The Anatomy of a Hanging
Posted (sic) on September-27-2007 Read More

There are many articles written about gallows, hangings, executions by hanging in England and Europe as well as modern… or more modern techniques.

Mostof the below ifo pertains to methods for hanging and gallows made in 1400’s to the 1800’s, however, there are still countries that employ hanging as a method of execution, many of which are still public. Hanging is one of the oldest methods of execution, and it replaced the guillitine(hope I spelled that right!) in many European countries

hanging by nooseSo what I gather is you need rope with enough tensile strength to withstand a force of about 570kg, which is sufficient to snap the neck of a condemned prisoner, putting them in a coma for the six minutes or so it takes the brain to shut down.

If the pressure on the side of the neck from the noose is less than 570kg when the body’s fall is arrested, the prisoner will probably suffer prolonged death by strangulation.

Should the hangman miscalculate the length of the rope, allowing the body to fall too far, the force will be too great and, unless the rope snaps, death will be by decapitation.

Many devices have been created through the centuries to allow for “better” hangings… or so that the prisoner dies due to the hangingand the head does not go rolling into the crowd of spectators.

So Check out this gallery of both modern gallows and gallows from the 1400 - 1800’s. Some are artwork because back in those days… well cameras were not yet invented.

Hanging grew in popularity from the 5th century onwards in Europe as a means of execution, partly because it provided a spectacle. The body of a murderer, witch or thief was strung high above the crowd, giving everyone a perfect view. Below are some of the various methods and devices used for said hanging.

The gallows.
A tree was the earliest form of gallows with prisoners being either hauled up manually by the hangman or turned off from a ladder or the tail of a cart. Two trees with a beam between them formed the gallows.
In other places more conventional gallows were built, having either a single upright with a projecting beam cross braced to it or two uprights and a cross beam where more than one person could be hanged at a time. Both types still required the use of a ladder or a cart to get the criminal suspended. Many of these gallows were not permanent and were dismantled after each execution. In some cases, the gallows was erected near to the scene of the crime so that the local inhabitants could see justice done.
I
triple tree gallown 1571, the famous “Triple Tree” was set up at Tyburn to replace previous smaller structures and was, at least once, used for the hanging of 24 prisoners simultaneously. This was on the 23rd of June 1649 when 23 men and one woman were executed for burglary and robbery, having been conveyed there in 8 carts.

In1760 a new design gallows was used to execute the Earl of Ferrers at Tyburn. It comprised a scaffold covered in black baize reached by a short flight of stairs. Two uprights rose from the scaffold, topped with a cross beam. Directly under the beam there was a small box like structure, some 3 feet square and 18 inches high, which was designed to sink down into the scaffold and thus leave the criminal suspended. This was the forerunner of the “New Drop” gallows.

The “New Drop” gallows.
The 9th of December 1783 saw the first executions on Newgate’s “New Drop” gallows, when nine men and one woman were hanged simultaneously .The gallows was on wheels and was brought out specially for each hanging by a team of horses. It was a large box like structure with two uprights supporting two parallel beams from which a maximum of a dozen criminals could be hanged at once. The prisoners stood on a platform, 10 feet long by 8 feet wide, released by moving a lever , as hangings became less frequent, the double beam gallows was replaced with a single beam pattern which could still accommodate six prisoners at a time.

The “New Drop” pattern. Lancaster from 1800 to 1868 where the prisoner was brought directly onto the platform through first floor French windows of the “Drop Room”.


Britain’s last working gallows, at Wandsworth prison, was dismantled in 1994 and was sent to the Prison Service Museum in Rugby, being now stored in the Galleries of Justice in Nottingham but not on display. It was last used on
the 8th of September 1961 and was kept in full working order up to 1992, being tested every six months.

The Noose.
Consisting of a loop worked into one end of a piece of hemp rope, with the other end passed through it.
In 1955 the noose end was replaced with vulcanised rubber. The rope was stretched before use, by dropping a sandbag of approximately the same weight as the prisoner through the trap and leaving it suspended overnight.

The hood.
Over the last 250 years or so it has been customary to cover the prisoner’s face so that their final agonies would not be seen. IIn some places the “hood” was actually a nightcap supplied by the prisoner. When they had finished their prayers, the hangman simply pulled it down over their face. In some cases, women might choose a bonnet with a veil instead

Pinioning.
In England, the prisoner’s hands were typically pinioned in front of them until 1892. In the days of public hangings, the prisoner’s wrists were tied with a cord and often a second cord passed round the body and arms at the elbows. This was done to allow them to pray on the gallows, however, this made it easier for them to resist and fight at the end so pinioning the wrists at the sides to a leather body belt became normal by the 1850’s - an idea invented by William Calcraft. James Billington introduced the idea of pinioning the prisoner’s wrists behind their back using a double buckle leather strap, and this became the standard method until abolition. It also significantly reduced the time taken in the pinioning operation.
With the advent of the long drop, the prisoner’s legs were normally pinioned with a leather strap around the ankles to prevent them getting their feet onto the sides of the trap when the doors fell. Previously, the legs had been left free in short drop hangings, although it had been normal to tie the legs of female prisoners to prevent their skirts billowing up and exposing their underwear!

