Hanging and the executioners

Illustrated Police News,Calcraft, Dec 1867

Pall Mall Gazette, December 1885

Hanging and Hangmen

The following is a report of a conversation with a man who has had experience in such matters, though he has, unfortunately, taken executions up with a business view, and takes no interest in the physiological or psychological view, even so his recollections serve to bring out clearly how urgently our rough and ready method of capital punishment needs amending and how absurdly out of keeping it is with the scientific age. “Well” says our expert, “I dare say I have seen three hundred executed. But, bless you, I forget em, Its part of my work, and I suppose I have got hard. Yes I remember seeing the MANNINGS turned off, they bore it well enough, Mrs MANNING was a fine fresh looking woman. The there is COURVOISIER, PALMER, PEACE, and ever so many more, but, I forget em. Poverty, I take it” said my friend going off the line, “is the beginning of all crime, and all murders. There are murderers for revenge, for jealousy, for property, these are the three exceptions, and murderers from poverty, those are inevitable. Eradicate poverty and the hangman may put his rope in his pocket, and go back to his old trade. I am no advocate for the abolition of capital punishment, but the weakness of our criminal system lies in the unequal measure dealt out to the criminals. The human Judge construes a murder as manslaughter, the severe Judge a manslaughter as murder. A Judge may think 6 months hard labour a fit punishment for what another may deem 10 years penal servitude a fitting equivalent. Then one Home Secretary may see fit to reprieve where another lets the man hang. I would have degrees of sentence as murderers are of different degrees. . Not long ago a respectable decent living working man asked his wife to call him up at a certain hour and she failed to do so. Presently he was hammering a nail into his shoe, he called her to him and explained that he had lost a quarter day of work through her carelessness. Some words passed a quarrel ensued, and the hammer was transferred from the boot nail to the head of the wife, so many times and so effectually that she died. The man is to be hanged on Monday at Newgate.. That appears to me to come under the degree of manslaughter, but you see the Judge is omnipotent and pronounces the death sentence. I would hang a man without scruple for premeditated murder, murderers like RUSH or PALMER, or the MANNINGS, who conspired to kill. But it is all very difficult, and perhaps justice seldom miscarries badly. It is true enough penal servitude for life is a fearful sentence, although a man seldom actually serves more than 13 years. Yet it is worse then death. But the criminal clings to life even though it is passed in the Portland hulks”

“Nor do I altogether hold with this privacy of execution, but it is a part of this terrible secrecy system which prevails, not only at our executions but in our prisons. A man is sent to the other world in the presence of four or five of his fellow beings, the prisoner goes down the steps of the Old Bailey dock and is lost for years, perhaps for ever. I hold that the public execution, men of which I have seen, drove home a great lesson. Men and women held their orgies and their saturnalia before the gallows, they jeered and flung their rude jests and brutal jibes, but at heart were struck with horror, and their mirth changed to melancholy when they were alone. Whatever may be said to the contrary public executions were great examples. Talking of the uncertainty, one notices that the necks of few women ever know the fatal noose., not even for a brutal murder. I remember a case in which a woman was convicted for the murder of two children of twelve or thirteen under horrible circumstances, but the sentence was not carried out, they don’t hang many women now. Forty years ago I saw a man and woman hanged together. The woman was a professional poisoner, who used to put away inconvenient babies or troublesome relations with arsenic, they could buy it in those days, the good old days, easily enough, though it may not be difficult now. Well, the peculiarity of her case was that the first time they tried her for murder she got off, and the second time, six months later, when they tried her for attempt to murder, she was condemned.” “I cannot say that a hanging ever upset me, I am pretty imperturbable, I have been reproached for eating my breakfast half an hour afterwards, but after all what does it amount to ?” One man slays another, he in turn must be slain, and so long as the slaying is merciful, why should one be squeamish ?” Not that I am a hard many, nay, rather a tender. A student may sicken over his first body, may quiver when the knife draws the gush of blood, but he soon accustoms himself to the knife and to the gush. So I with my hangings. Tremble, not I. In the old days one was allowed to see the pinioning. All that has been stopped. Now I get up about seven on business mornings, walk up to the prison, and sit down and wait till the time comes, listening to the tolling of the prison bell, until a few minutes before eight we are summoned and enter the yard, to hear the footsteps of the approaching procession, which in a moment emerges through the door, the doomed man walking beside the chaplain, who is reading the burial service, a couple of warders close by, and the executioner making ready the ropes. The bell tolls, the prayer is spoken, the group advances to the scaffold, at Newgate there are no steps to try the nerves, the step on to the scaffold, the noose is dropped over the neck, the knot made taut, and cap drawn over the face. My experience leads me to think that most of them turn very religious, and having given up all hope in the world try to look forward to some in the next, and are calm and collected. I never saw but one faint, and he was carried to the scaffold in a chair. I remember a Frenchman who was awaiting execution reply to the sheriff, who asked him if he wanted anything. “Open the door and let me out” he said, of course the sheriff did no such thing. But I have never heard of an attempted escape. Nowadays they pinion a mans arm to his body so that he cannot move, and his legs below his knees. I once saw a horrible sight which bears on pinioning, a man who was to be hanged the next morning threw himself on to the fire and burned his hands badly. On the Monday, when the executioner began to adjust the ropes around his hands, he begged him not to hurt him, so they were tied round the wrist, when the bolt was drawn he got his hands free, and three times he got hold of the rope above him, and three times he was pushed off. That was many years ago, and led to the more workmanlike methods now in use. The most I ever saw go was the morning when the Flowery Land pirates were turned adrift, there were five of them Malays, who had mutinied on the high seas, cut the throats of their officers and taken possession of the ship. They took it pretty calmly, the Archimandrite accompanied them to the scaffold, and they and he, had brandy administered to them to keep them stiff.”

