English Executioners from 1850 to 1964. Part 8.
Henry (Harry) Kirk from Huntingdon (1893-1967)
Period on Home Office List 1941-1950.
‘Harry’ Kirk had worked as an assistant to Stanley Cross, Tome and Albert Pierrpoint on 35 occasions. He had a very short career as a hangman. When he executed Norman Goldenthorpe on the 22nd 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 becoming stuck in the eyelet of the noose. This was thus Kirk’s first and last hanging as principal.
Steven Wade from Doncaster (1887-1956)
Period on Home Office List 1941-1955.
Steven Wade was another man who always wanted to be a hangman, having applied when he came out of the army at the end of WWI in 1918, then aged 21 years old. His application was rejected due to his age but kept trying and finally made it in 1940.
His first job came a year later, assisting Albert Pierrpoint with the hanging of Antonio Mancini at Pentonville 31st October 1941.
After the war, he worked at a coach dealership in Doncaster. Having assisted both Tom and Albert Pierrpoint, he was finally allowed to be the principal at the execution of Arthur Charles at Durham on 26th March 1946.
He was generally selected by the Sheriff of Yorkshire for hangings in the Armley prison, Leeds from 1947 on.
In his autobiography Albert Pierrpoint spoke highly of ‘Steve wade’ and always found him very reliable. Steven Wade also worked as an assistant to both Tome and Albert Pierrpoint on 18 occasions and carried out 29 executions in his own right, including two after Albert Pierrpoint’s resignation, those of Corbett Roberts at Birmingham on the 2nd August 1955 and Ernest Harding at Birmingham on the 9th August, also in 1955.
His last job, assisted by Robert Leslie Stewart, was the execution of Alec Wilkinson on the 12th August 1955 at Armley Jail.
Steven resigned due to failing health in late 1955 and died on the 22nd December 1956, aged 59 years.
In all he carried out 29 hangings as principal and assisted at another 19 others during the period from 1941-1955.
Harry Bernard Allen from Manchester (1911-1992)
Period on Home Office List 1941 1964.
Harry Bernard Allen was born on the 5th November 1911 at Denaby, Yorkshire but brought up in Ashton-under-Lyne in Lancashire. He got his first job as an assistant at Strangeways prison in February 1941, under Tom Pierrpoint, for the hanging of Clifford Holmes, having been second assistant (i.e. – an observer) at the hanging of William Cooper at Bedford prison in November 1940.
Harry and Steven Wade assisted Albert Pierrpoint at the execution of 5 German prisoners of war at Pentonville prison on the 6th October 1945.
These 5 German POW’s had tried to escape from a POW in a Perthshire camp and had been moved to a tougher camp in Wiltshire. They believed they had been betrayed by Wolfgang Rosterb, 35 years, a German sergeant major. They held their own court and fond Rosterb guilty. They dragged him from his bed, and brutally kicked and punched him. They then hanged him in the latrines.
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.
After Albert’s resignation, Steven Wade and Harry Allen took over as joint no1’s. However, executions were becoming fewer and fewer in the run up to and as a result of the Homicide Act 1957 (The re were none at all in 1956) Allen assisted at 53 executions (40 with Albert Pierrpoint) and carried out 29 executions as the 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 prison on 23rd July 1957. Allen also hanged George Riley on the 9th February 1961 at Shrewsbury Gaol for the murder of his neighbour, Adeline Mary Smith.
Riley was short of money and broke into no 47, Westland Road, Shrewsbury, the home of Adeline Smith. During the break in she woke up and Riley struck her a heavy blow which, as a result she died.
In 1959 he performed the last execution on the Channel Isles that of Francis Joseph Huchet at the Newgate Street prison in St. Helier, Jersey.
On the 20th 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 August 1963.
Perhaps around this time came the most controversial case of all. James Hanratty, who was convicted of the A6 murder. He was hanged at Bedford Prison on the 4th April 1962. There have been serious doubts raised over Hanratty’s guilt and several attempts made to win him a pardon. In 2002, Hanratty’s family had their appeal turned down, after DNA evidence showed conclusively that Hanratty was in fact guilty.
Allen’s last job was the execution of Gwynne Owen Evans at Strangeways Gaol at 8am on the 13th August 1964, whilst his accomplice, Peter Anthony Allen, was suffering the same fate at Walton Gaol, Liverpool. These were the last two men to be executed in Britain.
They broke into the home of 53 year old John Alan West in Workington during the early hours of 8th April 1964. A neighbour heard a noise and saw a car speeding down the road. She called the police and they found West in his home suffering from severe head injuries and a stab wound in his chest. Evans had left some clues and he was arrested with 48 ours of the murder.
Gwynn Owen Evans was 24 years of age, and called ‘Ginger’ and Peter Anthony Allen were aged 21 years. The car they were using was a stolen one.
Harry Allen died on the 14th August 1992 at Fleetwood, Lancashire just a month after Albert Pierrpoint.
Robert Leslie Stewart from Chadderton, Lancashire (1918-1989.)
Period on Home Office List 1950 – 1964.
Robert Leslie Stewart was born in Edinburgh and assisted Albert Pierrpoint and Steven Wade in 20 executions between 1952 and 1959 before 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 May 1958.
He was to hang another five men before abolition and was on the final list of executioners issued by the Home Office in February 1964.
His first recorded job as an assistant to Albert Pierrpoint was at the hanging of Alfred Bradley at Strangeways prison, Manchester on the 15th January 1952.
Stewart shared the distinction of carrying out the last two hangings in Britain when he executed Peter Anthony Allen at Walton Gaol, Liverpool at 8am on the 13th August 1964 for the robbery and murder of 53 year old John West.
Stewart assisted Harry Allen at the last hanging at Glasgow’s Barlinnie prison, that of 19 year old Anthony Joseph Miller on the 22nd December 1960. Miller had been convicted of the robbery and murder of John Cremin in a Glasgow park.
Stewart immigrated to South Africa and died there on the 1st November 1989.
It was normal at 20th Century hangings for there 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 actually used, cannot be traced.
From 1882, an assistant could be employed under Home Office rules, although they were not generally used until about 1900 or the turn of the century. The assistant executioner had four roles to play. The first one being to assist the executioner in setting up and then testing the ‘drop.’ the second was to strap the prisoners legs together once the gallows had been reached. The third job was to assist in taking down the body and preparing it for the inquest that always followed the execution. Finally the final job was to be able to take over if the hangman fainted of became otherwise ill at the last moment.
In addition to those who carried out executions themselves, having been previously trained by being assistants, there were a further 21 men who only ever acted as principal.
Amongst the better known of these was Syd Dernley, who assisted at 19 executions in England and Wales between 1950 – 1952 and also wrote a book called ‘The Hangman’s tale’ which dealt with his own experiences. Dernley died in 1994.
A lesser well known name is that of Royston Lawrence Rickard, who assisted at 13 executions between 1953-1964, including those of Ruth Ellis and James Hanratty. He also assisted at one of the two final British hangings, that of Peter Anthony Allen.. The assistant at the other execution on that day, Gwynn Owen Evans, was Harry Robinson.
The final list of executioners and assistants issued in February 1964 comprised of Robert Leslie Stewart and Harry Allen as the principals with Royston Rickard, Harry Robinson, Samuel Plant and John Underhill as the assistants.
“Those who have witnessed executions say there is no sound worse than the weeping of a mother watching her son being put to death.
They’re wrong. There is one sound that is worse.
There is silence.”
The One Show on Capital Punishment
Hanging Day at Tyburn
CAPITAL PUNISHMENT OVER THE YEARS – Discovery/History/Crime (documentary)
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