The “Short Drop”
Hanging using little or no drop was effectively universal up to the end of 1874. The prisoner could be suspended by a variety of means, from the back of a cart or a ladder or later by some form of trap door mechanism. Where a person was dragged off the tail of the cart they usually got only a few inches of actual drop. It was not unusual for the relatives and friends of prisoners to hang on their legs to shorten their suffering.

People surviving the gallows and the hanging… Unlike modern Electric chairs where they zap you again till you do die, they had a bit of sympathy and compassion for the prisoner sentenced to “hang by the neck… ’till death”.
There are several recorded instances of revival in this country during the 17th and 18th centuries. One of the most famous is that of John Smith, hanged at Tyburn on Christmas Eve 1705. Having been turned off the back of the cart, he dangled for 15 minutes until the crowd began to shout “reprieve,” whereupon he was cut down and taken to a nearby house where he soon recovered.


He was asked what it had felt like to be hanged and this is what he told his rescuers:
“When I was turned off I was, for some time, sensible of very great pain occasioned by the weight of my body and felt my spirits in strange commotion, violently pressing upwards. Having forced their way to my head I saw a great blaze or glaring light that seemed to go out of my eyes in a flash and then I lost all sense of pain. After I was cut down, I began to come to myself and the blood and spirits forcing themselves into their former channels put me by a prickling or shooting into such intolerable pain that I could have wished those hanged who had cut me down.”
Sixteen year old William Duell was hanged, along with 4 others, at Tyburn on
the 24th of November 1740. He had been convicted of raping and murdering Sarah Griffin and was therefore to be anatomised after execution. He was taken to Surgeon’s Hall, where it was noticed that he was showing signs of life. He was revived and returned to Newgate later that day. The authorities decided to reprieve him and his sentence was commuted to transportation. There are several other instances where people, including at least two women, survived their hanging.

The “Long drop” In 1872, William Marwood introduced the “long drop” to Britain for the execution of Frederick Horry at Lincoln prison on the 1st of April of that year, as a scientifically worked out way of giving the prisoner a more humane death. The first woman to be executed by the new method was Frances Stewart who was hanged for the murder of her grandson by Marwood on Monday the 29th of June 1874. The concept was invented by doctors in Ireland and Marwood had read about their theory. Longer drops were in use in other countries by the 1850’s, but the short drop was universal in Britain at this time. During the five years from 1872 to 1877 both the short and long drop methods were in use with only Marwood using the latter.
The long drop method was designed to break the prisoner’s neck by allowing them to fall a pre-determined distance and then be brought up with a sharp jerk by the rope. At the end of the drop, the body is still accelerating under the force of gravity but the head is constrained by the noose which delivers a massive blow to the back and one side of the neck, which combined with the downward momentum of the body, breaks the neck and ruptures the spinal cord causing instant deep unconsciousness and rapid death. The later use of the brass eyelet in the noose tended to break the neck with more certainty. Due to its position under the angle of the left jaw, the head is snapped backward with such force that the upper cervical vertebrae cuts the spinal cord a little below the brain stem.
The accurately measured and worked out drop removed most of the prisoner’s physical suffering and made the whole process far less traumatic for the officials who now had to witness it in the confines of the execution cell instead of in the open air.
The drop given from 1875 to 1892 was usually between 4 and 10 feet, depending on the weight and strength of the prisoner, the length of drop being calculated to provide a final “striking” force of approximately 1,260 lbs. force which combined with the positioning of the noose caused fracture and dislocation of the neck, usually at the 2nd and 3rd or 4th and 5th cervical vertebrae. This is the classic “hangman’s fracture”. The length of the drop was worked out by the formula 1,260 foot pounds divided by the body weight of the prisoner in pounds = drop in feet.
The 1892 Home Office table of drops, and the revised in 1913 table are shown below.

Drop tables.
The weight is that of the clothed prisoner in pounds, the day before execution.
Note 1 pound is 0.454 Kg, 1 foot is 30.5 cm and an inch is 2.5 cm.

1892 table

1913 table

Weight of prisoner lbs.

Drop in feet & inches

Weight of prisoner lbs.

