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This account of executions in Lancashire spans two centuries and begins in the era of the Bloody Code. In the closing years of the eighteenth century, there were over 200 capital crimes and the early chapters discuss those condemned to death for highway robbery, croft breaking, riot, and sodomy. As the nineteenth century progressed, crimes for which the death penalty could be imposed decreased, until—with the exception of treason and piracy—only murderers faced the noose. The author has selected chapters that discuss botched hangings and possible miscarriages of justice, and ends with a chapter devoted to the last two men to be executed in this country, in 1964. A compelling read for anyone interested in local and social history, written by an experienced criminal historian.
“Using a wealth of research, illustrations from local papers, original photographs, letters and even a route plan from one of the crimes, Baggoley has unearthed some fascinating and gruesome cases.” —Lancashire Evening Post
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To Deter Others 1790 & 1798
For several centuries, Lancaster was Lancashire's only assize town. Its ancient castle was the location of all trials involving serious crimes, and as many of those were punishable by death, the town was the site of almost all of the county's executions. However, this account of hangings in the county begins with two exceptions to this rule, which took place towards the close of the eighteenth century, when the country was still in the grip of the Bloody Code.
It was late on the night of Sunday 17 January 1790, when Thomas Cheetham, landlord of the Dog and Partridge on Stretford Road, Manchester secured the premises and retired to bed with his wife. He had just blown out the bedside candle when the Cheethams heard what they recognised as the sound of the back door to the inn being forced open. Seconds later five men, all of whom had blackened faces to disguise their identities, burst into the terrified couple's room.
After binding Mr and Mrs Cheetham, one of the intruders removed a ring forcibly from Mrs Cheetham's finger. However, she begged the man not to take it as it was her wedding ring. Surprisingly he relented and returned the ring to her finger. The gang remained in the house for more than ninety minutes during which time they subjected the couple to various threats of violence. When they eventually left they took with them Mr Cheetham's watch, £8 in cash, a number of silver spoons, a quantity of linen, clothes and several bottles of brandy.
This had been the latest in a spate of similarly violent burglaries in the district, and although there had been no fatal incidents, the authorities made a determined effort to catch the one gang believed to be responsible for all of the crimes. Details of the break in at the Dog and Partridge were circulated throughout the North West, and in early February two men suspected of being involved in the robberies were arrested in Liverpool. One escaped, but the other, James McNamara, on whom items of property belonging to the Cheethams were found, was returned to Manchester, where on 10 February, he was committed to stand trial at the Lancaster Assizes. After spending six months in the castle, he stood his trial in August.
When McNamara's trial opened, details of his criminal background were given to the jury together with details of the possessions stolen at the break in at the Dog and Partridge which were found in his possession. It took very little time for McNamara to be found guilty, and he returned to his cell having been sentenced to death and having been told by the judge that he should not expect to be shown mercy.
The condemned man was thirty-two years old, and had been born and spent his formative years in Dromcondra, near Dublin. His parents, who had a small dairy farm, were honest and hard working, and had managed to provide their son with a good education, which unfortunately, he failed to take advantage of. He travelled to Dublin regularly to sell the farm's produce, and when still in his teens fell into bad company. Whilst still living in Ireland, he was convicted of several crimes and was eventually sentenced to death, but was reprieved and instead was sentenced to be transported to North America.
However, when his ship put into St John's, Newfoundland, he escaped. Unable to return home, where he would be recognised, he made his way to England. He settled in Manchester, where initially he worked as a labourer, but he soon returned to his criminal ways.
McNamara would no doubt be expecting to be hanged outside the walls of Lancaster Castle. However, it was decided that he should be executed in Manchester, with the intention of deterring others who might be thinking of committing similar crimes in that town. The execution was to be witnessed by as large a crowd as possible, and it was decided that McNamara would die on the hill on Kersal Moor, one of the highest natural points in the district. Thus, on Thursday 9 September, the condemned man was taken by carriage from Lancaster to the New Bailey Gaol in Salford, where he spent the final two days of his life.