“BERRY is a tall respectable looking man, his appearance that of a mechanic. He is a shoemaker by trade, but does not practise now, for the executioner is well paid He gets £10 a head, when there is more than one, £10 for the first, £5 for the second and £5 for the third, with all his expenses paid. What his qualifications were for the office, I do not know, except that he had a good character, and had some experience with BINNS. The first essential is nerves, and BERRY has certainly nerve. Now, BINNS, was a bit of a braggart, and liked publicity. He would smoke his pipe outside half an hour before an execution and drink, and had an active tongue. Now, the executioner generally sleeps in gaol the night before the work. I remember CALCRAFT, he used to shake hands, and why not?” But he was a man of retiring disposition, quiet, and never would talk of his awful occupation. He had the strongest aversion to gossip. Why have shoemakers a speciality or hankering after hanging ?, I don’t know, CALCRAFT was a shoemaker and so is BERRY, but BINNS was a platelayer. I forget the avocation of MARWOOD. I never troubled them after it was over, it was good-bye, and to our next merry meeting!. MARWOOD was a quiet fellow, too, like CALCRAFT, and did not talk much about his business. They pay a long price ?, Yes its an awkward job. I think BERRY is wrong about the long drop, CALCRADFT, gave the short drop, about two feet, and the body dangled half way out of the pit. With the long drop of six or eight feet, the body goes clean out of sight. I have never heard of a head coming clean off before, but I thought it would end in that. What changed the fashion of drops?” Fancy, MARWOOD began it and it has been used ever since, for the matter is left to the hangman who undertakes the work and he does it in the way he thinks best. The difference in the two is, the long drop breaks the neck, the short suffocates, which is the most merciful?. Well with the long drop it is all over before you can say Jack Ketch, with the short drop the man struggles for a minute or two, and then all is still. I should say the short drop is best, there is too much fuss made about hangings. The work is done very well, it has to be done, and, so far as my experience goes, it is generally done very mercifully and skilfully. There has been a few exceptions, but I have never seen a really bad bungle. Les on exception, but I did not see that. “

Illustrated Police News, Calcraft Dec 1879


John CALCRAFT, who officiated as public executioner for nearly half a century, passed peacefully away at Hoxton on Saturday week last, for some years past he had faded from public view. Much against his own desire he was advised to retire from the active service of his calling in 1874. He held the office as public executioner through all the events and stormy periods of four sovereigns including the present when prisoners were tried and condemned on a Friday and suffered death, sometimes from four to six, in the presence of immense surging crowds of different classes, every Monday following the Old Bailey Quarter sessions. In the early years the death penalty was inflicted for a number of offences besides murder, for forgery, house-breaking, sheep-stealing, and likewise for attempted murder.

