Execution (or Capital Punishment) is believed to have existed since very early times and, in Britain, Iron Age bodies have been found preserved in peat that died from being garrotted with a rope. This may have been for ritual sacrifice or equally as a punishment (perhaps both).
Britain has used many forms of capital punishment over the years. These include beheading, decapitation by machine, boiling alive, burning at the stake, drowning, shooting for military offences and hanging (including drawing and quartering). The most common method, and one which continued up to 1965, was hanging.
5th Century - Anglo-Saxons only executed people if they could not pay “Wergild”. A value was placed on a murdered person or injured body parts and this was the compensation that had to be paid to avoid execution.
930 - King Athelstan raised the age of criminal responsibility from 12 to 16 because he felt that the execution of children was cruel and was concerned at the number of juveniles being put to death.
1066 - William the Conqueror abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes and adopted the Anglo-Saxon system of Wergild.
1109 - Henry I brought back the death penalty and abolished the practice of substituting a fine for hanging in thefts of over 12d. The crimes of murder, manslaughter, arson, highway robbery and larceny attracted the death penalty unless specifically stated otherwise in the written law. Mayhem and petty larceny (stealing to the value of less than 12d) were the only non-capital felonies. Hanging was the normal punishment, although beheading and drowning were also used.
1166 - King Henry II specified that cases were to be heard in each county by the King’s judges sent out from London on circuits. They sat in Assize Courts and tried the more serious felony cases with a twelve-man jury and could pass death sentences. They were to investigate and try the crimes of murder, robbery, theft or anyone who harboured a murderer, robber, or thief. A Grand Jury, consisting of 12 men in each hundred and four men in each township, would report to them any of the crimes mentioned for trial. The Assizes were normally held twice a year in Lent and Summer so people could spend many months in prison awaiting trial. Shropshire was part of the Oxford Circuit and the Assizes took place in March-April and July-August. The Assize Courts remained in operation until 1971, when they were abolished by the Courts Act of that year and replaced by the present Crown Court system. In early times, it is thought that a hangman would travel with the judge to carry out death sentences. In later times, counties employed a regular hangman who was often a criminal who had been reprieved on condition of carrying out executions, a practice which continued into the early part of the 19th century.
1215 - Magna Carta was agreed by King John and a particularly important passage of the Charter read : "No freeman shall be taken and imprisoned or disseised (executed) or exiled or in any way destroyed, nor shall we go upon him nor send upon him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers and by the law of the land".
1540 - during the reign of Henry VIII, there were just 11 capital crimes defined, ie high treason (which included counterfeiting coins), petty treason (murdering a husband or superior such as an employer), murder, rape, piracy, arson of a dwelling house or barn with corn in it, highway robbery, embezzling a master’s goods, horse theft, robbing churches (sacrilege) and robbing a person in a dwelling house. Men convicted of high treason were typically hanged, drawn and quartered, while women convicted of either high treason or petty treason were burned at the stake. This was because the drawing and quartering process involved nudity and it was not regarded as proper that women should endure this. For high treason, the Sovereign could commute the sentence to beheading but only did so for nobility.
1542 - witchcraft was made a felony in England by Henry VIII. In England, unlike Scotland, it was punishable by hanging rather than burning. There are claims that some 72,000 people were executed during the 38-year reign of Henry VIII.
1688 – there were now about 50 capital crimes.
1713 - an Act of Parliament made stealing from a dwelling house in the value of 40 shillings a capital crime.
1714 - the Riot Act was passed. Rioting that caused serious damage to churches, houses, barns and stables was punishable by hanging.
1723 - the Black Act was passed. It was designed to prevent poaching by persons who had disguised themselves or blackened their faces. Some 50 new capital crimes were added to the list by this and subsequent Acts.
1736 - witchcraft ceased to be a capital crime.
1751 - the Murder Act was passed. There were now so many crimes carrying the death sentence that people began to worry that there was no way of distinguishing the most serious among them. To that end, Parliament ordered that those convicted of murder should suffer some additional punishment. From the following year, the bodies of those executed for murder could not be buried unless they had first been either given to anatomists for dissection or hung in chains. Hanging in chains (also called gibbeting) involved placing the dead body inside an iron gibbet cage and suspending it from a high post.
1800 – Every county now had a place of execution, normally at or near the county Assize town and usually just outside the town on the west side. More than 220 offences now carried the death penalty, including damaging the banks of canals, stealing from a rabbit warren, being in the company of Gypsies for one month, strong evidence of malice in a child aged 7–14 years of age and blacking the face or using a disguise whilst committing a crime. The number of new capital offences created during the 18th Century relate mostly to the protection of private property during the age of ascendant capitalism and relate to anxieties of the owning classes about their personal security, the security of their property and the maintenance of public order during episodes of unrest. This harsh legal regime was known as the “Bloody Code” but the actual number of death sentences passed by the assize court judges was far fewer than the number of convictions. Juries were often unwilling to convict in cases where the accused was likely to die and prosecutors sometimes deliberately reduced the severity of the crime from a felony to a misdemeanour so that a lighter sentence might be obtained. New county gaols were being constructed and this process continued into the early part of the 19th Century until every county had one (Shrewsbury Gaol had opened in 1793).
1837 - the “Bloody Code” had been completely repealed and just murder, attempted murder, treason and arson in a Royal Dockyard remained punishable by death.
1957 – the Homicide Act was passed. This removed the automatic death penalty for murder, although exceptions included any murder committed for theft.
1965 – the Murder Act was passed. This suspended capital punishment for 5 years until it was abolished completely in 1969.
Beheading with a sword or axe goes back many years, since it was a cheap and practical method of execution. The Greeks and Romans considered beheading a less dishonourable and less painful form of execution than other methods in use at the time and the Roman Empire used beheading for its own citizens whilst crucifying others. Beheading was used by the Anglo-Saxons as a punishment for serious theft.
The axe was used for most beheadings but Peers of the Realm were beheaded with a sword. If they were sentenced to die by another method than beheading they had the right to insist on a beheading by sword.
Where a sword was used, the person was made to kneel down or sit in a chair. A typical execution sword was up to 48 inches long and 2½ inches wide, with the handle being long enough for the executioner to use both hands to give maximum leverage. It weighed around 4 lbs. Where an axe was used, a wooden block was required, shaped to fit the neck. It was up to 2ft high and the prisoner knelt behind it and lent forward so that their neck rested on the top. Sometimes they were made to lay on a bench with their neck over the block. The neck thus presented an easy target for the axe.
1076 - although William the Conqueror had banned executions generally, he allowed the execution of Waltheof, Earl of Northumberland in 1076 at Winchester. Waltheof had been convicted of treason for taking part in the Revolt of the Earls against the King and was beheaded with a sword.
Beheadings were usually for High Treason and carried out at the Tower of London. There is no record of any beheadings in Shropshire. Between 1484-1537 alone there were 91 beheadings of nobles on Tower Hill and a list of names can be found HERE. Notable people beheaded were :-
1536 – Ann Boleyn was beheaded with a sword on Tower Hill.
1542 – Kathryn Howard was beheaded with a sword on Tower Hill.