To ensure that as many local people as possible witnessed McNamara's degrading final hours, it was decided that he would not be taken directly to the gallows. On the morning of his execution he was shackled and placed in a small cart, which formed part of a grand procession, which was driven through the streets of Manchester and Salford for more than two hours. Marching in front of the cart were four sheriff's officers and eight javelin men. Two of the former and four of the latter walked at each side of the cart, immediately behind which were another eight javelin men and four sheriff's officers. They were followed by the Under Sheriff and a number of local clergymen. Next came a coach carrying many of the local magistrates, and at the rear of the procession came the Deputy Constable, the boroughreeves and constables of the two towns, the beadles, all of whom were wearing their distinctive cloaks and caps, and a number of special constables. As this impressive sight made its way to Kersal Moor, all of the local church bells rang out.
Several thousand spectators had assembled at the execution site and a penitent McNamara, who had now lost the arrogance he had displayed at his trial, addressed the crowd for a few minutes. He spoke of the justness of his sentence, exhorted those present to avoid bad company and minutes later he died without a struggle.
There were no crowd problems, but the event was marred by the activities of a pickpocket, who although seen in the act, managed to make his escape, which given the massive turnout of the area's forces of law and order was rather ironic.
Eight years later, on Saturday 15 September 1798, following a respite of seven days granted by the Duke of Portland to await the sentencing judge's views on a plea for a reprieve, twenty-two-year-old George Russell was hanged on Newton Heath, Manchester. He had been convicted of croft-breaking on 5 June, when he stole cloth, velveteen and Genoa cord valued at Â£20, the property of Thomas Shorrocks, a local dyer and bleacher.
At this time there was no formal means of appealing against conviction or sentence, but it was open to individuals to make representations on behalf of the condemned by writing to the Secretary of State, who might then consult the trial judge. One petition was submitted on Russell's behalf and that was from his mother, Ann Russell. He was the youngest of her six sons, all of whom had served in the armed services, and he had served in the Royal Navy. She wrote of his previous good character and that he had acted out of character as he had been drunk when he committed the crime.
In his response the judge noted that in the previous twelve months, Mr Shorrocks had lost material from his croft to the value of more than Â£500, and croft-breaking was a crime now reaching a 'very alarming height' in the district. The judge was unmoved by Mrs Russell's letter and recommended that mercy was not shown in this case. As a result there was no reprieve and the authorities believed that this was an appropriate case for the execution to be carried out close to the scene of the crime and be used as a deterrent to those in the area who might be considering committing a similar offence. It was therefore decided that it would take place not in Lancaster but on Newton Heath, Manchester.
At ten o'clock on the morning of the execution, Russell was placed on an elevated seat in a cart so that he was visible to the many thousands of spectators who lined the route from the New Bailey Gaol to the Heath. This was followed by a mourning coach carrying the Reverends Mr Cheek, Dr Bayley and Mr Robey. The boroughreeves and constables from Manchester and Salford marched alongside.
Later, as he waited for the cart to be drawn from underneath him, Russell called on those who had gathered to witness his death to avoid sabbath-breaking, improper female company and keeping low company in public houses. After acknowledging the justness of his sentence and expressing contrition, he prayed in silence for a few moments before the cart moved forward.
This would prove to be the last occasion on which an execution would occur in any place other than Lancaster, or later in the nineteenth century, in one of the other assize towns which would be created in the county.CHAPTER 2
A Highway Robbery 1803
Joseph Jones, a wool manufacturer of Rochdale, also acted as agent in the North West of England for James Bell of Uttoxeter. James travelled north to meet with Joseph at his home on Monday 14 November 1803. The two men agreed that on the following day, Joseph would ride the twelve miles to Manchester to conduct some business on behalf of his client.
