92 men and 3 women were hanged at
Like most of the older jails, Durham Prison also reputedly has its ghost. In December 1947, an inmate stabbed a fellow prisoner to death with a table knife. A few days later another prisoner was put into this cell and was found the next morning crouched in the corner, in abject fear. He told the warders he had seen the murder re-enacted. Other prisoners objected to being locked up in this cell so it was converted into a storeroom.
gallows at Durham.
Up to 1816, the place of execution at
Ann Crampton was probably the last person to die at Dryburn, having been found guilty of "cutting and maiming." Forty year old Ann suspected her husband was being unfaithful to her. So when he was asleep she cut off his penis! For this she was reputedly hanged on
1816, a "New Drop" style gallows was erected on the steps outside the
new courthouse for each hanging. The holes for the beams supporting the
platform can still be seen in the wall, filled with stone plugs. The courthouse
is next door to the prison and the prisoner was brought back from the prison
through an internal passage, now blocked off.
The condemned person came out through a window onto the platform of the
gallows set over the main door. (This
was not an unusual arrangement as it was simpler and more secure than bringing
the person out of the prison gates and then making them climb steps up to the
gallows platform. It was thus quite
convenient and was an easy location to guard.
Across the street is a house with an iron balcony that was rented out to
wealthy spectators to watch the hanging from.)
After the abolition of public hangings, the gallows was set up in the condemned prisoner’s exercise yard. The platform was level with the ground set over a brick lined pit. Later still, around 1890, an execution shed was built. This was standard practice at the time but still involved the prisoner in quite a long walk from the condemned cell on A Wing to the gallows. Normally, the shed was used to house the prison van, which was also a common practice at other prisons, e.g.
In the early 1990’s when the prison was being modernised, the graves of some of those executed were disturbed, including that of Mary Ann Cotton. A pair of female shoes belonging to her were found along with her bones. Several bodies (including Cottons) were removed and all were later cremated. All of the inmates hanged in the 20th century were buried alongside the prison hospital wall with only a broad arrow and the date of execution carved into the wall to mark the location of their grave. The original instructions regarding the burial of executed inmates stated that the only clothing an inmate should be buried in was a prison issue shirt. The body was to be placed into a pine box and covered with quicklime and that holes were to be bored into the box before burial.
The first execution outside the courthouse, took place on
year old Thomas Clark, a domestic servant at Hallgarth Mill, was convicted of
the murder of 17 year old Mary Ann Westhorpe, the housemaid there on
there were public protests over the conditions in the
Sadly, Jobling was not actually guilty of this murder. Before he died, Nicholas Fairles was able to identify his killer (a friend of Jobling's, one Ralph Armstrong). However, Armstrong was not able to be arrested and Jobling, who had been present and had done nothing to prevent the killing was therefore judged to be equally guilty.
time, however, large number of death sentences were commuted to transportation,
even for very serious crimes. On
public execution here occurred on
Act of 1868, all executions had to take place within the prison walls and the
first of these "private" executions at
Mary Ann Cotton
has the dubious distinction of being
She was born Mary Ann Robson in 1833 to a mining family, and her father was killed in an accident at the colliery when she was 8, leaving her and her mother in poverty. Mary bitterly resented this poverty and vowed that she would not live like this as an adult.
She married for the first time on
Mary moved back north and took a job at Sunderland Royal Infirmary as a ward attendant. In this role, she had free access to the hospital's drug stocks.
While working at the Infirmary, she met and married a patient there, George Ward (also given as Wade). George too began to get symptoms of poisoning and was to remain married just 15 months, before he too died in 1866. Naturally, Mary had taken out a life insurance policy on him as well as benefiting under his will.
Her next marriage was to widower John Robinson, a foreman in the shipyard, who had 4 children by his previous marriage. Three of these children died of the, by now, inevitable "gastric fever" within a year. The marriage didn't last as John evicted Mary after he found out that she had helped herself to some of his possessions. He probably didn't realise at the time just what a good decision he had made. Mary then went to look after her elderly mother, Margaret, who not surprisingly did not survive the experience for long and soon died of gastric fever!
Ann's next (bigamous) husband was to be widower Frederick Cotton whom she
married in September 1870 and by whom she quickly became pregnant, with her
sixth child. The new family moved to
Mary Ann, who was now unencumbered by children and relationships, once more began an affair with the local excise officer, Mr. Quick-Manning by whom she as usual became pregnant, giving birth to Mary Edith Quick-Manning Cotton on
So many deaths in one household looked increasingly suspicious and after the death of Robert, Dr. Kilburn ordered a post-mortem which discovered a large amount of arsenic in the child's body. Arsenic always tends to deposit itself in the fingernails and hair even when it has left the stomach. The symptoms of arsenic poisoning are in some ways similar to gastric fever (gastro-enteritis) and include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, fever, cramps, lethargy, convulsions and dizziness.