1554 – Lady Jane Grey was beheaded with a sword on Tower Hill.
1649 - King Charles I was beheaded with a sword at Whitehall.
1747 - Simon Lord Lovatt became the last person to be beheaded on Tower Hill for treason.
1286 - the Guillotine is widely believed to be a French invention but a similar device known as the Halifax Gibbet was in use at Halifax at this time. The device had an axe blade fixed pointing downwards to a horizontal piece of timber. This ran in runners between two uprights and, when the retention rope was released, slid down to behead the person placed below it.
1556 – the Halifax Gibbet was seen by James Douglas, Earl
of Morton, who had one built in
1650 - the Halifax Gibbet ceased to be used.
1710 – The Maiden ceased to be used
1531 - a cook called Richard Roose, who worked for the Bishop of Rochester, killed 2 people with poisoned porridge. He was found guilty of treason and sentenced by Henry VIII to be boiled to death.
1532 – Roose was boiled to death and a contemporary chronicle reported : "He roared mighty loud, and divers women who were big with child did feel sick at the sight of what they saw, and were carried away half dead; and other men and women did not seem frightened by the boiling alive, but would prefer to see the headsman at his work."
1542 – the method was used again for a woman called Margaret Davy, who had also used poison.
1547 - The law was repealed and this method ceased to be used.
Burning was used throughout Europe in medieval times and was particularly favoured by the Catholic Church, as it did not involve shedding of the victim's blood and it ensured that the condemned had no body to take into the next life. It was also thought at that time that burning cleansed the soul which was considered important for those convicted of witchcraft and heresy.
Victims were burned in two ways. In one way, they were stood in empty tar barrels at the stake and then had faggots heaped around them. The second method was to tie the condemned to the stake and heap faggots all around them, so that they died inside a wall of flames. It is said that Joan of Arc died like this. This method led to a much quicker death because the victim was forced to breathe the flames and hot gases surrounding their face. The heat of the air caused the lining of the trachea to swell up, thus blocking the airway and leading to suffocation within a few minutes. In England, women who were sentenced to be burnt were allowed by law to be strangled with a rope before the fire got to them and thus died in much the same way as they would have by hanging.
1222 – the first recorded use of burning, when a deacon of the church was burnt at Oxford for heresy. He had adopted the Jewish faith so he could marry a Jew.
1401 – the king authorised a Statute of Heresy, which gave the clergy power to arrest and try those suspected of heresy. Those found guilty were to be burnt at the stake.
1547 - the Statute of Heresy was repealed by Edward IV.
1554 - burning for heresy was re-introduced by Queen Mary and, during her reign, 274 Protestants were burned to death in England. There is no record of Mary having anyone burned in Shropshire so the county seems to have reverted back to Catholicism happily enough.
1685 - Elizabeth Gaunt was the last woman to be burnt for high treason, having been convicted of involvement in a plot to assassinate King Charles II.
1789 - Catherine Murphy was the last person to be burned at the stake, her crime being counterfeiting.
1790 - burning as a punishment was abolished, not out of any compassion but because the sensitivities of Judges and Sheriffs were offended by the gruesome sight and vile smell of bodies thus treated.
5th Century - the Anglo-Saxons sometimes used drowning as a punishment.
1057 – King Malcolm of Scotland decreed that every baron should sink a pit for the drowning of females, a gibbet being used for males. Bones have been found close to some of these sites, suggesting that the corpses were buried close by and not in hallowed ground. In England at that time, drowning was sometimes used to punish murder.
1190 – King Richard I decreed that any soldier of his army who killed a fellow crusader during the passage to the Holy Land should be drowned.
1200 - the owner of Baynard's Castle in London had powers of trying criminals and his descendants long afterwards claimed the privileges. One of these was the right of drowning traitors in the River Thames.
13th Century - an Act was passed that allowed anybody who committed murder on the King's ships to be tied to their victim’s body and thrown into the sea to drown. This was specifically aimed at acts of piracy. In Portsmouth at that time, male murderers were burned but female murderers were tied to a post in the harbour and left to drown when the tide came in. After this time, the use of drowning died out as hanging became more convenient.
Death by firing squad has always been the preferred method of military execution and no British civilian has ever been executed by shooting. The first records of using this method of execution are from the English Civil War and in 1651 a Colonel Benbow was shot at Shrewsbury Castle for changing sides.
Foreigners convicted of spying in World Wars I and II were normally sentenced to die by firing squad, the executions taking place on the rifle range in the Tower of London. The condemned man was tied to a chair with a paper target pinned over his heart and shot by an eight-man Army firing squad. One of the rifles contained a blank round in the mistaken belief that the firing squad would never know if they had killed the victim or not. However, anyone who has ever fired a rifle will know the difference in “kickback” with a live round. Twelve men were killed in this manner and a list of names can be found HERE.
In 1953, the British Royal Commission on Capital Punishment considered shooting as an alternative to hanging but rejected it on the grounds that "it does not possess even the first requisite of an efficient method, the certainty of causing immediate death".
5th Century - hanging was introduced into Britain by the Saxons. The Anglo-Saxon name for gallows is “Galga” and the modern term Gala comes from “Galga Days”, when hanging was carried out. It was only used as a punishment for serious crimes, such as murder or arson, where the offender could not pay wergild (blood money) to the relatives. A value was placed on a person or their body parts and this was the compensation that had to be paid to avoid execution. A tree was the earliest form of gallows with prisoners being hauled up manually by the hangman. It was not unusual for the body to be buried under the gallows or close to it and there is evidence of burial mounds at the sites of gallows.
17th Century - some counties had permanent gallows but others erected gallows for each occasion or used portable gallows. Executions could also be carried out at or near the crime scene if ordered by the judge in particularly heinous cases. The prisoner was made to stand up on a cart and the rope was fastened around the neck and pulled as tight as possible. The cart was then driven away, leaving the prisoner hanging not far from the ground. Alternatively, the victim and the executioner climbed ladders to fit the noose. The hangman would then descend and turn the prisoner’s ladder over. Hence the term “turning them off” (the ladder).
Unconsciousness might have been almost instantaneous due to pressure on the arteries in the neck or the person might have been conscious for several minutes until asphyxiation occurred. Even though the brain might be dead through lack of oxygen, the heart could continue to beat for many minutes and there were usually convulsive movements of the body and limbs. These were known as “dithering” and were probably caused by nervous and muscular reflexes.
1751 - the Murder Act was passed. Although the practice of “hanging in chains” or gibbeting had been used for many years, it was now specified as a mandatory post-mortem punishment for murderers if their body was not required for dissection. The majority of murderers’ bodies were sent for the latter. Murderers made up the majority of those who were hung in chains but the punishment was also ordered for other serious crimes such as robbing the mail, piracy and smuggling. When a man (female bodies were always in demand for dissection) was sentenced to hang in chains, it was the responsibility of the sheriff to make arrangements for the erection of a gibbet pole at a suitable location and for the manufacture of a gibbet cage and whatever hooks, chains, or other tackle was necessary to suspend the cage.