Nine years ago a reporter waited at the house of CALCRAFT, to try and persuade him to furnish him with information to write about his life. The reception was not a cordial one, the old hangman was surly and sheepish, and nothing would induce him to give any information on the subject. He was very much depressed at the time in consequence of the serious illness of his wife, who was then in a critical position. After a long argument and coaxing CALCRAFT agreed to see the reporter the following morning at a well-known house n the Old Bailey. He kept his word with the reporter and gave the reporter information in respect to the leading incidents in his life. He became acquainted with FLOXTON the hangman at the time of the execution of HUNTON the Quaker. This led afterwards to him being engaged by the City magistrates as a successor to FLOXTON

He was a shoemaker by trade and a good one,, but he was prouder of the science which brought about the last of a man than a skill which fitted a boot to, the last. Every execution brought him in some money, because he sold the clothes of the condemned dead to Madame Tussaud. Though he plied the most repulsive of all legal occupations, he was not the worst of men, modest and unassuming, his appearance patriarchal and almost venerable.

Illustrated Police News, Marwood, Dec 1878

MARWOOD THE HANGMAN, Aberdeen Weekly Journal Sept 5th, 1883

The death of MARWOOD, the common hangman which took place yesterday Sept 4th, at Horncastle, terminated a somewhat remarkable career. He had held the office for 12 years, the first engagement being at Lincoln in 1871, the last about a fortnight ago in London. When he was appointed to the post he was successful for some time in keeping the fact from the knowledge of his neighbours, when it became known his presence was not appreciated in the little town of Horncastle and he was continually hooted at and hissed. When not engaged in his professional duties his spare time was occupied as a cobbler in a shop close to the Parish Church. He took great pride in the manner in which he performed his executions, and was never weary of recounting his experiences, and of speaking of the great improvements of the long drop over all the other systems previously adopted. He had amassed a fair amount of property, having several properties of his own besides several other investments, a marked contrast to his early days when he led a most penurious life. He had for some time past contracted rather dissolute habits, and this circumstance aggravated his illness, and hastened his death. Nothing is known in Horncastle of MARWOOD’S successor, but the inhabitants unanimously hope he will not reside there.

Sept 7th, 1883

The inquest on the body of William MARWOOD took place at Horncastle yesterday, before Mr SHAPLEY, coroner, who, in his opening remarks referred to the circumstances which led to the inquiry. Death had not been unexpected, and two medical men had attended the deceased for some days prior to his death. He had received a communication from the chief of the county police informing him of certain vague rumours, to the effect that the Irish Invincibles were in some way connected with the matter. Under these circumstances he thought it desirable that the true facts be made public and the cause of death made clear.

The Jury having viewed the body, Sarah MOODY was called, she said she had been in regular attendance on the deceased as nurse since Thursday last and during that time he had been seriously ill. Dr HADDEN had attended him regularly since then. It never entered her mind that anything of an injurious nature had been administered, so far as her knowledge went, nothing of the kind had occurred. She had heard the rumours but did not believe there was any foundation in them.

Mrs MARWOOD the wife of the deceased, said MARWOOD went to Lincoln on Friday week, and had not been well after. She asked the deceased on Sunday if anything of an injurious kind had been given to him and he said no, and made light of the matter. She did not believe he had received any threatening letters since the one published a year ago. He had no fear or expectation of violence at the hands of the Irish. Dr HADDEN deposed that he had lived in Horncastle for eleven years, and had attended the deceased from August 30th till the day of his death. He suffered from congestion of the lungs. When witness first saw him the symptoms were of a gastric nature, Jaundice then set in. He was prepared to give a certificate of death from pneumonia. Mr JALLARD, surgeon had carried out a post mortem examination, and was of the opinion that death resulted from acute pneumonia, accelerated by the diseased condition of the liver and other organs, and that there was no evidence of death from other than natural causes. A verdict was returned accordingly. The body was subsequently interred in Trinity churchyard

