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William Marwood - History of British Executioners | by brizzle born and bred
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William Marwood - History of British Executioners

William Marwood - Period in office - 1874 - 1883


William Marwood (1820 – 1883) of Church Lane, Horncastle, Lincolnshire, England.


Marwood was a cobbler by trade who had, over the years taken a great interest in the 'art' of hanging and felt that it could be improved. He had never hanged anyone or even assisted at an execution but at the age of 54 persuaded the authorities at Lincoln prison to let him carry out the hanging of William Frederick Harry (or Horry) on the 1st April 1872. The execution went off without a hitch and impressed the governor of that prison.


He introduced the 'long drop' method of hanging (which was thought to have been invented by surgeons in Ireland). He realised that if the prisoner was to be given a drop of six to ten feet depending upon his weight and with the noose correctly positioned death would be 'nearly instantaneous' due to the neck being broken. Actually this form of hanging leads to comatose asphyxia i.e. the prisoner still dies by asphyxiation but is unconscious at the time. When done properly there is no visible movement of the condemned after the drop.


The long drop removed all the gruesome struggling and convulsing from the proceedings and was, undoubtedly far less cruel to the prisoner and far less trying to the governor and staff of the prison who, since the abolition of public hangings, had to witness the spectacle at close quarters.


He was duly appointed as official hangman by the Sheriffs of London and Middlesex, replacing Calcraft and received a retainer of £20.00 per annum plus £10.00 for each execution but unlike Calcraft got no actual salary. He also was able to keep the condemned persons clothes and received travelling expenses. The rail system was so advanced by this time that he could travel anywhere in the country with ease thus making it possible for him to carry out most of the executions within England and in Ireland.


There was a famous rime about Marwood at the time which went 'If Pa killed Ma who'd kill Pa - Marwood'. William Marwood was something of a celebrity and had business cards printed - 'William Marwood Public Executioner, Horncastle, Lincolnshire' and the words 'Marwood Crown Office' over the door of his shop.


In his nine years of service he hanged 176 people, including 8 women, before dying of 'inflammation of the lungs' in 1883.


Four of Marwood's notable cases were :


Charles Peace was a burglar and murderer whom Marwood hanged on the 25th of February 1879 at Armley Goal in Leeds. Peace was the archetypal Victorian criminal who struck fear into the hearts of everyone at the time.


Kate Webster an Irish servant girl who murdered her mistress and cut up her body was executed on the 29th of July 1879 at Wandsworth Prison, the only woman to be hanged there. Percy Lefroy Mapleton murdered Isaac Fredrick Gold on a train on the Brighton Line so that he could steal Gold's watch and some coins. He was arrested almost immediately but managed to escape from custody before being arrested again, convicted and finally hanged at Lewes prison on the 29th of November 1881.


Marwood travelled to Ireland from time to time and had the job of executing Joe Brady and four other members of the 'Invincibles' gang for the murders in Phoenix Park Dublin of Lord Frederick Cavendish and Thomas Harry Burke the Permanent Under Secretary for Ireland. These hangings took place on the 14th of May, 1883 at Kilmainham jail in Dublin.


Marwood worked with Incher on the occasions that needed 2 executioners i.e. doubles, until 1881 and then used Bartholomew Binns as an assistant until 1883 when Binns took over as No. 1. During Marwood's reign as No. 1 there were 14 double executions, 3 triples and one quadruple (at Newgate). He worked without an assistant for most executions but one assumes that if needed the warders they were there to assist.


Marwood's last execution was in Sunderland on August 6th, 1883. He hanged a bigamist, James Burton, who had killed his eighteen-year-old “wife”. Only four weeks later, Marwood died himself, on September 4th, from inflammation of the lungs.

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Taken on November 24, 2007