Gibbets were made for a single criminal and were not normally reused. A gibbeted criminal would be exhibited close to the scene of crime and could remain in his gibbet for many decades. Bodies were always dead before being placed into gibbet cages, although in earlier centuries criminals were occasionally gibbeted alive and left to die of starvation and exposure. After the victim was dead, their body was coated in tar to preserve it and the iron cage fitted. The body in its chains was then taken by cart to the place where the gibbet had been erected. Because of the large crowds attracted, open locations away from densely populated areas were generally preferred for gibbets. The poles from which the cages were hung were often very high, up to 30ft, which discouraged attempts to rescue the body or to steal the valuable ironwork of the gibbet. Despite the penalty of transportation for those caught removing a body from a gibbet, friends and relatives often attempted to steal the body to give it a decent burial.
Hanging in chains was called keeping “sheep by moonlight” and it is mentioned in a poem by A E Houseman :-
On moonlit heath and lonesome bank
The sheep beside me graze;
And yon the gallows used to clank
Fast by the four cross ways.
A careless shepherd once would keep
The flocks by moonlight there,
And high amongst the glimmering sheep
The dead man stood on air.
They hang us now in Shrewsbury jail:
The whistles blow forlorn,
And trains all night groan on the rail
To men that die at morn.
There sleeps in Shrewsbury jail to-night,
Or wakes, as may betide,
A better lad, if things went right,
Than most that sleep outside.
And naked to the hangman's noose
The morning clocks will ring
A neck God made for other use
Than strangling in a string.
And sharp the link of life will snap,
And dead on air will stand
Heels that held up as straight a chap
As treads upon the land.
So here I'll watch the night and wait
To see the morning shine,
When he will hear the stroke of eight
And not the stroke of nine;
And wish my friend as sound a sleep
As lads' I did not know,
That shepherded the moonlit sheep
A hundred years ago.
The gibbet for Shrewsbury was at Old Heath. During the 19th Century, there was a Gibbet Colliery on Clee Hill. This location is an ideal place for a gibbet for Ludlow but there are no records of this.
1760 - the first hanging utilising a “drop” was that of Earl Ferrers at Tyburn in 1760. New gallows were constructed for the occasion, comprising 2 uprights topped with a cross beam. Directly under the beam there was a small box like structure, 3ft square and 18 inches high, which was designed to sink down into the scaffold and thus leave the criminal suspended. The box was liable to stick rather than fall smoothly as happened in this execution. It was subsequently replaced by a one or two leaf trap door and this concept became known as the “New Drop”.
1800 - new County Gaols were being built and hanging now took place either outside them or on the gatehouse roof, utilising some form of “New Drop” gallows. The drop given was rarely more than 18 inches and was not sufficient to break the prisoner’s neck.
1800-36 - crimes for which people were hanged in Britain included :-
1832 – the Anatomy Act was passed. This aimed to regularise the supply of cadavers to anatomy schools in the wake of the Burke and Hare scandal and increasing anxiety about grave robbing. After 1832, executed criminals were generally buried within the prison precinct and the needs of anatomists were supplied by the unclaimed bodies of the poor who died in workhouses or hospitals.
1834 - the practice of gibbeting was formally abolished.
1853 - The concept of the “Long Drop” form of hanging developed in Ireland. One of the first recorded long drop hangings was that of John Hurley who was executed outside Galway Gaol in 1853. It was recorded that Hurley became still after “a few spasmodic convulsions” and was taken down after 20 minutes.
1868 - the Capital Punishment (Amendment) Act was passed by Parliament and this abolished public executions. Most prisons continued to use the existing gallows, set up in one of the yards or within a purpose-built execution shed.
1872 - the “Long Drop” method of hanging was introduced to Britain by William Marwood. For execution by this method, the inmate was weighed the day before the execution and a rehearsal was done using a sandbag of the same weight as the prisoner. This was to determine the length of drop necessary to ensure a quick death. If the rope was too long, the inmate could be decapitated and, if too short, the strangulation could take as long as 45 minutes. The rope was up to 1¼ inches in diameter and was boiled and stretched. The knot was lubricated with wax or soap to ensure a smooth sliding action. Immediately before the execution, the prisoner's hands and legs were secured, they were blindfolded and the noose placed around the neck with the knot behind the left ear. The execution took place when a trapdoor was opened and the prisoner fell through. The prisoner's weight should cause a rapid fracture of the neck, however, instantaneous death rarely occurred. If the inmate had strong neck muscles, was very light, if the drop was too short or the noose had been wrongly positioned, the fracture was not rapid and death resulted from slow asphyxiation. If this occurred, the face became engorged, the tongue protruded, the eyes popped and violent movements of the limbs occurred.
1964 – the last hangings in Britain were carried out simultaneously on Peter Allen at Walton Prison and Gwynne Evans at Strangeways Prison.
1965 – the Murder Act was passed. This suspended capital punishment for 5 years until it was abolished completely in 1969.
Hanging Drawing and Quartering
This was the ultimate punishment available in English law for men who had been convicted of High Treason. Women were burned at the stake instead, apparently for the sake of decency. The full sentence passed upon those convicted of High Treason was as follows : “That you be drawn on a hurdle to the place of execution where you shall be hanged by the neck and being alive cut down, your privy members shall be cut off and your bowels taken out and burned before you, your head severed from your body and your body divided into four quarters to be disposed of at the King’s pleasure”.
At the execution, the prisoner was hanged in the normal way, without a drop to ensure that the neck was not broken, but cut down whilst still conscious. The penis and testicles were cut off and the stomach was slit open. The intestines and heart were removed and burned before them. The other organs were torn out and finally the head was cut off and the body divided into four quarters. The head and quarters were boiled to prevent them rotting too quickly and then displayed upon the city gates as a grim warning to all. At some point in this agonising process, the prisoner inevitably died of strangulation, haemorrhage or shock and damage to vital organs.
1283 – Dafydd III, the last Welsh Prince of Wales, was tried for treason at Shrewsbury and sentenced to be hanged drawn and quartered.
1403 – For their part in the Battle of Shrewsbury, Thomas Percy, Sir Richard Venables, Sir Richard Vernon and Sir Henry Boynton were publicly hanged, drawn and quartered in Shrewsbury and their heads publicly displayed, Thomas Percy's on London Bridge. Henry Percy had been killed in the battle and was initially buried at Whitchurch but the King had him disinterred. His body was taken to Shrewsbury, where it was quartered and put on display in Chester, London, Bristol and Newcastle upon Tyne.
1814 - the Treason Act formally removed the disembowelling part of the punishment and substituted normal hanging followed by post mortem decapitation. During the same year, the last recorded instance of hanging and decapitation took place in Scotland. Andrew Hardie and John Baird were executed at Stirling for High Treason as part of the 1820 Rising. After hanging for half an hour, their bodies were cut down and placed in their coffins, with their necks over the one edge. Their heads were then cut off and shown to the crowd.
1870 - the Forfeiture Act abandoned drawing and quartering. After this date, normal hanging in private became the only penalty but there were very few executions for treason.
