A History of Hanging

By Tim Lambert

Hanging was the most common method of execution in England from the Anglo-Saxon Era until the 20th century. At first, the prisoner was made to stand on a ladder, which was pulled away, or on a cart, which was moved. From the 18th century, he stood on a trapdoor. Sometimes the prisoner broke his neck when he fell but until the 19th century, he was usually strangled by the rope.

On 5 May 1760 Laurence Shirley, the Earl of Ferrers became the last peer to be hanged. (For murdering a servant).

I used to hear the phrase ‘’You will be hanged from the nearest yardarm’. The last person to be hanged from a yardarm was a marine called John Dalinger. He was hanged from the yardarm of a ship called HMS Leven on 13 July 1860.

Executions in Britain used to be held in public. Charles Dickens witnessed a public execution in 1849 and he was appalled by the effect they had on the crowd. He campaigned for them to be abolished.

On 29 April 1862, Mary Timney became the last woman to be hanged in public in Scotland. She was hanged in Dumfries.

On 21 June 1864, George Bryce became the last person to be executed in public in Edinburgh. Edward Pritchard was the last man to be hanged in public in Glasgow, on 28 July 1865.

Catherine Wilson became the last woman to be hanged in London on 20 October 1862. The last woman to be publicly hanged in Britain was Frances Kidder on 2 April 1868. She was hanged in Maidstone, Kent. The last man to be publicly hanged in Britain was Michael Barret in 1868. He was hanged in London. Public executions were abolished the same year, 1868.

In 1908, in Britain hanging was abolished for people under the age of 16. In 1933 the minimum age for hanging was raised to 18.

But during the 1950s public opinion in Britain began to turn against capital punishment partly due to some controversial cases. On 9 March 1950, an innocent man named Timothy Evans was hanged. He was given a royal pardon in 1966. Derek Bentley was hanged on 28 January 1953. His conviction was quashed in 1998. On 13 July 1955, Ruth Ellis was hanged. She was the last woman in Britain to be hanged. But the circumstances of her case meant that she gained a lot of sympathy and her execution was controversial.

On 13 August 1964 Gwynne Evans and Peter Allen were hanged in separate prisons. They were the last people to be hanged in Britain.

In Britain, the death sentence for murder was abolished for an experimental period of 5 years in 1965. It was permanently abolished in 1969. In 1998 it was also abolished for treason and piracy with violence. In 1999 the British Home Secretary signed the 6th European Convention of Human Rights protocol, completely abolishing capital punishment in the UK.

A hangman's noose