Executions at Gloucester
Image by brizzle born and bred
Prior to 1792, executions had taken place at the nearby village of Over and the condemned were conveyed to the gallows in carts, sitting on their own coffins. After this date hangings were carried out using a “New Drop” style gallows erected on the roof of the prison gatehouse and continued on the new gatehouse roof when it was built in 1826.
Between 1792 and 1864, 102 prisoners were hanged in public, comprising 94 men and eight women. There were no executions at all between 1839, when William Davis was hanged on the 20th of April for the murder of John Butt and July 1864. The next and last public execution at Gloucester was carried out on the 27th of August 1864 when 55 year old Lewis Gough was to die for the murder of Mary Curtis.
A further 17 people (16 men and one woman) were hanged within the prison between 1872 and 1939.
The first private hanging took place on the 8th of January 1872 when 20 year old Frederick Jones was put to death by William Calcraft for the murder of his girlfriend, Emily Gardner, on a raised scaffold in the prison yard. (This was the same gallows as had previously been used on the roof). There were steps the prisoner had to climb to reach the four foot high platform.
For the triple hanging of Edward Butt, Mary Ann Barry and Edwin Bailey in 1874, Robert Anderson, the hangman, asked for a pit to be dug to allow the gallows platform to be level with the yard.
The first hangings at the prison took place on Saturday the 14th of April 1792 when Londoner, Charles Rachford and Irish born John Hughes were executed for highway robbery. The had robbed John Elliott in the parish of Westbury-upon-Trym on 24th November 1791, taking his watch with a silver case (valued at £3), a steel hook (valued at 2d), a steel watch chain (valued at 6d), a silver seal (valued at 1/-) and 10 copper halfpennies. They were also sentenced to death for the highway robbery of Thomas Probert in the same parish on 25th November 1791, robbing him of a clasp-knife (valued at 3d), a horse whip (valued at 2d) and three copper halfpennies.
On Saturday, the 13 of April 1793, John Evans became, at 70, the oldest man to be hanged at Gloucester. He had been convicted of breaking into the dwelling house of Sarah Jones in the parish of Newent on the 15th November 1792; and stealing 1 gold guinea and 9/- in money (£1.50 in decimal money).
1794 saw the first executions for murder at the prison. Hannah Limbrick, aged 26, was hanged on Friday the 22nd of August for the murder of Deborah Limbrick, by striking her on the head with a hatchet, in the parish of Westbury on 14th of February 1794, fracturing her jaw and giving her mortal wounds of which she died on 16th February. The following day 24 year old Hannah Webley suffered for the murder of her male bastard, whom it was alleged that she had killed by striking his head against a bed post, shortly after he was born in the parish of Berkeley on 2nd June 1794. She denied her guilt to the end.
During the period 1792 – 1799, there were a total of 21 executions, 19 men and the two women mentioned above. The men were executed for such crimes as sheep stealing, horse theft and burglary. Only one was to die for the murder. This was on Monday the 18th of March 1799 when William Jewell was hanged for the murder of John Ayliffe whom he had severely assaulted in the parish of Eastington on the 1st of October 1799, causing his death two days later.
On the 23rd of March 1811, William Townley who had been convicted of burglary, was hanged a few minutes before a reprieve arrived for him. The sentencing judge had moved on to his next appointment at Hereford Assizes but had been told some favourable things about Townley and decided to reprieve him. However the letter was sent to Mr. Wilton, under-sheriff of Herefordshire, rather than the under-sheriff of Gloucestershire. When he received the letter and realised the gravity of the situation he sent a rider to Gloucester, some 34 miles away. By the time this man arrived Townley had been hanging for 20 minutes and it was too late to save him.
At 69 years old, Dinah Riddiford, is probably the oldest woman to have been hanged in England in the 19th or 20th centuries. She was executed for stealing bacon, butter, and other articles, alongside 22 year old John Williams on the 7th of September 1816. Theirs were the only executions carried out as a result of the August Assize at which 17 death sentences were passed. All the others had their death sentences commuted – generally to transportation overseas. Dinah’s son and co-defendant, Luke was one of the fortunate ones.