Illustrated Police News, Marwood, Sept 1883

Illustrated Police News Sept 1883

Scenes in the life of MARWOOD

MARWOOD was a man of middle height, with broad, compactly set shoulders, and dressed in such a coat as a Lincolnshire farmer wear, with high black stock, and a low felt hat, they very personification of a good-humoured old countryman. His place of business was a little two storey building close to Horncastle Churchyard, over the door were the words, “Marwood Crown Office” in large letters, showing he was not ashamed of his work, and on conversing with him was sufficient to prove he looked upon himself as a benefactor of the humane race. His shop was filled with implements of his work as a country cobbler, but, hanging from the roof there were some curious coils of rope of which he was particularly proud. Somehow or other he had obtained a rope used by CALCRAFT with a clumsy slip knot, he compared it with considerable self-elation with the ropes hanging from the ceiling of his shop. These had been made to his order in Government workshops, there were about 60 good strands in each of them, at one end was a spliced hoop, at the other a running noose, but fashioned with a knot as was formerly the custom, but with a clear ring of metal, giving a running noose. In another portion of the room was a rope which was used to execute a sea captain at Hull, who, he said, “Went off like a lamb”, the same rope had served for Charley PEACE, for LEFROY, Dr LAMSON and Kate WEBSTER.

Until he was executioner he said he had never seen an execution, but for many years had thought over the subject, and had condemned the way in which CALCRAFT, “choked” his prisoners to death. When asked was he ever nervous of his work, he said, “England, does not send nervous men on a job of this kind, why should I be nervous. There is a Judge and Jury, then the Home Secretary, and you may depend upon it when the prisoner comes into my hands he deserves his fate”

MARWOOD never referred to a hanging, he used the word execution, on his cards which he printed himself with an Indiarubber stamp, were the words, “William MARWOOD, Executioner, Church Lane, Horncastle, Lincolnshire, England” he had a perfect hatred on newspaper men, “Lying rascals” he used to term all reporters, as an illustration of this he referred to an incident in connection with the execution of LEFROY. He said, “The newspaper men thought that when he laid hold of LEFROY, after pinioning him the prisoner was fainting, “All my eye” he said, “LEFROY meant mischief and if I had not had him by the bell I believe he would have given me a run around the yard” It was not unusual for him to receive an intimation that prisoners committed to his hands had declared they would be dragged from the cells to the scaffold, and he was often advised to have an assistant. “But” he said, “When I tap them on the shoulder they always come with me” and accordingly he gave prisoners confidence by the words he whispered in their ears. “I will not hurt you it will soon be over” In all conversations he never referred to the execution of Dr LAMSON without making the remark, “The doctor died like a gentleman”

He was very angry by the attempts made by the prison authorities to obtain from him the ropes with which the prisoners were executed. Their object was, he said, to make a sort of museum, but he preferred to keep his own museum, the same ropes served for many culprits. Before every execution he was given exact information as to age, size, weight and occupation of the prisoner with whom he had to deal with and has taken to the grave the principle upon which he calculated the length of drop, for he never would tell anybody. “They have asked me at the Home Office many a time” he said, “whether I am bringing anyone else up to follow me, but I tell them I am a good man yet, and when I think I am failing it will be time enough to have an assistant” Many attempts have been made to get a portrait of MARWOOD, but he always refused. A photographer offered him £50 for a sitting, but he refused, explaining that one of the things he enjoyed more than anything else was to go to a town by an earlier train than he was expected by and mix in the crowd that was awaiting him. He was a pious man, when asked what was the programme of an execution, he answered, “Well, when I get out of bed, not that I do it every day of my life, I kneel down quietly, and ask God’s blessing on the work that I have done, and His mercy for the poor prisoner” Amongst his neighbours he was the mildest of men, and it was his love of company, more than a desire for notoriety that tempted him to make what was called an exhibition of himself at taverns near the gaols to which he had been summoned to his direful duty.”

The public executioner

Notwithstanding the peculiar character of the occupation an extraordinary number of applications have been made by persons from all grades of society, clerks, surgeons, those connected with the army and navy, those of almost any other occupation for the appointment of public hangman vacant by the death of MARWOOD. It is rather a curious fact that although the late executioner was regarded as the official executioner he was never regularly appointed to that position, and, until the passing of the Prisons Act a few years ago, when the control and management of the prisons throughout the country passed into the hands of the Government, the rested entirely with the magistrates of each locality, and MARWOOD first made his appearance as executioner upon the occasion of a man named SMITH, a drover, who generally performed the duty throughout the Midland counties being taken suddenly ill when an execution was to take place at Lincoln MARWOOD was appointed in his stead, and when SMITH died MARWOOD continued to perform the duty, and when CALCRAFT resigned he took his place at Newgate. For so long a period no provision was made for the contingency of the executioner being taken ill or meeting with an accident when an execution was to be performed, either event might have caused very great inconvenience, but since this portion of criminal law has come under the control of the Home Office, it is understood to be intended to appoint a principal and an assistance executioner, and it appears that MARWOOD was summoned to the Home Office in reference to this matter and he received instructions to have an assistant at any future execution he might be called to perform. In consequence of this MARWOOD has recently been in communication with a young man who has been with him to Newgate and other prisons to examine the scaffold and MARWOOD explained to him the nature of the operation of hanging a criminal and was always careful to dilate upon the advantages of the “long drop” he himself brought into operation. When the prison Act came into force MARWOOD’S pay of one guinea a week ceased, and from that time he was paid £10 for every execution of a single man, half that amount for every one after that, if executed at the same time, he was careful to get the full amount he was entitled to, in some cases even more. While the prisoner James KELLY was recently under sentence of death at Newgate for the murder of his wife MARWOOD was summoned to London, to perform the duty and when the prisoner was respited MARWOOD applied to Mr Under Sheriff PONTIFEX for his full fee and demanded the full amount, but was informed that the rule was to pay half the full amount and expenses. MARWOOD strongly urged his claim for the full amount, but eventually took half and returned home not very well satisfied with the result.


Sheffield and Rotherham Independent, July, 1889

BINNS the Hangman in court

The mock execution show

At the Sheffield County Court before his Honour Judge ELLISON, Bartholomew BINNS, public executioner of 5 Halleley Row, Wakefield sought to recover from Thomas WHITELEY, show proprietor the sum of £9-2s alleged to be due to him for wages. BINNS had been engaged to accompany the show and give exhibitions of public hanging. BINNS conducted his own case and said WHITELEY engaged him at 30s per week with board and travelling expenses, the money due to him was for arrears.

When cross examined by Mr A. M. WILSON for the defence when asked was he the deputy hangman and had he hanged people, BINNS appealed to his Honour , that he did not ask whether he had been deputy hangman, saying he simply followed the late William HARWOOD as hangman. When asked was he employed by WHITELEY to illustrate his mode of hanging he replied he was not, he travelled with him to show how you conduct hanging, and was there simply for people to look at him, and the arrears due where simply for people to look at him. This caused a great deal of laughter in the court. When asked did he ever have mock executions with a dummy in the show, he said he did not he was simply there for people to look at. WILSON asked did your name appear on the bills and advertisements, BINNS replied his name was at the front, WILSON, Did it say ”Bartholomew BINNS, public hangman? He is here” this caused more laughter in court.

WILSON asked for a list of wages he had earned. BINNS “At Holmfirth a fortnight since I got £1 on account“. Was there an exhibition of hanging that day and your name was over the show? “Yes, but he took it down the next day because I was not there He dare not put it on” [laughter] You were the attraction ? “On yes, I was the attraction” [laughter] When he gave you the £1 at Holmfirth, did you challenge him out to fight? “No, certainly not, if I had I should have walloped him” [laughter] Yes, and you and all if you had been there” [renewed laughter] WILSON, “A lightweight is sometimes difficult to get rid of” BINNS, “I would rather have a heavy weight than you if I were on professional purposes” [great laughter].

