Executioners from 1850 to 1964. Part 2.

Armley in the late 19th century
William Marwood (1820-1883), a cobbler, of Church Lane, Horncastle, Lincolnshire.
In 1864, the residents of Edinburgh bore witness to the last ever public execution to be carried out within the city walls. The condemned was George Bryce, a man who led an unremarkable life, but whose death would change the face of public justice in Edinburgh forever.
Church Lane location of William Marwood´s shoe shop. The Hangman of Horncastle.
The grave of William Frederick Horry, the first person to be hanged by William Marwood.
Britain's first serial killer, Mary Ann Cotton. She poisoned 21 people including her own mother, children and husbands.

While gaping thousands round appear,

And none for me will shed a tear;

Cut off in youth, no pitying friend

Will weep or mourn the murderer’s end.

Young men, all take this warning pray,

And don’t by guilt be led astray;

Theft and murder always shun,

Think of the cruel deed I have done.

Thomas Askern, of York. (1816 – 1878.)

Period in Office 1856 – 1877.  

Thomas Askern was initially the hangman for Yorkshire; Askern like all of York’s hangmen up until then, was drawn from the inmate population. He was in prison for debt at the time. He officiated at 20 public hangings and 4 private ones. He was at that time working at York, Leeds, Lincoln and Durham.

His very first job was the hanging of 28 year old William Dove at York Castle for the murder of his wife on the 9th August 1856. He hanged a total of 8 prisoners at York, the last being William Jackson on the 18th August 1874.

He also officiated at Armley Prison. Leeds, where he carried out the only public executions there. These took place on the 10th September 1864, when Joseph Myers and James Sargisson where hanged side by side for separate murders. Askern was responsible for two more private executions at Armley. As with Calcraft, the availability of a good rail network enabled Askern to work further a field and allowed him to travel to Durham, where he carried out all five public hangings between 1859 and 1865. The last of these was Matthew Atkinson on the 16th March 1865. The rope broke and he had to be hung again. As a result he wasn’t asked again by the Sheriff of County Durham and he was replaced by William Calcraft.

Askern carried out the last public hanging at Lincoln Castle on the 5th August 1859 when William Pickett and Henry Carey were hanged side by side for the murder of William Stevenson. George Bryce, the ‘Ratho Murderer’ was the last person to hang in public in Edinburgh on the 21st June 1864 for the murder of Jane Seaton. Askern also officiated at the last public hanging in Scotland, that of 19 years old Robert Smith on the 12th May 1868 at Dumfries, for the murder of 9 year old Thomasina Scott.

(Thomasina Scott, 9 years was walking through a wood on her way to do some shopping for her mother when she was seized upon by Robert Smith. He robbed, raped and then strangled her with a boot-lace. He then saw a woman and thinking she may have seen him, chased after her, throwing her to the ground and raped her. He tried to strangle her but somehow she escaped.)

Askern carried out the first private hanging of a female, that of Pricilla Biggadyke at Lincoln in 1868.

She was later found innocent and was pardoned. Askern got two jobs in Ireland, executing Thomas Montgomery at Omagh on the 26th August 1873 and John Daly in Belfast on the 26th April 1876. He hanged James Dalgleish at Carlisle… on the 19th December 1876. His final act as hangman was at the execution of 37 year old John Henry Johnson at Armley on Wednesday 3rd April 1877, for the murder of Amos Waite. Once again the rope broke and Johnson had to be recovered from the pit and was hanged for a second time 10 minutes later. The Yorkshire post newspaper reported that Johnson struggled for about 4 minutes; after this fiasco he was not hired again in Yorkshire.

Askern died in Maltby, Yorkshire at the age of 62 on the 6th December 1878. In all he carried out 21 public and 8 private hangings.

William Marwood of Horncastle, Lincolnshire. (1820 1883.)

Period in office – 1872 1883.

William Marwood was born in Goulceby, near Horncastle in Lincolnshire and it is believed was a cobbler by trade, who had, over the years, taken a great interest in the ‘art’ of hanging and felt that it could be improved. He had never hanged anyone or even assisted at a hanging, but at the age of 54 managed to persuade the authorities at Lincoln Prison to let him carry out the hanging of William Frederick Horry on the 1st April 1872. The execution went off without a hitch and impressed the Governor at that prison.

Marwood introduced the ‘Long Drop’ method of execution; this had been developed by surgeons in Ireland. He realised that id the prisoner was to be given a ‘drop’ of 6 to 10 feet and depending upon his weight and with the noose in the correct position, death would be almost instantaneous, due to the breaking of the neck.

The so called ‘long drop’ removed the gruesome struggling and convulsing from the proceedings and was, undoubtedly far less cruel to the prisoner and far less trying to the Prison Governor and staff who since the abolition of public hangings, had to witness the spectacle at close quarters.