On Tuesday, Joseph did not conclude his business until six o'clock in the evening and it was already dark when he left Manchester on the return journey to Rochdale. He was accompanied by a friend, Mr Burgess, who was riding a short distance ahead. They had travelled about four miles, when a man stepped out into the road and grabbed the bridle of Joseph's horse, causing it to stop. The man produced a blunderbuss, which had a bayonet attached to the end, and demanded that Joseph 'Deliver or you are a dead man in a moment'. Mr Burgess heard the commotion and came to a stop but as he did so the robber shouted: 'If you come any nearer I'll shoot you too'. Fearing for his life, Mr Burgess galloped away from the scene.
The robber again turned to Joseph, saying: 'Look sharp or I'll run you through. Deliver or you are a dead man'. Joseph pleaded to him, saying: 'Spare my life and I'll give you all that I have, but I do not have much money'. From his breeches, he pulled a purse, which contained several bank notes, but the highwayman was not satisfied with this and searched him. He took a penknife and some copper coins from Joseph's waistband pocket; from his other pockets he took several silver and gold coins and a letter, which had been written and signed by James Bell, authorising Joseph to conduct business on his behalf in Manchester on that day. The robber was still not convinced that he had all of his victim's valuables, for he screamed: 'Damn your blood, you must have a watch'. Joseph insisted that he did not have one, and after a fruitless search lasting two or three more minutes, the robber ran from the scene.
Mr Burgess had not deserted his friend, for a few minutes later he returned with a group of men. However, it was now too dark for them to make a search of the area and they returned to Manchester, where the crime was reported to Joseph Nadin, the town's Deputy Constable.
Nadin, accompanied by several armed colleagues, were soon riding towards the scene of the crime. He treated this with great urgency for in the very recent past two men had been shot to death in the same area during a similar highway robbery. It was by now ten o'clock at night, and after travelling only a short distance from the town, the officers encountered a man fitting the description of the robber, given by Joseph. The Deputy Constable detained the suspect, who had initially believed he was the victim of a gang of robbers. When the true identities of the men were revealed, the Deputy thought the man looked even more terrified than when he had believed them to be villains.
The suspect turned out to be twenty-three-year-old Joseph Brown, who told Nadin that he had walked to Manchester from Bury, where he lived. He was searched and was found to be carrying an unloaded pistol, a penknife which fitted the description given by Joseph of his own that had been stolen, a pocket book containing three guineas and an Irish Bank Â£10 banknote. Three pawn tickets, two of which were for gold watches and the other for a silver watch, were also found, together with a bloodstained shirt which had been carefully folded and which the prisoner had attempted to conceal in his hat. However, it was the discovery of the letter signed by James Bell that had been given to Joseph and which the robber had stolen, that provided a direct link to the robbery.
Brown was held in Lancaster Castle as he awaited his trial at the Assizes of April 1804, when he appeared before Judge Alan de Chambre, charged with highway robbery, to which he pleaded not guilty. The trial was relatively brief, and apart from the identification evidence provided by the victim, the testimony of two other witnesses proved to be particularly damning. James Bell identified the letter found in the accused's possession, as that which he had given to Joseph on the eve of the crime. James Richardson, a Manchester cutler, identified Brown as the man who had visited his shop on the morning of 15 November 1803 and who bought the blunderbuss, bayonet and pistol, which had been found on Brown by the Deputy Constable, and for which he had paid two and a half guineas. No witnesses were called on behalf of the man in the dock, and the jury took just a few minutes to find him guilty, after which he was sentenced to death.
Brown's execution was fixed for Saturday 28 April, but he advised Reverend Richard Withnell, Chaplain of Lancaster Gaol, he thought that although not charged with the crimes, his death sentence had been imposed because the judge believed he had been responsible for the earlier murders of the two men on the road between Manchester and Rochdale. However, he could provide an alibi for the time the murders had been committed, and another witness could be provided to explain how his shirt came to be smeared in blood.