“Shropshire Murders” by Nicola Sly
2009, The History Press, ISBN 0752448978
Timeline for Shropshire
(see bottom of page for full list of executions)
1138 – Shrewsbury Castle was being held for Queen Matilda and King Stephen marched his army to Shrewsbury to retake it. Upon hearing of Stephen’s approach, the rebel Sheriff, William FitzAlan, secretly fled with his wife and children, leaving behind those who had bound themselves by oath not to surrender. It took several days for Stephen to capture the castle and the defenders were quickly killed or captured. Stephen ordered that 100 of the captives be hanged as traitors. He then marched on to Oswestry Castle, where William FitzAlan’s uncle, Ernulf of Hesdin, was forced to surrender to Stephen after long siege. Stephen also hanged Ernulf as a traitor.
12th Century - Jack Blondell (nicknamed Bloudie Jack) was the keeper of Shrewsbury Castle and married six women in succession. Each of the first five, when he grew tired of her, was killed by Jack and buried. He firstly cut off their fingers and toes, which he kept as souvenirs. A young girl named Mary-Anne went missing and her sister Fanny searched for her at the castle. She discovered Jack’s souvenirs in the chest and fled to inform the local authorities, who arrested Jack. He was sentenced to death then hanged, drawn and quartered at Old Heath. His head was displayed upon a pole at Wyle Cop.
Old Heath (aka Mere or Moor Heath) was being used as a place of execution by hanging. The site is now built upon but is believed to be near the junction of Ditherington Road and Mount Pleasant Road. The area of Ditherington is believed to have derived its name from the word “dither”, whose original meaning was to shake or quake. This refers to the public hangings that used to take place here and the movements of the hanged victims.
1283 – Dafydd III, the last Welsh Prince of Wales, was tried for treason at Shrewsbury after he was captured during an insurrection. He was sentenced "to be drawn to the gallows as a traitor to the King who made him a Knight, to be hanged as the murderer of the gentleman taken in the Castle of Hawarden, to have his limbs burnt because he had profaned by assassination the solemnity of Christ's passion and to have his quarters dispersed through the country because he had in different places compassed the death of his lord the king". The sentence was carried out at High Cross, which used to stand at the junction of Pride Hill, Castle Street and St Mary’s Street.
1403 – Many of the nobility who were captured at the Battle of Shrewsbury were executed there. Thomas Percy, Sir Richard Venables, Sir Richard Vernon and Sir Henry Boynton were publicly hanged, drawn and quartered in Shrewsbury and their heads publicly displayed, Thomas Percy's on London Bridge. Henry (Hotspur) Percy had been killed in the battle and was initially buried by his nephew Thomas Nevill at Whitchurch. Rumours soon spread, however, that he was not really dead and, in response, the King had him disinterred. His body was salted and set up in Shrewsbury, impaled on a spear between two millstones in the marketplace pillory with an armed guard. The body was later quartered and put on display in Chester, London, Bristol and Newcastle upon Tyne. His head was sent to York and impaled on the north gate, looking toward his own lands. In November, his grisly remains were returned to his widow Elizabeth.
1546 - Alice Glaston (11) was one of three prisoners hanged on 13th April and was the youngest girl to have been executed in Shropshire. Her burial was recorded by Sir Thomas Botelar, a vicar and former Abbot of Much Wenlock in Shropshire. He said that she was interred in the Parish Church there, before the door of the Lady's Chapel. The crimes committed by these three was not specified.
1644 – during the English Civil War, Samuel More commanded a parliamentary garrison of 31 men at Hopton Castle. It was besieged by a Royalist force of 500 men, led by Sir Michael Woodhouse. More was twice offered quarter but refused. He finally surrendered when the Royalists had breached the castle walls and threatened to blow up the keep. He then negotiated that the whole garrison should be allowed to march away without arms but Woodhouse reneged on the deal. Samuel More himself was taken to Ludlow and was later given his freedom in a prisoner exchange. The rest of the men, however, were tied back to back, had their throats slit and then dumped in the moat.
1645 - The Ordinance of No Quarter to the Irish was a decree by Parliament, passed in response to a threat from the Irish Confederation of Kilkenny to send troops from Ireland to support King Charles I during the English Civil War. It ordered Parliamentary officers to give no quarter to Irish soldiers fighting in England and Wales. On 9th February, the Royalist garrison in Shrewsbury Castle was surprised. The town's governor, Sir Michael Earnley, was killed and about 60 gentlemen and 200 soldiers were captured. It was found that there were a number of Irish soldiers among the captives and these were separated and hanged. In response, Prince Rupert executed an equal number of Parliamentarian troops, much to the English Parliament's disgust.
1647 - a Mrs Foxall was burned at the stake at the Dingle in Shrewsbury for murdering her husband.
1651 - Colonel John Benbow from Newport was originally a Parliamentary Captain during the English Civil War. In 1651, he changed sides and was promoted to Colonel
in the King’s army. He was allowed to recruit in Shropshire to make up his regiment and was captured at the Battle of Worcester. On September 30th, he was found guilty of treason and shot on the Castle Green at Shrewsbury.
1743 – Edward Wollaston was hanged at Old Heath on 1st August for the murder of Richard Cadman. The judge ordered his body to be hung in chains afterwards.
1759 – Joseph and Thomas Darby were hanged at Old Heath on 11th August for murder of John Walker. The bodies were then taken 40 miles to Halesowen, where they were gibbeted.
1767 – John Scott was both hanged and gibbeted at Bridgnorth on 21st April for housebreaking.
1775 - Joseph Skidmore was hanged at Old Heath on March 25th for the murder of Ann Chandler. The latter was the widow of a soldier and worked as a servant for Richard Wilson of Shrewsbury. She had set out to visit her father, who lived at Cradley, near Stourbridge. Her body was found on the road, about half a mile beyond Halesowen, barbarously murdered. It was supposed, from the circumstances under which she was found, that she had been also ravished: her hair was dishevelled, her handkerchief and cap torn off and her under petticoat lay by her side. When she set out, she had a small bundle containing a new pair of stuff shoes, one pair of pattens, a black silk handkerchief with lace to trim it and sundry other things of small value. She wore a black and a white cloak, over both of which she pinned a white hat, both of which were stolen together with the bundle. Suspicion fell on a carrier called Joseph Skidmore, with whom she had obtained a lift to Halesowen the night before. At Shrewbury Assizes, he was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death.
1792 - Sarah Shenston (18) was hanged at Old Heath on 22nd March for the murder of her illegitimate male child, whose throat she had cut immediately after birth.
1793 - Shrewsbury Gaol at the Dana was opened. It had been built by Thomas Telford between 1787-1793 and had 204 cells, 179 for males and 25 for females, plus a debtor’s ward and an infirmary.
1793 - on 10th August, the last public hanging was held at Old Heath. John Woodcock was hanged for abetting murder and Dan Sheldon, John Mumford, Richard Sinister and William Richards for burglary.
1795 - on 15th August, the first public hanging was held at the new Shrewsbury Gaol. John Smith (25) was hanged for stealing 10 cotton handkerchiefs from the shop of John Miner in the parish of Whitchurch.
The event drew huge crowds in an unwholesome festive atmosphere. People turned up early to make sure they got a good place and posters were produced as souvenirs. From this point on, the bodies of executed offenders were buried within the prison precincts.
