If you have hanging as a punishment, it obviously follows that you need somebody to carry out the penalty of the law, the hangman.
For earlier executioners there were other punishments to carry out, such as branding, flogging, burning, etc
Hanging was often a part time role, with a fee being paid for each job. It involved little skill, perhaps the ability to tie a knot, and you did not even have to turn up sober.
The hangman was often a reviled character, even by those who employed him, as well as the public in general. However if the person to be despatched was particularly reviled, the hangman might become albeit briefly, a hero.
Hangmen could be recruited from the ranks of the prisoners themselves, or anyone who was desperate enough for the fee. Their names were not recorded for posterity, unless their notoriety demanded it.
John Lingard is the name given to a hangman from 1591, who executed a murderer, Hugh Stringer. It was the responsibility of the Lord of the Manor to find an executioner when needed, and Lingard was paid five shillings (From The Common Hangman, James Bland, 2001)
Sammy Burrows was the first ‘main’ executioner I have found in Cheshire.He reined from 1812 to 1835, being a rat catcher by profession, and undertook about 50 executions in and around Cheshire, but he was also known for his drunkeness.
His first recorded execution was of
His last execution was of Samuel Thorley in 1833.
George Smith was hangman at the execution of Mary Gallop, in 1848. He was from Dudley in the West Midlands, and was known as the ‘Dudley Higgler’, Higgler being a Black Country term for hangman. He began his career in Stafford, where he was allegedly appointed to save the cost of brining Calcraft up from London. He also carried out executions in Liverpool and Shrewsbury.
William Calcraft was a ‘national’ executioner from 1829 and 1874, at a time when executions were decreasing, and train travel made it easier to bring in an outside person. It also distanced the locals a little from the nastiness of the occasion. Prior to Calcraft, many authorities had their own executioners, who often carried out other tasks, such as whippings etc,
Although he was hangman for a long time, Calcraft was not the most effective, employing the short drop method, often involving him swinging on the victim’s legs to hasten death. A letter from the minister of the Castle to a friend refers to ‘Calcrafts bungling’, at the execution of Alice Holt in 1863. He carried on his duties until 1868.
William Marwood carried out 4 executions in Chester, introducing the ‘long drop’ method of hanging, which brought about death quickly and efficiently. His methods appealed to Victorian England as a scientific advance, with calculations based on height and weight to determine length of drop, and dislocation of neck.
“If pa killed ma, who’d kill pa? Marwood”
James Berry carried out his first Cheshire execution in 1886, carrying out the first execution at Knutsford in 1886. Berry, a former Bradford policeman, became an executioner following the death of Marwood. His last execution there was in 1890, and he retired in 1891.
John Billington hanged William Hancocks on 1905, assisted by Henry Pierrepoint. Pierrepoint devised a special pinion strap for Hancock as he had only one arm, and could not be restrained in the conventional manner.
Henry Pierrepoint Hanged Edward Hartigan at Knutsford in 1906, and James Phipps in 1908. He was the first of the Pierrepoint dynasty to enter the profession, by writing to the Home Secretary. He left in 1910 for reasons unclear
John Ellis officiated at the last execution in Cheshire, hanging John WILLIAMS in 1912. n his autobiography he states that he first got the idea of becoming a hangman whilst working in a factory in Congleton