16 year old John Baker, from Wotton under Edge, became the youngest male to be hanged, when he was executed alongside two other young men on September the 1st 1821. John Baker had been convicted of burglary and 20 year old John Badcock and 28 year old Joseph Ford had been convicted of horse theft.
The Lent Assizes of 1828 resulted in another teenager, 19 year old Joseph Ray, from Bristol being hanged on the 28th of April 1828 for burglary, alongside four other young men.
Charlotte Long, aged 33, of North Nibley became the last woman in England to suffer for arson when she was hanged on the 31st of August 1833, alongside her co-defendant, 27 year old Thomas Gaskins. Arson was a crime for which women frequently were executed at this time.
(The last person to be hanged for arson in England was Daniel Case, three years later to the day, at Ilchester in Somerset on the 31st of August 1836.)
21 year old Harriet Tarver of Chipping Campden was hanged on the 9th of April 1836 for the murder of her husband, Thomas, by poison. She was the youngest woman to be executed at Gloucester in the 19th century. It was claimed in a broadside, sold at her execution, that she was repentant and hoped that her “orphan child would take warning and shun vice and bad company”. These claims of repentance were very popular in broadsides and may well have been pure invention.
After 1868 the law required that executions be carried out inside the walls of the prison. However these early non-public executions were by no means private and some 40 people were present in the prison yard on the morning of Monday the 12th of January 1874 to witness the execution of two men and one woman. They were Charles Edward Butt, Mary Ann Barry and Edwin Bailey. Curiously both the victims had died on the same day, the 17th of August 1873.
Edward Butt, aged 22, had shot and killed 20 year old Amelia Selina Phipps out of jealousy because she would not have a long term relationship with him. They were near neighbours on adjoining farms at Arlingham. Amelia was friendly towards Edward, but simply did not want him. They had at least two violent quarrels and in the end he murdered her with a shotgun. He was duly arrested and charged with the crime. He was tried at Gloucester Assizes on Christmas Eve 1873 and the jury rejected his contention that the shooting had been an accident.
Mary Ann Barry and Edwin Bailey
Mary Ann Barry (31) and Edwin Bailey (32) were jointly convicted of the murder by poisoning of 10 month old Sarah Jenkins. Sarah was born to seventeen-year-old Mary Susan Jenkins (known as Susan) on the 23rd of October 1872 and Edwin Bailey was alleged to be the father. He denied this and Susan was forced to obtain a court order for maintenance of Sarah, which he resented.
Mary Ann Barry was employed by Edwin Bailey to clean his shop but there may well have been more in the relationship than this. In the December of 1872, Ann started to visit Susan Jenkins and seemed to take to the baby. She brought Sarah gifts and claimed that the ladies of the Dorcas Society (a Christian charity) had taken an interest in the child. She encouraged Susan to give Sarah Steedman’s Soothing Powders for teething. In August 1873 Susan Jenkins received a letter apparently from the Dorcas Society with three packets labelled “Steedman’s Soothing Powders”. On the 17th of August, Susan gave one of the powders to little Sarah who quickly went into convulsions and died. The remaining powders were analysed and found to be a rat poison containing strychnine.
Bailey and Barry were tried at Gloucester assizes the day before Butt (on the 23rd of December 1873). The paper of the letter purporting to come from the Dorcas Society was traced to Bailey and the handwriting matched his. Both were found guilty and condemned to death.
William Calcraft was not available for this hanging, so instead the job was offered to Robert Anderson (Evans) from Carmarthen in Wales. He suggested that the platform of the gallows be mounted over a pit to make it level with prison yard and this was done (see picture above). The platform was enclosed by a four foot high black calico screen. The hanging took place at 8.00 a.m., the normal hour, and when the prisoners had been pinioned in their cells they were led out in a procession, headed by the chaplain. Butt and Bailey were wearing suits and Mary Barry a long dress. She was placed between the men on the trap and they were allowed to kneel for prayers before their legs were tied and the white caps placed over their heads, followed by the nooses. Anderson withdrew the bolt and the trap doors opened causing them to drop below the level of the calico screen. The two men died almost without a struggle, but Mary Ann Barry suffered longer, and Anderson had to press down upon her shoulders to quicken her death.