1796 - Edward Quilt was hanged at Shrewsbury Gaol on 26th March for theft, as well as John Hill for being at large in the Kingdom (illegally returning from transportation).
1802 - Samuel Burrows became the hangman for Chester but also worked at Shrewsbury when required.
1803 – Sarah Jones (27) was hanged at Shrewsbury Gaol on 11th August for the murder of her female illegitimate child, which she threw into a 30ft deep ironstone pit in the Hill Top Field in the parish of Benthall. This was the first execution for murder at Shrewsbury Gaol.
1811 – Abraham Whitehouse, George Taylor, Isaac Hickman, James Baker and William Turner were hanged together at Shrewsbury Gaol on 24th August for a burglary at the premises of Mr Norcross at Betton. This was Shrewsbury Gaol’s largest execution in a single day.
1812 - John Griffiths was hanged at Shrewsbury Gaol on March 23rd for the murder of William Bailey. Bailey, a collier from near Shifnal, was found robbed and murdered in an ironstone mine at Red Lake, in the parish of Wellington, having his throat cut and skull fractured in several places. Suspicion immediately fell on John Griffiths, a cooper, who resided about 200 yards off and who had been twice convicted of felony. It was also known that he had recently been pestering the deceased for a cash loan. Despite much rain during the preceding day, and the roads being dirty in consequence, Bailey’s shoes were perfectly clean when his body was found and it was believed that he had been murdered in some building and his body carried to where it lay. Griffiths’ house was searched and bloodstains were found on the wall, plus a quantity of sand appeared to have been recently laid on part of the floor. The latter was immediately ripped up and underneath it was found a space about 8ft long, 4ft wide and 5ft deep, which was covered by the floorboards. The boards were much stained with blood and a considerable quantity of this, which had evidently run down between them, was found in the bottom of the vault. A shirt, marked with the initials of Bailey’s name, was found hidden under coal in the cellar, which Griffiths swore was his property. A cooper’s bloody adze, exactly corresponding with the fractures in Bailey’s skull, was found on the floor and a large horse pistol secreted in the brick work. None of Griffith’s working clothes could be found and it appeared that his wife had been washing the major part of the preceding night.
A woman that lived nearly opposite swore that, on the night of the murder at about half past nine, she saw Griffiths come out of his house. He looked both ways down the road and, seeing no one in sight, dragged out a bag containing some weighty item and hauled it around the end of his house in the direction of where the body of Bailey was found. A bag was found in Griffiths’ house containing a quantity of coagulated blood at the bottom of it. Bailey’s house at Old Park had been robbed of everything valuable on the night of the murder, no doubt by the murderer or his associates. At his trial, the Jury had no hesitation in pronouncing Griffiths guilty. He
made a full confession of his guilt and, after hanging, his body was given to the surgeons for dissection.
1814 – William Wheeler was hanged at Shrewsbury Gaol on 9th April for sodomising Ann Vandrell (6). Despite the unusual nature of the case, it received little attention form the newspapers.
1815 - Thomas Jesson was hanged at Shrewsbury Gaol on 27th March for the murder of his step daughter, Mary Birch, in the parish of Halesowen. He picked the little girl up by the legs and smashed her head against the floor.
1823 - John Newton (40) was hanged at Shrewsbury Gaol on March 24th for the murder of his wife Sarah, who was heavily pregnant with their fifth child. George Edwards, a local man, stopped by the Newton house and asked John for repayment of three shillings owed him for a lamp he’d sold the couple. In response, John flew into a rage, saying that he had already given Sarah the money to settle the debt. This wasn’t the first time she’d done this, he told Edwards, and she had to be taught a lesson. He called Sarah into the room and threatened to thrash her. Edwards was aghast and begged John not to hurt his wife, saying he’d rather forget about the three shillings altogether than have John do something so stupid. The three of them sat down and shared several jugs of weak beer, Edwards refusing to depart until John promised he would not hurt Sarah. As he left he warned John that, if he abused his wife, he would never speak to him again. In the early hours of the next morning, John showed up at Edward’s house and asked him for directions to the doctor, saying Sarah was suffering from pregnancy-related complications and “a bad job has happened”. When the doctor came, however, he found this wasn’t the case at all. Sarah had, in fact, been brutally beaten. Although she was given medical attention, she died at around midnight.
The medical witnesses all agreed that Sarah Newton had died as a result of blood loss and, since the newspapers of the time seemed strangely reluctant to detail her injuries, it can probably be assumed that she had a miscarriage caused by the beating and kicking she had been given by her husband. Newton’s defense was three-pronged: first, he pointed out that Sarah had previously bled after giving birth. Second, he claimed she had attacked him and he had hit her only in self-defense and only a few times with an open hand. Third, he presented various witnesses to suggest he had been insane at the time. None of these arguments impressed the jury, who only took three minutes to find him guilty of willful murder. John said, incredulously, “I have lost my life for three shillings.”
John Newton wasn’t the only person to face trial in connection with his wife Sarah’s death. After John’s execution, the coroner who handled Sarah’s death inquest was brought up on charges of malpractice. The coroner, a man named Whitcombe, had dismissed half the jury before the case was over because he considered the investigation to be trifling. He tried to persuade the rest of the jury members that Sarah had died a by visitation of God, before settling for an open verdict. He had Sarah’s body dissected before the inquest jury could examine it and his own inspection of the body was judged to be perfunctory. Whitcombe had also failed to call George Edwards to the stand during the inquest, even though he was an important witness. Whitcombe also had an improper private interview with the defendant. Whitcombe’s jury judged him culpable of gross violation of his duty but, in view of the fact that he had retired from his post in the meantime, he was not punished.
1824 - Richard Overfield was hanged at Shrewsbury Gaol on March 22nd for the murder of his three-month-old stepson, Richard Jnr. Overfield’s wife, Anne, rushed to the doctor after finding her little son in apparent agony. When she kissed the baby, she noticed his lips were white-colored and blistered and tasted bitter. Little Richard Jnr died later that day in spite of the doctor’s attempts to save him. Overfield, it turned out, worked in a carpet factory and so had access to sulphuric acid. This he stole to administer to the baby. The acid is so corrosive that it burns the mouth, throat, oesophagus and stomach when ingested. It can, and often does, cause the sufferer to experience severe thirst and to have difficulty breathing. The motive came out during the trial.
Overfield knew, when he got married, that Anne was pregnant with another man’s child. This was why he married her in the first place. The parish didn’t want to pay out welfare for yet another illegitimate baby, so they offered Overfield a lump sum of money to marry its mother. Any baby born more than a month after marriage would be considered legitimate and its purported father would have to support it. Overfield accepted the parish’s offer but, although the baby bore his name, he told Anne he would never accept her son as his own. At his trial, Overfield tried to blame the family cat, saying that he’d seen it lying on top of the baby’s face. He said that he’d shooed it away but little Richard started choking shortly thereafter. Beyond that, he had little to say for himself. The jury took only 5 minutes to find him guilty. Overfield subsequently made a full confession and expressed public repentance for his crime.
