever when Richter jumped and loosened the noose causing it to catch under his top lip instead of remaining under his jaw. However, his neck was still broken by the force of the drop.
John Amery was the son of a cabinet minister and the brother of Julian Amery. He went to Berlin in 1942 where he made speeches and radio broadcasts as well as visiting prisoner of war camps exhorting Allied prisoners to fight for the Germans on the Russian front. With the fall of Italy, 33 year old Amery was arrested in Milan in July 1945 and flown back to Britain to face treason charges. He appeared at the Old Bailey on the 26th November 1945 and pleaded guilty. He was hanged by Albert Pierrpoint and assisted by Harry Critchell on Wednesday 19th December 1945.
Then came William Joyce, known as ‘Lord Haw Haw’ because of his posh accent. He gave radio messages out right through the war years. A lot of British people used to listen to what he had to say. I remember one day after Brighton had been attacked by enemy bombers, he spoke about it during his broadcast and although he highly exaggerated the story, nevertheless what he said was true.
He was captured and appeared at the Old Bailey on the 19th September 1945 and convicted of Treason. He was hanged by Albert
Pierrpoint, assisted by Alexander Reilly at 9am on Thursday the 3rd January 1946.
The first of the murderers executed was, Polish born, George Chapman whose real name was Severin Klosowski. He poisoned three of his girl friends in 1897. He was tried at the Old Bailey and convicted in just 10 minutes deliberation by the Jury. On hearing the sentence he collapsed in the dock and was in a similar state when William Billington came to executing him on the 7th April 1903.
Gordon Frederick Cummins 28years murdered 4 women during the Second World War. He was tried at the Old Bailey 27th April 1942 and was convicted the following day of murder. He was hanged by Albert Pierrpoint assisted by Harry Kirk on Thursday 25th June 1942. On the morning of his execution he wrote to his wife begging for forgiveness and saying ‘Although I don’t know, I think I must be Guilty – the evidence is overwhelming.’ Other than a hatred of women and prostitutes in particular, his motives for this killing seem unclear.
John George Haigh
Probably the most famous case of murder was committed by John George Haigh 39 years; the acid bath murderer. He appeared at Lewes Assize Court in July 1949 before Mr. Justice Humphreys. The Jury were unimpressed by his arguments and found him guilty in just 17 minutes. He was hanged by Albert Pierrpoint assisted by Harry Kirk on Wednesday 10th August 1949. They gave him a ‘drop of 7’ 4.’
Another famous case was that of Derek Bentley for his part in the murder of Police Constable Sidney Miles on the roof of a factory in Croydon in 1952. He was hanged on Wednesday 28th January 1953 by Albert Pierrpoint. Many years later after a huge fight by his family he received a pardon. It took over 40 years to receive the pardon after the shooting incident. The pardon was granted in 1998.Hendrick
The last murderer to be executed at Wandsworth Prison was Hendrick Neimasz who was 49 years of age. He was executed by Harry Allan and his assistant Samuel Plant on Friday the 8th September 1961. He had been convicted at Lewes Assize Court for the double murder of Mr and Mrs Hubert Buxton on the night of 12th may 1961. He had been having an affair with Mrs. Buxton and wanted him to leave his wife in order to be with her.
The brief story is that about 8am on the 13th May 1961 the milkman was delivering to the small but tidy bungalow in the grounds of Pantile House in Aldrington, Kent. As he got nearer to the porch of the bungalow he stopped in horror. There sprawled across the porchway was the semi-naked Alice Buxton. She was covered in blood from a serious head wound. The milkman hurried away to call the police and a young constable arrived shortly after and went inside. There he saw Hubert Buxton 35 years, lying on the scullery floor; he had been shot in the head. The CID were then called and quickly found out that Mrs Alice Buxton had been having an affair with a man called Hendrick Neimasz.
About 8 months before this incident a constable reported having see a couple having sex in a light coloured car with a tarpaulin stretched over the car. He could see the vehicle was rocking from side to side on its springs. He pulled it back to see the couple having sex and recognised the woman as Alice Buxton. The vehicle was a light coloured Hillman Husky motor car.
It wasn’t long before Hendrick Neimasz was arrested and put on trial. He was found guilty and sentenced to be ‘hanged until dead.’
He was hanged on Friday 8th September 1961 by Harry Allen and assisted by Samuel Plant. Allan gave him a drop of some 6’ 2’’.
The very last person to be hanged at Wandsworth Prison.
1965: Ronald Biggs escapes from jail
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