Wednesday 29 May 2019

Tales of a Hangman

We were recently contacted by a gentleman who had a very personal story about Albert Pierrepoint and he was happy for us to share it.  The gentleman's Grandfather was a Prison Warden at Winson Green Prison, Birmingham.

"Albert would come up to Birmingham by train, the night before a hanging. He would arrive at New Street Station and make his way to our prison quarters at Winson Green close to the City hospital where I was born. 

He was a small unassuming man who always wore a trilby hat. He would have dinner with my family, smoke a cigar and take me on his knee. He would tell me a bedtime story which always ended happily ever after.  I was 2 or 3 years old when I first met him in 1948. 

My grandfather's were both prison officers and one of them would take Mr Pierrepoint to meet the condemned man in his cell, the night before the execution.  Once inside the cell Pierrepoint would offer his hand to the prisoner.  The prisoner would stand, offer his hand and in that moment Pierrepoint would estimate his height and weight.  He would then go to the execution chamber and adjust his scaffold accordingly to ensure he had a clean kill. 

My grandfather meanwhile would remain in the condemned cell to ensure the prisoner didn’t attempt to cheat the gallows by committing suicide.

At the appointed hour (usually 8am) my grandfather and a priest would take the prisoner down.  He would be blindfolded, blessed and executed.  The prison clock would then ring out to confirm the execution.

According to my grandparents, he never referred to the condemned man in any way. He approached his job with great gravity but never discussed the circumstances leading to the hanging verdict. 

My grandfather retired from the prison service in 1952 and Albert retired in about 1956 I think. They intended to write their memoirs together but when they notified the Home Office of their intention they were forbidden from doing so. 

Although more than 200 of the murderers executed by Albert were war criminals, there were many others who still had living relatives and the Home Office deemed it inappropriate.  I understand that Albert did write his memoirs about twenty years later coincidentally in the same year my grandfather died. 

In about 1976 I was looking for a security officer in Southport.  Albert Pierrepoint applied.  Unfortunately he was by that time over 70 so although it was a great thrill to meet up with the great man who used to tell me stories when I was a very small boy, I couldn’t return the favour."

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