1828 - Ann Harris (50) was hanged at Shrewsbury Gaol on 16th August as an accessory to the murder of James Harrison at Drayton. John Cox and James Pugh, who had actually committed this murder, were hanged on 4th August.
1829 – William Calcraft became the hangman for the City of London and Middlesex. He was, however, so good at his job that he was often asked to hang people all over the country, including Shropshire.
1832 – James Lea (32) and Joseph Grindley (20) were hanged at Shrewsbury Gaol on 31st March for arson. They had been convicted of setting fire to haystacks at Whitchurch, the property of a Mr Nunnerly. The hangman was Samuel Burrows.
1836 – Lawrence Curtis (21), Patrick Donelly (30) and Edward Donelly (42) from Ireland were hanged together at Shrewsbury Gaol on 13th August. This was England’s last hanging for robbery. The trio had robbed Mr Woodward and Mr Urwick at Burlton, near Shrewsbury. The hanging reportedly drew an unprecedented crowd. Both prior to execution and on the gallows, the men also confessed to other robberies. Soon after this robbery ceased to be a capital crime. The hangman was Samuel Burrows.
1840 - George Smith from Dudley became hangman for Stafford but also hung two men at Shrewsbury. He had previously been a prisoner himself at Stafford Gaol and was known as the "Dudley Higgler" (higgler being a local slang term for a hangman). Another nickname as “Throttler Smith”.
1842 - John Williams (24) was hanged at Shrewsbury Gaol on 2nd April for the robbery and murder of Emma Evans at Chirk. Together with an accomplice named Williams, he had gone to Emma’s house with the intention of stealing her purse. He knocked on her door and asked her for tobacco. She went to fetch him some and, as she turned away from him, he hit her over the head twice and then cut her throat.
He was hanged by William Calcraft.
1854 - John Lloyd (27) was hanged at Shrewsbury Gaol on 4th April for the murder of blacksmith John Gittins at Nesscliffe. Lloyd had lodged with Gittins but had been evicted for being over familiar with his wife. Lloyd shot John Gittins through the kitchen window in revenge for this. He made a full confession to the Chaplain and reportedly died without a struggle.
1863 - Edward Cooper (30) was hanged at Shrewsbury Gaol on 11th April for the murder of his son at Baschurch. This hanging reportedly drew a huge crowd. The hangman was George Smith.
1868 - on 9th April, the last public hanging was held at Shrewsbury Gaol. John Mapp (35) was hanged for the murder of Catherine Lewis (9) at Longden. Catherine had previously refused Mapp’s sexual advances and, when she did so a second time, he ravished her. He then suffocated her with her shawl and cut her throat, hiding the body in a nearby building. Her body was found by her father the next day and taken to the nearby Tankerville Arms, where the autopsy was held. A detailed account is reproduced here from the Murderpedia website :
Contemporary drawings of Mapp and Catherine
Catherine Lewis was the eldest of the five children of farm labourer John Lewis and his second wife. Catherine spent the afternoon of Sunday 22nd December 1867 at the Longden home of Ann Davies. Before leaving the house to go to Sunday chapel, 9-year-old Catherine asked Mrs Davies to pin a brooch on her shawl. The brooch, Catherine said, belonged to her step-mother. At 7.30pm, Catherine came out of the chapel on Longden Road after the service. Also attending the service that Sunday evening was 35-year-old John Mapp. He had, in 1859, been transported to Australia for assaulting an old woman but was now a farm labourer employed by Mr Whitfield of Longden Wood. Two other chapel-goers were Jane Richards, a domestic servant at the Whitfield farm, and Mary Hartshorn. After saying goodnight at Longden Common crossroads, Mary set off towards her home at Longden Common while Jane, Catherine and Mapp set off along Long Lane to their respective homes. Jane went as far the Whitfield farm and turned off, leaving the other two to carry on along Long Lane.
John Aston was a 16-year-old waggoner who was also employed by Mr Whitfield. On the Monday morning, he was set to ploughing a field along Long Lane. Also working in the field that morning was Mapp, who was spreading manure. Around 10am, the two men stopped for their lunch. While they were eating, Aston found a bloodstained black straw hat stuffed into a holly bush. When he showed the hat to Mapp he told the lad to bury it. In the afternoon, Aston put the hat by the entrance of the field. A short time afterwards, Mary Hartshorn happened to be passing when she noticed it and thought that she recognised it. Asking around, Mary found that Catherine had not returned home the previous night, although this was not uncommon as she sometimes stayed overnight with the Davies family. But when Mary showed the hat to Mrs Lewis she became extremely upset. When Mr Lewis saw the hat he immediately went out to search for his daughter.
It was Mr Lewis who found his daughter's body. Finding marks of something being dragged, he followed them to an old hovel and Catherine's body was inside. Her throat had been cut. Apart from her hat the only thing missing was the glass and brass brooch. Suspicion of John Mapp was heightened when it was found that a patch of blood near the holly bush had been covered over with manure. John Mapp lived in nearby Summerhouse Lane with his parents. When the house was searched, the brooch was found in his coat pocket and Mapp was arrested. There were also bloodstains on his trousers and coat, which he claimed came from a nosebleed, and a bloodstained knife was later found in his home.
The jury had little trouble in reaching their guilty verdict. In the condemned cell, he maintained his innocence but on the evening of his execution made a full confession. He refused to admit to ravishing her first, even though this was obvious from the state of her body.
“When I parted with Jane Richards at the Short Lane gate, Catherine Lewis and myself walked together for a few yards. I ketched hold of her hand and she said, ‘Do you live by Edward Mason’s?’ and I said ‘Yes.’ When I had her by the hand she began to cry and I believe she shouted out but I am not quite sure. She ran to the gate and got over it, I suppose she was frightened at me. As she got over it I was close after her and, when I got over it, the gate fell but I did not fall. When I got up to her she was lying under the hedge and I asked her to let me do something to her. She said she wouldn’t let me. She then told me she’d tell her father. She was crying. I said to her ‘Well, if you tell your father I’ll cut your throat’. I then pulled out my knife and I cut her throat. She was lying on the ground and I was kneeling at her left side. I got up and wiped the knife with some grass and then wiped it on her pinner. I then undid the shawl and put the brooch in my pocket and then put the shawl in her mouth. I am not, however, quite certain whether I pushed the shawl into her mouth before I cut her throat or afterwards but I did put it in. I then got up and turned her head around and pulled her down the field by her right hand. She was not dead when I started with her but she was quite dead before I got to the bottom of the field. I put her in the building where she was found. I think the mark on her forehead was caused by the heel of my boot touching her as I pulled her down the field. I did not strike her. I was very sorry after I done it”.
He was hanged by William Calcraft. This was the last public hanging at Shrewsbury Gaol and an estimated 5,000 people witnessed the spectacle carried out on the gatehouse roof. Calcraft made the usual preparations but, just as the drop fell, Mapp turned his head and displaced the noose so that the eyelet was under his chin. He reportedly struggled hard for about 30 seconds.
1884 – James Berry became a hangman and occasionally worked at Shrewsbury Gaol.