Marwood was duly appointed as the official hangman by the Sheriffs of both London and Middlesex in 1874, replacing William Calcraft, and receiving a retainer of £20 per annum plus £10 for each execution, but unlike Calcraft got no actual salary. He also was able to keep the condemned person’s clothes and finally received travelling expenses.

His first execution was at Newgate Prison which took place on 29th June 1874 when he hanged Frances Stewart.The railway system was at that stage so advanced that he could travel anywhere in England with ease thus making it possible to carry out most of the executions in the British Isles. He also carried out the last public hanging when he executed Joseph Le Brun at St. Helier on the Island of Jersey on the 11th August 1875. The 1868 Act requiring executions to be carried out in private in Britain had overlooked the Channel Islands.

Around this time, there was a famous rhyme about Marwood which went “If Pa killed Ma who’d kill PaMarwood.

Marwood became something of a celebrity and had business cards printed which read, ‘William Marwood Public Executioner, Horncastle, Lincolnshire.’ Added words said ‘Marwood Crown Office,’ over the door of his shop.

In his 11 years of service, Marwood hanged 179 people, including 8 women. 26 of these were carried out in Ireland, 7 in Scotland and 1 in Jersey. There were 14 double executions, 3 triples and 1 quadruple (at Newgate Prison.) He worked without an assistant for most of these executions but you have to assume that if one was needed, the warders would help out.

Marwood also made improvements to the noose and pinioning straps and also requested improvements to the gallows, especially the removal of steps up to the platform. He found it far easier for all concerned to have the trap-door level with the floor or ground.

His last execution was that of James Burton on the 6th August 883. Burton’s pinioned arm caught up in the free rope hanging down his back and the poor msn had to be hanged twice. Then, less than 4 weeks later William Marwood died of inflammation of the lungs on the 4th September 1883.

Four of Marwood’s most notable cases were: –

Charles Peace, who was a burglar and murderer whom Marwood executed on the 25th February 1879 at Armley Gaol in Leeds. Charles Peace was the archetypal Victorian criminal who struck fear into the hearts of everyone at that time.

Kate Webster, an Irish servant girl, who murdered her mistress and who then cut up her body. She was executed on the 29th July 1879 at Wandsworth Prison, the only woman to be executed there.

Percy Lefroy Mapleton murdered Isaac Frederick Gold on a train on the Brighton line so that he could steal Gold’s watch and a few coins. He was arrested almost immediately but managed to escape from custody before being arrested again. He was convicted and finally handed at Lewes Prison on the 29th November 1881.

Finally, Joe Brady plus 4 others in Ireland. He travelled to Ireland from time to time. These 5 people were members of the ‘Invinceables’ gang for murders in Phoenix Park, Dublin of Lord Frederick Cavendish and Thomas Harry Burke, the Permanent Under Secretary for Ireland. These hangings took place on the 14th May 1883 at Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin.

Marwood worked with George Incher on occasions that needed 2 executions; i.e. Doubles, until 1881 and then used Bartholomew Binns as an assistant until 1883 when Binns took over as number one.


Robert Anderson (Evans) – from Carmarthen, Wales. (1816 – 1901)

Period in Office – 1873 1883.

Robert Anderson was born Robert Evans and later changed his name to Anderson. He was a lawyer’s son who had trained as a doctor but had not practised as such. He was a man of private means who did not need work or in fact need the small income derived from executions. In fact he gave his fee to William Calcraft, just for the privilege of assisting him. This he did on at least three occasions. Notably at the execution of the serial poisoner, Mary Ann Cotton at Durham Prison on the 24th March 1873 and at Calcraft’s last execution at Newgate, that of John Godwin in 1874.

‘Evans’ the hangman as he was known, acted as principal executioner on seven occasions in England in 1874 and 1875. His first job as the executioner was the hanging of Thomas Corrigan at Liverpool on the 5th January 1874 for the murder of his mother. He hanged John M’Crave and Michael Mullen, two members of Liverpool’s notorious ‘Corner Men’ gang at Kirkdale Gaol on the 4th January 1875, together with William Worthington who had murdered his wife. Evans also carried out a treble hanging in the open courtyard of Gloucester Gaol on the 12th January 1874., when 31 year old Mary ann Barry and her common-law- husband, Edwin Bailey, were executed for the murder of his illegitimate child, together with Edward Butt who had shot his girl friend.

His last recorded execution was in Ireland, that of Joseph Poole at Richmond Prison in Dublin on the 18th December 1883. Anderson applied to succeed William Marwood but was not appointed. He lived until he was 85 years of age, dying on the 26th of August 1901.

www.amazon.co.uk/ DavidRowland

Welcome to the Finsbury Publishing

David Rowland has just launched his 15th and final book, “The Spirit of Winsome Winn II”, all about the B-17 Flying Fortress which crashed at Patcham after being hit by anti-aircraft fire over Germany.

No Comments

Start the ball rolling by posting a comment on this page!

Add a comment about this page

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *