Eight was the hour on the morning of August 13th 1964. In two prisons in north-west England two cell doors were thrown open. The condemned men inside had their arms quickly strapped behind their backs and were then marched just 12 paces to the gallows. They were both positioned over the trap-door and almost before they had time to think a lever was pulled. The trap-doors opened and both men were pitched to their deaths. Thus ended nearly 2000 years of capital punishment in Britain.
“EvansandAllen” by . Licensed under Fair use of copyrighted material in the context of Murder of John Alan West via Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:EvansandAllen.jpg#mediaviewer/File:EvansandAllen.jpg
The men were both convicted murderers. Gwynne Evans and Peter Allen had been convicted of the murder of John West, a van driver of 53, who died at his home in Seaton, Cumbria. It was an attempted robbery that went wrong and John West was beaten to death with an iron bar and had been stabbed in the chest. Evans carelessly left his raincoat at the scene. In the pockets of the raincoat was a medallion and Army Memo Form. The medallion was inscribed “G.O. Evans, July, 1961”, and the memo form had the name “Miss Norma O’Brian” on it, together with a Liverpool address. The police took only days to track him down. The pair were found guilty at trial in June and had their appeals rejected on July 21. They had travelled in a stolen car with Allen’s wife and two children to carry out the robbery. The day before the planned hanging Allen’s wife visited him in prison and told him that there was to be no reprieve. He responded by angrily punching the glass partition that separated them and managed to crack it. No mean feat considering it was specially hardened glass and considered bullet proof. Allen went to his death with his right hand bandaged. He made a last ditch attempt to avoid the drop by trying to jump sideways off the trapdoor but the executioner was too quick for him. Allen was heard to say just one final word “Jesus!” Of the two men, he was the most hopeful of being reprieved. There was public outrage against the death penalty and two petitions had been started up in Preston. Evans and Allen were the last of a total number of 10,699 executions between 1735 and 1964. Harry Allen (no relation to Peter Allen) took Evans to the gallows at Strangeways Prison, Manchester whilst Robert “Jock” Stewart was the executioner for Allen at Walton Prison Liverpool. They entered history together as the last of the executioners and the last to be executed. The death penalty for murder was suspended in 1965 and abolished in 1969.
Here are a few factoids about executions and executioners
- The Saxons introduced hanging as the main form of capital punishment into Britain
- William the Conqueror suspended hanging and capital punishment in favour of a tax on criminals called a “murderum.” It is the origin of the word murder
- There were between 57,000 and 72,000 executions during the bloody reign of Henry VIII (1509-1547)
- There were once 222 offences for which you could be hung in Britain in the 18th Century. One boy was hanged for stealing just three pennies!
- In 1705 John Smith was a gallows survivor having hung at the end of the rope for 15 minutes before being cut down.
- Ruth Ellis was the last woman to hang in the UK. Her execution took just 12 seconds on 13th July 1955
- Albert Pierrepoint was the most prolific executioner with 400 deaths to his name.
In my recently released book “Saville’s Spinney, The Tue Story of the Colwick Murders of 1844”, I researched and wrote about just one of the 10,699 executions mentioned above. Sometimes it was not just the condemned who died on execution day. In my true story there are 13 more victims. For anyone who may be interested here is the link to my book. You can look inside and read the intro/prologue, chapter 1 and 2 plus half of chapter 3 freely……