1886 – on 27th July, the first private hanging was held at Shrewsbury Gaol. William Samuels was hanged for poisoning William Mabbotts with strychnine at Welshpool. James Berry was the executioner
1888 - William Arrowsmith was hanged on 28th March for the murder of his 80-year-old uncle, George Pikerill, whom he had battered to death for financial gain at Prees Lower Heath. The hangman was James Berry.
1900 - Henry Pierrepoint from Bradford became a hangman. He took great pride in his work and calculated the drops most carefully. It is said that he never had a single bungled hanging. His first lead role was the hanging of Richard Wigley at Shrewsbury Prison in 1902.
1901 - John Ellis of Rochdale became a hangman and sometimes worked at Shrewsbury Prison.
1902 – Richard Wigley (34) was hanged on 18th March at Shrewsbury Gaol for the murder of Mary Ellen Bowen (28). Wigley had been in a long-term relationship with Mary, who worked as a barmaid at the Lion Inn in Westbury. She moved to the village of Berrington to be closer to Wigley, who worked as a slaughterman there. Mary eventually decided to end the relationship and moved back to Westbury and her old job. Wigley visited her when he could but Mary did not want to continue seeing him. One morning about 10am, Wigley arrived at the Lion Inn wearing his work apron and a pouch containing two of his butcher’s knives. He was served a pint of beer but Mary then refused to serve him another, turning her back on him and leaving the bar. Wigley followed her into the passageway, where he grabbed her from behind with one hand and drew a knife across her throat with the other hand. Mary died almost immediately. Wigley was quickly arrested and told the police that he had killed Mary for love and that, if he could not have her, no one else would. Searching his possessions, police found a letter detailing his intentions and saying that he was willing to die for killing Mary. A defence of insanity was offered but rejected by the jury. He was hanged by Henry Pierrepoint in his first job in charge and he was assisted by John Ellis. Pierrepoint gave the 200lb, bull-necked Wigley a drop of 4 feet 10 inches, which proved sufficient to cause dislocation of the cervical vertebrae.
Early 20th Century - many of the smaller prisons had very few executions so it was decided to hang offenders from those prisons at nearby larger prisons that had better facilities. Shrewsbury had a special execution room built so it could handle hangings from within Shropshire as well as surrounding areas. It was around this time that gaols started to be called prisons.
Shrewsbury Prison Execution Room
1917 - Thomas Cox (50) was hanged at Shrewsbury Prison on 11th August for the murder of his wife Elizabeth (49). They had lived in Ludlow and argued constantly over everything. Their two children, Henry (13) and Benjamin (8), slept in the same room as their parents and Henry did his best to protect his mother and his brother from his father’s often violent outbursts. At 2.30am one morning, Henry was woken by the sounds of yet another argument, during which Cox hit Elizabeth. She asked Henry to fetch her a bowl of water and, as he went out of the bedroom to do so, he heard his mother scream and turned to see a razor in his father’s hand. Cox had cut her throat and turned the razor on himself but his wound wasn’t fatal. At first light, he sent Henry to get help and Henry went to his aunt Mary Ward who returned home with him and PC Charles Morris. Elizabeth was by now dead and Cox was weak from blood loss. His defence of insanity was rejected by the jury and he was hanged by John Ellis and William Willis. In view of the suicide attempt, Ellis gave Cox a slightly shorter drop of 6’ 9” for his 135lb weight which proved sufficient, although there was slight separation of the sides of the wound.
1923 - William Griffiths (57) was hanged at Shrewsbury Prison on 24th July for the murder of his mother Catherine Hughes (80). Griffiths lived with his mother in Eccleshall and, one day when he had been drinking heavily all day, left the Eagle Inn 2pm with his workmate Henry Wood after the landlord refused to serve him anymore. Griffiths and Wood walked to their workplace, where Griffiths threatened Wood. Griffiths returned to the Eagle around 6pm and stayed an hour. Catherine Hughes’ neighbour, Emma Hibbs, heard an argument next door between mother and son at around 10.15pm. They were quarrelling over the amount Griffiths spent on drink. Emma then heard screams and moaning followed by a knock on her front door. When she opened it, Griffiths told her that he had killed his mother. Emma sent one of her children for the doctor and told Griffiths to go to the police, which amazingly he did. He found PC Frank Thomas near the Royal Oak pub and confessed to him. PC Thomas noted that Griffiths was bleeding from a small head wound.
At the police station, he told officers that his mother had hit him with an enamel jug. When police arrived at the murder scene they found that Catherine’s throat had been slashed with a razor and one thumb nearly severed as she tried to defend herself. She had in fact struck Griffiths with a candlestick but he may well have been too drunk to have known what she used. The defence contended that Griffiths was too drunk to intend to kill and that therefore the crime was manslaughter, not murder. However, given the evidence of constant quarrels and of threats to kill his mother previously, the jury found him guilty of murder. As Stafford Prison no longer had an execution facility, Griffiths was transferred to Shrewsbury Prison, where he was hanged by John Ellis and Seth Mills.
1932 – Albert Pierrepoint from Oldham became a hangman, following in the footsteps of his father Henry. He was Britain’s most prolific hangman and attended 434 hangings, including some at Shrewsbury
1951 - Frank Griffin (40) was hanged at Shrewsbury Prison on 4th January for the murder of Jane Edge (74). Jane was the landlady of the Queen’s Head Inn at Ketley and one day the unemployed Griffin came into her pub at lunch time and drank two pints of beer. He asked for another but Jane suggested a cup of tea instead. She went into the back to make it and, while she was gone, Griffin decided to empty the till. Jane caught him in the act, telling him “The money won’t do you any good, my lad”. He pushed her, causing her to fall and hit her head on a crate. Her body was discovered sitting in a chair by her son John, when he returned from work that afternoon. Some of Jane’s jewellery was missing.
The following day, the police called at the Apley Industrial Hostel and searched several rooms, including the one occupied by Griffin. Here they found a blood-stained shirt and a bag containing coins. Griffin had left and was now staying at the Tontine Hotel in Ironbridge. The owner, having read about the murder, was suspicious of the guest in Room 5 and called the police. The arrived and interviewed Mr Jenkins, the name Griffin had booked in under. He told them “It was not worth it. I did not get much. She fell down”. He also said that he had hit her with a pint mug, although later would withdraw that. The jury asked for clarification of the law on murder and manslaughter and, after a further 30 minutes of deliberation, decided that Griffin was guilty of murder. His appeal was dismissed and he was hanged by Albert Pierrepoint and Herbert Morris.
1952 – Harry Huxley (43) was hanged at Shrewsbury Prison on 8th July for the murder of his mistress Ada Royce (32). Ada lived in the village of Holt, near Wrexham, and had enjoyed a somewhat peculiar relationship with Huxley that had been going on since 1945. Ada was married to Charles Royce and lived with him. She had three children, the youngest Anthony being by Huxley, for whom he paid Ada maintenance. Before Christmas 1951, Ada wanted to end the affair and told Huxley so. On Christmas Day, he borrowed a shotgun and two cartridges from a friend on the pretext of shooting a pheasant. Ada went out to the Geddington Arms pub for a drink with her sister-in-law, Ellen Royce, and found Huxley drinking at a separate table. Ada and Ellen thus moved on to the Golden Lion. Huxley followed them there and sent a message to Ada saying that he wanted to talk to her. She refused and the two women left the pub together to walk home. Huxley approached them and tried to speak to Ada.