Mary Ann was arrested on
Mary was to be charged only with the murder of her stepson, Charles Edward Cotton. This was standard practice at the time as the defendant would be sentenced to death for a single murder. If the first trial resulted in an acquittal, a second charge could be brought.
Mary Ann was tried before Mr. Justice Archibald at the Durham Assizes of March 1873, her trial opening on Monday, the 3rd. She pleaded not guilty and was represented by Mr Thomas Campbell Foster who put forward a defence that Robert had been poisoned accidentally by the arsenic contained in their green floral wallpaper which formed a poisonous dust when cleaned with soft soap. This was not as fanciful as it may sound today. Arsenic really was used in some wallpaper dyes at the time. The prosecution, led by Sir Charles Russell, however, were able to show that Mary had actually purchased arsenic and pointed out that at least 10 of her alleged victims had never been in the "arsenic room." The trial lasted 5 days and the jury brought in their verdict after about an hour's deliberation. Mr. Justice Archibald donned the black cap and passed sentence upon her, saying :
"In these words I shall address you, I would earnestly urge you to seek for your soul that only refuge which is left for you, in the mercy of God through the atonement of our Lord, Jesus Christ. It only remains for me to pass upon you the sentence of the law, which is that you will be taken from hence to the place from whence is that you came, and from thence to a place of execution, and there to be hanged by the neck until you are dead, and your body to be afterwards buried within the precincts of the gaol. And may the Lord have mercy upon your soul." On hearing her sentence Mary exclaimed, "Oh no! Oh no! She had to be carried from the dock in a state of collapse.
Extraordinarily, there was some public sympathy for Mary Ann and a petition was got up for a reprieve, possibly because of her baby. The Home Secretary declined this, however, so 5 days before her execution her new baby daughter was taken from her and placed with a childless couple for adoption.
On the Saturday before the execution the simple gallows, comprising two uprights and a crossbeam with a double leaf trap below, was erected over a brick lined pit in the condemned prisoner’s exercise yard and hidden from direct view until Mary Ann and her escorts rounded a corner. Thomas Askern, assisted by William Calcraft, had been hired by the Under-Sheriff to carry out the execution. Both men were noted for their short drops. There had been some discussion as to whether in view of the nature of her crimes, she should be hanged strapped to a chair. The pit beneath the trapdoors was apparently widened to accommodate this, although in the event the chair was not used.
The execution was set for on the morning of
It is said that Mary made the warders wait to escort her to the gallows while she brushed her long black hair. When she was ready, she let the hangman pinion her wrists in front of her with a leather strap and place a further leather strap around her elbows and upper body. Wearing a coarse black and white checked shawl, Mary walked resignedly to the gallows. Once on the trapdoors, her legs were strapped and the white hood placed over her head, followed by the noose. Two warders supported her during this preparation. The trap was released from under her and she dropped about 18 inches (450mm). For a moment she hung still, presumably stunned by the impact of the drop. But then she began to struggle violently, her agonies lasting some 3 minutes before she dangled lifeless in the pit. Local newspaper reporters recorded the distressing scene. Following the post mortem, a plaster cast was taken of her face and she was buried in the western part of
seemed to have become addicted to murder by arsenic poisoning when she found
how easy it was to do, how she could get away with it, and how each killing
could earn her a small amount of life insurance or remove some inconvenient
person in her life or both. It is often said that the first murder is the
hardest - it gets easier the more one does. Today it would be much more
difficult to get away with so many murders of this sort but in those days,
public hygiene standards were low and child (and adult) mortality rates very
high. By moving around, she was able to get different doctors to sign death
certificates so that she was not immediately suspected. Communications were
very limited - there were no telephones in 1873, so the doctors were unlikely
to talk to each other and post-mortems were rarely carried out on deaths that
appeared natural. Gastric fever was a common cause of natural death at this
Mary Ann seemed also to have a magnetic attraction for men - she was never without one!
to the relief of the prison officials, William Marwood took over from Askern
and Calcraft after this and introduced the long drop method of hanging which
(normally) removed the distressing duty of having to watch another human being
strangle to death a few feet away. His first appointment at
other woman to be hanged within
At her trial,
Burton, aged 33, went to the gallows on
"The culprit walked firmly to the scaffold but on being placed in position looked up at the cross beam and on those assembled around the scaffold. Marwood the executioner at once placed the white cap over the culprit's face, fastened his legs and fixed the rope. Immediately the bolt was drawn it was obvious something had gone wrong, the body was swinging violently to and fro in the pit. Marwood seized hold of the rope and assisted by two warders, dragged the still living man out of the pit. When drawn up
were still permitted to attend executions up to 1934 (in some counties), and
thus we have the benefits of the report of two
The first was carried out by Henry Pierrepoint and William Willis on
At that Wednesday morning, the Under Sheriff entered the prison with 3 newspaper reporters who were stationed in front of the execution shed. Atherton was brought to the doctor's room by two warders, where his hands were pinioned, and then led forward to the gallows in a procession consisting of the Chief Warder, the Chaplain, Atherton, held by a warder on either side, Pierrepoint and his assistant William Willis, the Principal Warder, the governor, the prison surgeon and finally another warder. All but the Chaplain entered the shed and once Atherton was on the drop, Willis dropped to his knees behind him to pinion his legs, while Pierrepoint placed the noose over his head and adjusted it before pulling the white hood over him. (Henry Pierrepoint did do it in this order, unlike most other hangmen.) On the gallows, Atherton exclaimed "Yer hanging an innocent man."