A black flag was hoisted over the prison in the normal way to show that the executions had been carried out and after the formal inquest their bodies were buried in unmarked graves in the execution yard. The chaplain revealed that both Bailey and Barry had confessed their guilt to him and Anderson said that Barry had whispered to him on the gallows that she had dreamt she would die like this. Mary Ann became the last woman to suffer hanging by the short drop method in Britain.
35 year old Edwin Smart became the next to be hanged for the murder of Lucy Derrick on the 2nd of April 1879. Smart was discovered sitting next to her body beside the road and was arrested after telling the person who found him that he had cut her throat. Smart was tried at Worcester and the only motive he could suggest for the murder was that he wanted to kill a woman, any woman! He denied that he even knew who his victim was. The hanging took place on Monday the 12th of May on the same gallows although the pit had been deepened to allow for the “long drop” pioneered by William Marwood. However Smart did not seem to die as easily as most of Marwood’s other victims, it took four minutes before his body became still. Examination afterwards revealed signs of suffocation.
James Berry carried out Gloucester’s next execution – that of Edward Hewitt on Tuesday the 15th of June 1886 for the murder of his wife Sarah.
Berry was to visit Gloucester twice more.
On the 17th of February 1887 he hanged 20 year old Edward Pritchard who had been convicted of the murder of 14 year old Henry Allen who he had robbed of his employers wages that Henry had been sent to the Stroud bank to collect.
Berry’s other execution at Gloucester was that of Enoch Wadley on Monday the 28th of November 1887. 27 year old Wadley had murdered Elizabeth Evans – a girl of 18 who did not accept his romantic overtures. He had stabbed the poor girl some 40 times. There was evidence of mental illness put forward at the first trial and the jury were unable to reach a verdict so a second trial took place where a new jury rejected the insanity argument and found Wadley guilty of the murder.
Nearly 12 years were to elapse before the next hanging which was of Albert Manning on Thursday the 16th of March 1893. 37 year old Manning had shot a Mrs. Flew, a lady he had originally lodged with and later formed a relationship with. The motive for the killing was thought to be jealousy over the disintegration of the relationship and her interest in another man.
The executioner was William Billington, assisted by Thomas Scott. These two also carried out the next execution here, that of 45 year old Frederick Wyndham on Thursday the 21st of December 1893. Wyndham had murdered his father, James a farmer.
Sidney George Smith
The next hanging took place on Wednesday the 9th of March 1904, when 23 year old Sidney George Smith was hanged by William Billington for the murder of his girlfriend, 21 year old Alice Woodman at Cheltenham. It was a very sad case. Sidney loved Alice and wanted to marry her but due to money problems couldn’t. Sidney was deeply depressed by his financial troubles and at being given notice to leave their home. He resolved to kill Alice and then himself but did not succeed in his own suicide.
Gilbert Smith also cut a woman’s throat – this time his estranged wife’s Rosabella and was hanged by Thomas Pierrepoint and Albert Lumb on Tuesday the 26th of November 1912. This was to be the first hanging in the newly constructed execution suite at the end of “A” Wing.
Herbert Rowse Armstrong
One of the most famous cases to reach its conclusion on Gloucester’s gallows was that of 52 year old Herbert Rowse Armstrong who was hanged on Wednesday the 31st of May 1922. Armstrong was a solicitor at Hay on Wye in Herefordshire and was convicted of poisoning his wife Katherine (aged 47) with arsenic on the 22nd of February 1921 at their home and also of the attempted murder of a fellow solicitor, Oswald Martin, in 1921. Katherine’s body was found to have 3.5 grains of arsenic present and a box of chocolates Armstrong had sent to Oswald Martin contained 2.12 grains found. (2 grains being generally the lethal dose.)
Armstrong came to trial at Hereford Assizes before Mr. Justice Darling on the 3rd of April 1922. The trial lasted until the 13th and the prosecution was led by Ernest Pullock and the defense by the famous Edward Curtis Bennett. At the trial it was alleged that Armstrong had killed his wife for money, as a result of a new will, dated June 1920. It came out that he had bought a considerable amount of weedkiller on the 4th of August 1920 and that it was arsenic based. Katherine was affected by repeated bouts of stomach troubles from here on and also began to suffer from delusions for which she was treated at Barnwood House Mental Hospital over a four month period from August 1920. She came out of hospital in January 1921 and was again affected by the stomach cramps and vomiting (typical symptoms of arsenic poisoning). She died on the 22nd of February 1921 and was buried three weeks later with the cause of death being stated as “heart disease arising from nephritis and gastritis”. At this time there was no direct suspicion of murder and Armstrong went off on holiday for a month.