The chaplain wrote to members of the condemned man's family in Penrith, on 19 April, and in a letter to his brother-in-law, stonemason Samuel Bell, he included the following information:
He has declared to me repeatedly, upon the word of a dying man, that he was in Ireland, a sergeant in a Volunteer Regiment, when the men were found; that he can prove his being in Dublin at that time, as well as his good and regular contact from the testimony of his officers and other respectable characters there, and he would have done so upon his trial had he known that he was so strongly suspected. Indeed, I am inclined to think that he would not have been left for execution if that had not rested upon him.
Reverend Withnell also addressed the issue of the bloodstains on his clothing:
He says it was occasioned by a hurt he received on his hand in his passage from Dublin to Liverpool, that it bled upon his coat when he laid his arm upon it; that Captain Jones, now at Liverpool, saw the coat when he was on board his vessel; knows that the blood came upon it in that way, and upon that particular part. If these circumstances can be brought forward in a proper manner by his friends, perhaps something may yet be done; but as I said before, all depends upon expedition in getting the respite.
Meanwhile, the condemned's mother, Mary Brown, wrote to Lord Viscount Lowther urging that he act on her behalf and use his influence to arrange for her son's execution to be postponed:
I have now to request of your Lordship to make application to the Secretary of State for a respite till further enquiry may be made into his former conduct. I hope your Lordship will pardon the boldness I have taken in making this request of your Lordship and if such desire can be granted, it will relieve the distress of an affectionate mother.
Brown's family was successful in gaining a respite, but it was for seven days only. John Higgins, the Keeper of Lancaster Gaol, wrote to the office of the Secretary of State to acknowledge receipt of details of the respite, but added that he had advised the prisoner that there 'was not the slightest hope for success in his application'. Indeed, it proved impossible for any new evidence to be presented in the time allowed the family, and Brown's fate was probably sealed in the trial judge's letter of 28 April to the Secretary of State, in which he commented:
The fact that two men who had been shot having been found upon the road near Manchester some time ago, stated in the letters sent in support of the application on behalf of the prisoner, was not in evidence, and probably the prisoner may be free from imputation in respect of the murder of these men. But forming my opinion on the circumstances that were in evidence and having no evidence respecting the former character and conduct of the prisoner, I thought it my duty to leave the law to take its course.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Hanged In Lancashire"
Copyright © 2010 Martin Baggoley.
Excerpted by permission of Pen and Sword Books Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
CHAPTER 1 - To Deter Others 1790 & 1798,
CHAPTER 2 - A Highway Robbery 1803,
CHAPTER 3 - The Manchester Forgers 1804,
CHAPTER 4 - The Warrington Sodomites 1806,
CHAPTER 5 - The Luddites 1812,
CHAPTER 6 - The Pendleton Murders 1817,
CHAPTER 7 - The Leveson Street Outrage 1849,
CHAPTER 8 - The Case of the Spanish Sailor 1863,
CHAPTER 9 - A Wayward Son 1866,
CHAPTER 10 - Lancashireâ&8364;(tm)s Last Public Hangings 1867,
CHAPTER 11 - A Double Hanging 1874,
CHAPTER 12 - Murder by Fire 1879,
CHAPTER 13 - The Wedding Day Murder 1881,
CHAPTER 14 - The Cornermen 1884,
CHAPTER 15 - A Murder in the Workhouse 1887,
CHAPTER 16 - A Good Citizen is Rewarded 1893,
CHAPTER 17 - Murder on Platform A 1908,
CHAPTER 18 - The Burnley Outrage 1909,
CHAPTER 19 - Murdered for the Insurance 1919,
CHAPTER 20 - A Misunderstanding that led to Murder 1925,
CHAPTER 21 - The Murder at Nelson 1936,
CHAPTER 22 - A Cheshire Murder 1946,
CHAPTER 23 - A Miscarriage of Justice 1949,
CHAPTER 24 - The Death of a Nightwatchman 1952,
CHAPTER 25 - The Murder of Auntie Bella 1962,
CHAPTER 26 - The Final Act 1964,
Sources and Bibliography,