1755 Sarah Dean

James Bason discovered the body of a young female child in a brook near Congleton; the local justice of the peace examined the case, and asked a midwife to examine Sarah Dean, who, it had been rumoured was or had been pregnant. She admitted having given birth and hiding the body under the floor of the privy. The body of the infant was examined and found to have had its throat cut, and Sarah was sentenced to death and hanged.

1602 Arnet

At Michaelmas fair, one Arnet, servant to Mr Manley of Saltney side, cruelly murdered one of his fellows near to his Masters house, first by cutting his throat with a knife, and afterwards, missing his windpipe, he ripped up his belly with the same knife, so that his bowels fell out, and leaving him for dead, went home without taking any mney from him, as he first intended; not withstanding, the dying man came home, and lapping his bowels in his shirt, and lived until he made known who had killed him. And the same murderer was hanged in chains the year following, near to the place where the deed was done.


The History of Cheshire: Containing King’s Vale-Royal Entire, Together with …

By Daniel King, William Smith, William Webb


žKick the Bucket  – allegedly the felon was standing on the bucket with the rope around his neck – to commence the hanging you literally kicked the bucket away.

žGo West – or gone west; something that has gone very wrong; Tyburn was west from Newgate prison

žTurned Off – when the felon was sent up the ladder to be hung, the ladder was turned to dislodge them, they were literally turned off

žDerrick now a style of crane, based on the three legged gallows at Tyburn, from the hangman who devised it

žI’ll swing for you,  one of my mom’s favourites – literally I will hang for killing you

žGet Knotted 

žMoney for old rope The hangman not only gained possession of the felon’s clothes, but also the rope that hanged them. This would be sold, normally by the inch, and would be more expensive, the more notorious they were – hence ‘money for old rope’

žCroaked – meaning died (i.e. he’s croaked) – the noise of the felon being slowly strangled.

žPissing when you can’t whistle  It was generally thought that at the moment of death, those being hung would urinate as the muscles relaxed. As men tended to whistle whilst urinating, a comparison was drawn-

žMight as well be hung for a sheep... As stated – if the penalty was the same, you might as well go for the bigger prize.

žIn Limbo Prisoners after being sentenced to death would have a very good chance of commutation, and the cell they waited for news was named ‘limbo’, between heaven and earth.

žSticking your neck out What you had to do for the headsman

žPut your head on the block again, a reference to taking a risk, with the block being that of the headsman

Heads will roll

žPut the kibosh on it To spoil or ruin something – kibosh apparently being yiddish for black cap worn by the judge when passing a death sentence

Places of Execution

It would of course be difficult to identify places of execution from the distant past, but there are often local clues in place names, and a certain logic to their positioning.

Gallows, and later on, Gibbets, were placed at a location where they could be seen by travellers and passers by, as a warning of what might happen to them if they misbehaved!!  This would be on the outskirts of the town or village, perhaps on a raised spot for maximum visibility, but not too close to offend the senses of the local population. Quite possibly it would have been the bough of a tree, where a ladder would be used for the culprit to climb, the rope attached, and the ladder twisted so they fell off. They would quite literally be turned off.

In any area a local search usually beings up a few execution related names, and close to where I live is ‘Hangman’s Lane’,  ‘Gallowsclough Lane’ (Gallows Valley),  and ‘Gallows Lunt’, lunt being a small parcel of land. These may are may not give a clue as to what might have happened there in the past

We know that Executions were carried out in Chester, at Boughton, at the top of the hill. This would have been visible for many miles, and especially a deterent when Chester was used as an embarkation port for troops sailing for Ireland. However as the city expanded, and more affluent people moved nearby, by 1800 there was a call for the gallows to be moved. It was first moved from one side of the road to the other, in around 1790, but the debacle of one of three men destined for the scaffold throwing himself off of the cart, rolling down the hill, and drowning in the river, was a catalyst in their removal back to the city.

The first execution within the city was in 1801, with the victims being ‘launched into eternity’ through the attic windows of the old Northgate Gaol. Their bodies reportedly struggled so much they broke the windows on the floor below.

Executions where then carried out at the new house of correction, just within the city walls. Spectators could watch easily, and the advent of the railways brought the crowds in, until 1868, when the law changed to make hangings ‘private’, and held behind the prison walls of Chester Castle.

Then in 1886 Chester became a military prison, and executions were moved to Knutsford Prison, and discontinued there in 1914, when it became a military prison, and executions were then outside of the county.



Hugh Stringer 1591

Hanged for the murder of Ann Carnage, and her daughter Cecily. This was the last Capital case tried by the Court Baron of Kinderton. It was the responsibility of the tenant of the lands to find an executioner, which John Croston did. He paid John Lingard Five shillings to perform the task

Cheshire Hangmen

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






1836 Louisa Plant

She was tried along with Thomas Birchenough for the murder of their infant child Edward, in Macclesfield, through murder by arsenic poisoning. It was evidenced that Louisa had administered the poison, which she claimed was given to her by Thomas. The jury found Louisa Guilty of murder, with a reccomendation to mercy because of her age, and found Thomas not guilty of murder, but guilty of being an accessory. The judge stated that this was the same as an aquital, but that he should be tried as an accessory before the fact, which took place the following morning, and he was found guilty. Both were sentenced to death, although Louisa’s sentence was immediately commuted, and Thomas’ solicitor had raised legal objections, which led to him being transported for life.