Ellen saw Ada’s brother, William Bithell, and went over to speak to him. Huxley took the opportunity of the women separating and fired a single shot at close range into Ada, killing her. William Bithell went to help his sister and Huxley fired the second cartridge into his own chest. However, a lot of the pellets were stopped by the metal buckle of his braces and he survived. His defence was that the shooting was an accident and that he only took the gun to scare Ada. However, the prosecution were able to produce a note written to his mother, apologising in advance for what he had done and for taking his own life. Given the clear premeditation and the use of a gun, the jury found him guilty. As Ruthin no longer had an execution facility, Huxley was transferred to Shrewsbury Prison where he was hanged by Albert Pierrepoint and Harry Allen.
1952 - Donald Simon (32) was hanged at Shrewsbury Prison on 23rd October for the murder of his estranged wife Eunice (28) and her lover Victor Brades (27). Simon had married Eunice in 1943 and they emigrated to Canada soon after. Eunice became homesick and they returned to Britain in 1947, living in Slough near her mother. Simon then began drinking heavily and, as a result, he and Eunice separated in late 1951. She went to live with her mother and soon began dating Victor Brades, who was her dancing partner. One evening, Eunice and Victor had been out for a drink and, around 11.40pm, Brades walked Eunice home. Simon was laying it wait for them and, when they came into range, fired all six shots from a revolver. Brades died immediately from four bullet wounds and Eunice died the following day. The shots were heard by a Norman Broad, who found Simon cradling Eunice and crying out “What have I done?” Simon was arrested at the scene and readily confessed. At the trial, evidence of premeditation was produced showing that Simon had visited Eunice’s mother earlier on the evening and had asked her if her daughter was still seeing Brades. The possession of a gun was also further evidence of premeditation. Simon’s appeal was dismissed and, as Slough no longer had an execution facility, he was transferred to Shrewsbury Prison where he was hanged by Albert Pierrepoint and Syd Dernley.
1954 - Desmond Hooper (27) was hanged at Shrewsbury Prison on 26th January for the murder of Betty Smith (12). Betty had been strangled and then drowned in an air shaft on the Shropshire Union Canal near Shrewsbury. Hooper’s jacket was found near the inlet of the shaft and was positively identified by his brother. Betty had visited Desmond and Margaret Hooper’s house at Atcham on that evening and played dominoes with their 7-year-old son Keith. After Keith went to bed, Betty left to go home. Soon afterwards, Hooper told his wife that he was going to get some pigeons. Betty’s mother called on the Hooper’s looking for her daughter when she had not returned. Hooper returned home about 1.45am without his tie and with his trousers wet and muddy.
Betty’s mother persuaded him to call the police and Betty’s body was discovered, together with Hooper’s jacket and his tie knotted around her neck. Police investigations found that Hooper had not visited the farm of Richard Harris to get the pigeons as he had intended. Although the evidence was purely circumstantial, Hooper could provide very little in the way of a convincing defence, especially as to how his tie and jacket were found at the murder scene. Hooper’s appeal failed and he was hanged by Albert Pierrepoint and Robert Stewart. Betty does not appear to have been sexually interfered with and the motive for the crime remains unclear as Hooper never confessed to it. Perhaps he had intended to seduce her but, when she refused him, he lost his temper and killed her.
1961 - on 9th February, the last hanging was held at Shrewsbury Gaol. George Riley (21) was hanged for the robbery and murder of Adeline Smith (62). Riley had been out in the evening drinking with a friend and later went to a dance at the Sentinel Works in Shrewsbury. Here he had got into a scuffle with another man and they were separated by PC Reginald Mason, who noted there were no scratch marks on Riley’s face. Riley was dropped off at home by a friend around 1.30am and was very drunk. The body of Adeline had meanwhile been found battered to death at her home. On discovery of the body, residents of the nearby houses were interviewed by the police.
Riley was one of these and they noticed that he now had scratch marks on his face. He also had previous convictions for robbery and further investigation found mud on his shoes and trousers. Officers told Riley that they had sufficient evidence to convict him and he made a statement admitting that he had killed Adeline and that his motive had been to rob her. Despite petitions and other appeals for a reprieve, he was hanged by Harry Allen and Samuel Plant. The case against Riley, apart from his statement, was weak and lacking in any forensic evidence so many people thought that there had been a miscarriage of justice. In 1961 there was no DNA testing which would probably have resolved the case one way or the other.
Outside the prison during the hanging of George Riley
On the eve of the execution, prisoners at the jail were in a state of foment and the noise was heard all over Shrewsbury. All of the prisoners were banging their tin mugs on the bars and shouting “Save George”. Shrewsbury journalist Russell Mulford recalled the scene outside during the hanging. “It was 8 o’clock in the morning as I recall it and there were various people outside. Some women were on their knees praying. There was a deathly silence as St Mary’s Church bells tolled and that was the hanging moment. There was a lot of furore about it. Myself and various others were there just for the occasion and we went away and wrote our stories about what a poignant sort of situation it was. It was very moving, particularly with these ladies, from away I think, who were on their knees as the bell tolled. There was some argument at the time about whether Riley was guilty or not. I forget the name of the police superintendent in charge but he was adamant that Riley was guilty and the whole trial went smoothly. There was an element nationally, led by a barrister called Louis Blom-Cooper. He led the opposition to Riley’s hanging. I’m not sure whether his grounds were that it was a mistrial or that hanging was wrong. Soon afterwards hanging was abolished. It was a controversial hanging, that’s for sure”.
1972 - during a redevelopment in 1972, the remains of 10 unnamed prisoners executed at Shrewsbury Prison were dug up. Nine were cremated and one set was handed over to relatives.
2013 - Shrewsbury Prison was closed.
There are several tales about ghosts of people who were hanged in the past. It is not possible to verify that the events and hangings did actually happen but they are included here for completeness.
- during the English Civil war (1642-51), a cavalier was hanged in the stables of the Dun Cow Inn at Shrewsbury.
- a Dutchman who came over with King William of Orange (1690?) got into an argument with a young squire at the Dun Cow Inn at Shrewsbury and killed him. For this he was hanged.
- a chambermaid from the Crown & Raven Inn in Shrewsbury was hanged at Old Heath for murder. She found out that her fiance was having an affair with someone else so she killed the other girl.
- Lord Knyvett of Condover Hall was murdered by his son and the finger of blame was pointed at the butler. Just before being hanged, the butler cursed the descendants of Knyvett's family, vowing that they would not prosper while living in the hall. Knyvett's bloody handprint, left on a wall where he fell, could not be washed away so the stone was chipped away.
- after Judge Leighton sentenced a builder to die, he agreed to lessen the punishment if the man helped build a new chimney stack on the roof of his home at Plaish Hall. The builder agreed but, after the work was complete, the judge hanged the man anyway from the chimney before entombing the corpse within it. The chimney occasionally drips blood and the ghost of the builder is still said to walk the hall.
List of Shropshire Executions