The prison bell was tolling and the nearby Assize Courts clock striking the hour when Pierrepoint released the trap giving Atherton a drop of 7 feet 3 inches. The execution was over before the clock finished striking and the press men who looked down into the pit reported that Atherton's death was instantaneous and that he was hanging perfectly still. The execution shed was locked up and Atherton was left on the rope for the customary hour. The official notice of the execution was posted on the prison gate and an autopsy carried out later in the morning.
second is that of 44 year old Joseph Deans who had been convicted of the murder
of his girlfriend, 48 year old Catherine Convery. He had battered Catherine with an axe at Monkwearmouth
”The morning broke the cold and cheerless for Deans last brief day on earth. He had retired to rest early on Tuesday evening and slept most soundly, having to be wakened in order to await the coming of the prison chaplain. Attired in the clothes that he wore for the trial Deans ate a hearty breakfast and afterwards listened very attentively to the ministrations of Rev D. Jacob who remained with him to the end.
Outside the prison everything was quiet and peaceful and the only thing to indicate that a terrible tragedy was being enacted within the prison walls was a notice issued the previous day by the High Sheriff (Mr Hustler) and the Governor (Mr. Hellier), under the Capital Punishment Amendment Act. 1868 to the effect that the sentence of the law passed upon Joseph Deans, found guilty of murder would be carried into execution at on Wednesday morning. Only a solitary pressman and a police sergeant were to be seen on the prison green, the public apparently taking no interest in the proceedings. The only sound heard by them was the padded doors of the scaffold, and the noise they made could be distinctly heard in the calm of the morning outside. The prison bell was tolled when all was over, and notices signed by Dr. Gilbert the prison surgeon to certify that the man was dead, and by the Governor and the Under Sheriff and the chaplain intimating that the sentence had been carried into execution were afterwards casually read by the passers by.
Meanwhile the arrangements had been completed for the carrying out of the sentence. John Ellis the executioner and his assistant (George Brown) who had arrived the previous night and were accommodated with lodgings in the prison, made a final test of the arrangements and found all satisfactory. The prison chaplain arrived early then came the Under Sheriff, followed at by the prison surgeon and the Governor. In the doctors room the next scene was enacted, and there the condemned man met his executioner face to face for the first time. Ellis speedily strapped the condemned mans hands behind his back and bared his neck, and whilst the Cathedral bell was striking the hour the little procession started on its way to the place of execution. In front came the chaplain reading the service for the dead, the intervening space between the doctors room and the van house was covered in a few seconds and what followed was also the work of a remarkably short space of time, walking across the van house over the drop to the west wall he then turned and faced the culprit Deans who was accompanied by two warders walked firmly and without assistance followed by Ellis and his assistant the rear being brought up by the Governor, prison surgeon and other officials. Deans entered the van house and took up his position on the drop indicated by a chalk mark, then he was given into the hands of the executioners and whilst Ellis arranged the noose his assistant adjusted the ankle straps then Ellis produced the sugar loaf white cap and having drawn it over Deans head he sprang aside gripped the lever and released the bolts, the heavily padded doors swung open and Deans was precipitated into the pit below. The signal having been given a warder rang the bell announcing the fact that the grim tragedy was over. The execution was speedily carried out and death which was instantaneous, occurring just as the last stroke of eight rang out from the Cathedral clock, for an hour the corpse was allowed to hang and afterwards was drawn up and placed in a plain coffin. The Governor intimated privately that the execution had been most expeditiously carried out, in fact he never remembered an occasion where the sad proceedings had been so short and satisfactory.”
prisons seem to have their "oddball" cases and that of Patrick
Turnage was certainly one. Turnage pleaded guilty to the murder of 78 year old
Julia Beesley, at his 7 minute long trial at
two year old John Vickers became the first person executed in
Vickers was soon arrested and tried at
Brian Chandler was the last person to be executed at
HMP Durham remains in service to this day and as a maximum security prison houses some our most dangerous criminals.
With special thanks to Aaron Bougourd for his help with this article.