BINNS handed his book to the judge, saying it referred to journeys in Cheshire, Lancashire, Westmoreland and Cumberland, all he had been paid had been entered. The defendant engaged him 12 months ago in Blackburn, and he was with him until a fortnight ago and the balance now due to him was £9-2s.

WILSON said the defendant never arranged to pay weekly wages to the plaintiff, he was engaged to attend fairs with the show and to receive a share of the takings. In the show was also Joe MARTIN the “tattooed man” and a showman and they were paid in the same manner. It was a joint adventure between the parties, because if BINNS name could not have been used in connection with the show and the “mock executions” given, no benefit would have acerned his client. As they moved from place to place the authorities prohibited the mock executions. Frequently they were given one day, although the show stopped at the same place the remainder of the week.

The Judge, The plaintiff seems to be entitled to wages or a share in the profits

WILSON, We say he has received of the profits

Judge, Then he is entitled to an account.

WIL;SON, had no objection to an account being taken. The defendant had kept no books, therefore it would rest entirely upon his memory. BINNS was a necessary part of the show, without him it would not have proceeded, because the “tattooed man” was not a sufficient attraction to the public.

Thomas WHITELEY, showman was then called, and said he had, had, Bartholomew BINNS in connection with the show, but he never agreed to pay him so much per week as stated. He first engaged plaintiff at the Whitsuntide Sheffield Show two years ago “to give representations of a public hangman” and the first time he got drunk [laughter] the plaintiff performed executions, but at many places they were forbidden by the authorities.

WILSON, “Where was it first forbidden?”

Defendant, “At a place called Liverpool” [laughter]

WILSON, “A big place Liverpool” [laughter] what did you pay for the services rendered at the show?”

Defendant, “I paid him according to the takings and the profits”

Judge, “What share was he to have ?”

Defendant, “It was all conscience, your Honour, what is called conscience” [great laughter] He was always well satisfied and never complained until we got to Holmfirth”

Plaintiff, “Did you come over to Ossett and buy some ropes and straps used in the professional business ? [laughter]

Defendant, “Yes”

Plaintiff, What did you pay for them?”

Defendant, “£4-10s for the ropes and straps”

Joseph MARTIN [the tattooed man” was then called and said he joined the show on the 19th May last, and had been to several fairs

WILSON, “Where have you been with the plaintiff ? Witness hesitated for some time in answering

The plaintiff [sotto voce] “Now you have him” [laughter]


Witness to the plaintiff, “You would be ready with a lie in a minute and I am not” [laughter]

WILSON, “the “tattooed man” has to think a bit”

Witness, “I do not remember any fair I have been at with him only the Sheffield fair. He was not “working for the firm” when he left at Holmfirth, he once told me he was paid according to what Mr WHITELEY thought proper and he was quite satisfied with what he received.”

Walter JOHNSON, a youth, who acted as showman to the defendant for about five months, said the plaintiff had told he had received money from the defendant and was satisfied with it.

Plaintiff, “Will you tell his Honour how many times WHITELEY has put you up to personate me?”

Witness, “Not at all”

Plaintiff, “Has he put you up to personate me, put you up as BINNS ?”

Witness, “No”

Plaintiff, “Do you know a man named DUNN?”

Witness, “Yes”

Plaintiff, “And did he not represent himself as me?”

Witness, “He represented himself as DUNN”

Plaintiff, “And have you not since represented yourself as me?”

Witness, “No”

Plaintiff, “You are a false young man, I suppose you would not be big enough”

Witness, “I cannot represent myself as you and I would not like to either” [laughter]

WILSON, “You have never hanged anybody, have you?”

Witness, “No Sir I have hanged a dummy” [laughter]

WILSON, “Has the plaintiff been there looking on?”

Witness, “I used to hang when he was drunk and could not perform” [laughter]

Plaintiff, “That is all arranged between them”

The defendant was recalled and when asked by the judge on what terms the plaintiff was engaged, he replied he was paid according to the takings, no fixed sum, he paid him what he thought proper and he always expressed himself as satisfied with what he received.

His Honour on-suited the plaintiff with leave to sue again if he thought proper, and added that BINNS was entitled to an account of the profits.


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