Oswald Martin ran the other firm of solicitors in Hay on Wye and was in a dispute with Armstrong over a conveyance for which Armstrong was holding a deposit.
Martin received an unexpected gift of a box of chocolates from Armstrong. These were eaten after a dinner party at the Martin’s house and his sister in law, Dorothy became violently ill as a result. Armstrong invited Martin to tea at his house to discuss finalisation of the property deal and offered him a scone. Martin too, became very ill as a result and his doctor decided to take a urine sample which together with a sample of Martin’s vomit, revealed traces of arsenic.
Armstrong was arrested at his office on the 20th of December and found to have a quantity of arsenic about his person. He was initially charged with the attempted murder of Oswald Martin. Katherine’s body was exhumed on the 2nd of January 1922 and found to contain arsenic too.
Accordingly, on the 9th of January, Armstrong was charged with her murder. Armstrong appealed his conviction without success and was duly hanged at Gloucester at 8.00 a.m. on the morning of Wednesday the 31st of May 1922 by John Ellis, assisted by Edward Taylor. He did not confess to his priest or his visitors. Armstrong was a small man of only 115 lbs. in weight so Ellis gave him a drop of 8’ 8”. At the last moment he spoke on the gallows “I am coming Kate” and with that Ellis pulled the lever.
23 year old Herbert Burrows was a probationary constable serving at Worcester and was condemned for the murders of Ernest Laight, his wife, Doris and their son Robert at the pub that Ernest ran, the Garibaldi Inn in Wylds Lane, Worcester. Burrows lived opposite the Garibaldi and had stayed on after closing time on the night of Friday the 27th of November 1925. After the other drinkers had departed he shot Mr. Laight and then his wife, when she came to investigate.
He apparently battered Robert to death because he was afraid that his crying might be heard.
He then took the takings from the till. Burrows asked a fellow officer the following day if he had heard about the shooting at the Garibaldi. However at the particular time he asked the question the police did not know that the Laights had been shot. Fellow officers went to Burrows’ lodgings where they found both the gun and the stolen money. Faced with this Burrows confessed.
He came to trial at Worcester on the 27th of January 1926 and was quickly convicted. He was hanged on Wednesday the 17th of February by Thomas Pierrepoint, assisted by Robert Baxter.
There was to be a second execution in 1926, that of 45 year old Charles Houghton on Friday the 3rd of December. Houghton had been convicted of the murders of two elderly sisters, Eleanor and Martha Drinkwater, for whom he worked as a butler. They had given him notice after 22 years working for them due to his drinking problem. He shot them both on the 7th of September 1926. Thomas Pierrepoint was again the hangman, assisted by Robert Wilson.
Yet another shooting led to the next hanging – that of Arthur Franklin for the murder of Bessie Gladys Nott and the attempted murder of her husband Henry on the 8th of May 1935.
The Franklins and Notts were neighbours and Arthur and Bessie had been having an affair, the break-up of which that led to the killing. Franklin was arrested at the scene and pleaded guilty at his trial on the 5th of June 1935. He was hanged by Thomas Pierrepoint, assisted by Robert Wilson on Tuesday the 25th of June 1935.
The last hanging at Gloucester was carried out on Wednesday the 7th of June when 41 year old Ralph Smith was executed for the murder of Beatrice Baxter, his ex-girlfriend. He and Beatrice quarrelled over his attitude to her seeing other men and the police had been called on at least one previous occasion. He left her house after one such quarrel, but decided to try and get back with her. She told him that she was going out to meet another man at a dance, and this caused him to snap and cut her throat. He gave himself up later in the day and was told that Beatrice had died from her wound and that he was charged with murder. He was tried at the Old Bailey in London on the 3rd of May 1939 and found guilty. He was then returned to Gloucester to await his appointment with Thomas and Albert Pierrepoint on Wednesday the 7th of June 1939.
information source www.capitalpunishmentuk.org/gloucester.html