Thursday, 23 May 2019

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BBC Look North

A collection of items belonging to Albert Pierrepoint (30 March 1905 – 10 July 1992) Britain’s most famous hangman who executed approximately 600 people in a 25-year career that ended in 1956.  The collection includes his notebook which lists the executions carried out with details to determine how to achieve the quickest death and his father Henry’s notebook, the plaster cast of Albert Pierrepoint’s face and hands, photographs and documents, watch chain and cigar holder.

Henry Pierrepoint’s execution book (1 November 1901 – 14 July 1910), includes personal details of those hanged including the prisoner’s name, age, height, weight and drop, site of execution and remarks detailing the physical frame of the prisoners and calibre of their necks; “very heavy body, ordinary neck, wirey, very thin neck, little flabby”.  18cm x 11cm

Albert Pierrepoint’s leather-bound execution ledger, embossed with his name “A. Pierrepoint”, (29 December 1932 - 27 July 1955) includes personal details of those hanged with additional notes such as “the German, Dutch and Belgium spies, French Canadian, USA, IRA, British Soldier” etc.  15cm x 24cm

An amber and ivory cigar holder, with leather silver velvet lined case, 8cm long, belonged to Henry A. Pierrepoint.  (Albert’s father and British hangman).

A silver watch chain worn by Albert Pierrepoint, Henry Pierrepoint (his father) and Thomas Pierrepoint (his Uncle) at hundreds of executions between 1900 and 1956.  42cm long  
Documents and photographs including the “Memorandum of Conditions to which any person acting as Executioner is required to conform”, a letter of thanks from the War Office, written by Lieutenant-Colonel J.R.H. Robertson referring to the hanging of three men Hensmann, Smith and Golby in a secluded area of the Egyptian desert, photographs of the Pierrepoint men, Robert Fabian (Fabian of the Yard) and John Ellis (Hangman) and a Sunday Pictorial newspaper, May 13 1945 with an article about John Amery a pro-Nazi British fascist who Albert Pierrepoint went on to hang.                                                                                                                    

                                                                                                                                                                  Albert Pierrepoint was a Yorkshireman influenced by his father and uncle, when asked at school to write about what job he would like when older, Pierrepoint said that "When I leave school I should like to be public executioner like my dad is, because it needs a steady man with good hands like my dad and my Uncle Tom and I shall be the same".

In December 1932 Albert Pierrepoint undertook his first execution as assistant to his Uncle. They travelled to Mountjoy Prison in Dublin for the hanging of Patrick McDermott, a farmer who had murdered his brother.  It was scheduled for 8:00am and took less than a minute to perform. Pierrepoint's job as assistant was to follow the prisoner onto the scaffold, bind the prisoner's legs together, then step back off the trapdoor before the lead executioner sprung the mechanism. 

In October 1941 Pierrepoint carried out his first execution as lead executioner when he hanged the gangland killer Antonio "Babe" Mancini.  Arriving the day before the execution he was told the height and weight of the prisoner and viewed the condemned man through the "Judas hole" in the door to judge his build. Pierrepoint then went to the execution room to test the equipment using a sack that weighed about the same as the prisoner; calculated the length of the drop using the ‘Home Office Table of Drops’, making allowances for the man's physique, if necessary.  He left the weighted sack hanging on the rope to ensure the rope was stretched and it would be re-adjusted in the morning if necessary. 

On the day of the execution, the practice was for Pierrepoint, his assistant and two prison officers to enter the condemned man's cell at 8:00am. Pierrepoint secured the man's arms behind his back with a leather strap, and all five walked through a second door, which led to the execution chamber. The prisoner was walked to a marked spot on the trapdoor whereupon Pierrepoint placed a white hood over the prisoner's head and a noose around his neck. The metal eye through which the rope was looped was placed under the left jawbone which, when the prisoner dropped, forced the head back and broke the spine. Pierrepoint pushed a lever, releasing the trapdoor. From entering the condemned man's cell to opening the trapdoor took him a maximum of 12 seconds. 

After the Second World War he was appointed an honorary Lieutenant-Colonel executing 200 war criminals between 1945 and 1949 in Hameln, Germany and Graz, Austria, often ten people per day.  Among those executed were the camp commandant Josef Kramer (‘The Beast of Belsen’), Irma Grese (Hyena of Auschwitz) at 22 the youngest concentration camp guard to be executed for crimes at Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz and Dr Bruno Tesch, co-inventor of the insecticide Zyklon B used in the Holocaust to kill over 6 million people. Executed for treason was William Joyce (Lord Haw-Haw) who had broadcast Nazi propaganda to Britain from Germany during the Second World War and John Amery a pro-Nazi British fascist.
Albert Pierrepoint executed high-profile murderers including Gordon Cummins (the Blackout Ripper), John Haigh (the Acid Bath Murderer) and Ruth Ellis – the last woman to be executed in Britain.  

He also undertook several contentious executions, including Timothy Evans who was wrongfully executed for a crime committed by his neighbour John Christie (the Rillington Place Strangler) who was also hanged by Albert Pierrepoint and Derek Bentley who was hanged for the murder of a policeman. The murder was said at the time to have been committed by a friend and accomplice of Bentley's and led to a 45-year-long campaign to win Derek Bentley a posthumous pardon, which was granted in 1993, and then a further campaign for the quashing of his murder conviction, which occurred in 1998.

Albert Pierrepoint resigned in 1956 and the Home Office acknowledged him as the most efficient executioner in British history and believed him to have hanged more criminals than anyone else in Britain.

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