Drop in feet & inches

105 & under

8’ 0”

-

-

110

7’ 10”

-

-

115

7’ 3”

118 & under

8’ 6”

120

7’ 0”

120

8’ 4”

125

6’ 9”

125

8’ 0”

130

6’ 5”

130

7’ 8”

135

6’ 2”

135

7’ 5”

140

6’ 0”

140

7’ 2”

145

5’ 9”

145

6’ 11”

150

5’ 7”

150

6’ 8”

155

5’ 5”

155

6’ 5”

160

5’ 3”

160

6’ 3”

165

5’ 1”

165

6’ 1”

170

4’ 11”

170

5’ 10”

175

4’ 9”

175

5’ 8”

180

4’ 8”

180

5’ 7”

185

4’ 7”

185

5’ 5”

190

4’5”

190

5’ 3”

195

4’ 4”

195

5’ 2”

200 & over

4’ 2”

200 & over

5’ 0”

Thanks to this British hanging site for many parts of the above info

The names of Modern… almost modern day British Hangmen

british hangmen for english executions in the late 1800’s and 1900’s

Robert Anderson (Evans) - of Carmarthen, Wales.
1873-1875.

William Calcraft - Little Baddow Essex

Executioner between 1829-1874.
Longest serving executioner of all time and was known for “short drops” causing most of his victims to strangle to death. not a nice death, but this was the 1800’s

Thomas Askern - York
Executioner between 1853-1876.

Thomas Askern - Hangman for Yorkshire. Askern, like all of York’s hangmen, was taken from the prison systemand the inmate population - he was a debtor.

William Marwood - Horncastle Lincolnshire

Executioner between1874-1883.
Marwood was a cobbler took great interest in hanging and executions, thereby becoming a hangman

George Meker or Incher - Dudley.

Executioner between1875-1881.

Bartholomew Binns.

Executioner between1883-1884.
His first execution was that of Henry Powell,
Wandsworth Prison.

James Berry - Heckmondwike Yorkshire

Executioner between 1884-1891.
Berry carried out 131 hangings in 8 years - 5 women included. This Hangman even wrote his memoirs, “My Experiences as an Executioner”.. So the hangman published a book… gotta love it, I believe it is still available in libraries and I need to read it.

Thomas Henry Scott - Huddersfield.

Executioner between 1892-1895.

James Billington - Lancashire

Executioner between 1884-1901.
James Billington had huge fascination of executions, hanging and death… so his decision to be an executioner probably came naturally.

Thomas Billington

Executioner between1897-1901.
The eldest son of James Billington’s eldest and assisted his father and brother William at six hangings in the 20th century, before dying of pneumonia aged 29, in 1902. guess it was a family business

William Billington

Executioner between1902-1905.
The second of James Billington’s William, took over from his father and was assisted by his younger brother John. He assisted at 14 executions and went on to carry out 58 more alone.
He Hung Emily Swan and boyfriend, John Gallagher, they died together.
Hooded and noosed on the gallows Emily said, “Good morning John” John replied, “Good morning love“. Emily said, “Goodbye, God bless you” before the drop fell ending that lovely conversation.

John Billington

Executioner between1902-1905.
John was on the approved list of executioners and assisted at 24 executions. He then carried out 15 hangings as the executioner

Henry Pierrepoint - BradfordYorkshire.

Executioner between1901-1910.
Henry Pierrepoint assisted at 30 hangings and carried out 68 executions himself in 9 years He is said to have taken great pride in his work and calculated the drops completely…. probably to prevent the heads from rolling on a botched execution

John Ellis - Lancashire

Executioner between1901-1923.
Committed suicide… may have been stress on the job

William Willis - Manchester

Executioner between1906-1926.
Assisted at 77 executions in
England and Wales,Executed 12 as primary executioner including a series of 6 at Manchester’s Strangeways prison. Fired in 1926 for being drunk and aggressive at an execution. Not the only executioner to be accused of that one.

Thomas Pierrepoint

Executioner between1906-1946.
Tom worked as a hangman for 37 years before retiring in 1946. He was an old man in his 70’s when he retired from his position as hangman and executioner.

Robert Wilson - Manchester

Executioner between1920-1936.
Robert Wilson assisted at 39 executions.

Robert Baxter of Hertford.

Executioner between 1915-1935.
Robert Baxter had 41 executions under his belt as the chief hangman and also assisted 39 other executions by hanging

Alfred Allen - Wolverhampton.

Executioner between1928-1937.
Assisted 11 Executions and had 3 more executions by hanging as the primary

Thomas Mather Phillips - Farnworth

Executioner between 1918-1941.
Primary hangman / executioner for two executions after having assisted at 40 other hangings.

Stanley William Cross.

Executioner between1932-1941.
Assisted at 12 executions and chief on 3 hangings

Albert Pierrepoint -Yorkshire

Executioner between1932-1956.
Most prolific hangman/executioner of the 20th century. Executed approx 433 men and 17 women in 24 years as hangman and executioner.

Harry Kirk - Huntingdon

Executioner between 1941-1950.
Harry Kirk,assistant to 35 hangings. He had a very short career as a hangman. When he executed Norman Goldenthorpe at
Norwich. Snorting and odd gasping sounds were heard. The hood became stuck in the eyelet of the noose. This was thus Kirk’s first and last hanging as primary hangman because of his screw up

Stephen Wade - Doncaster.

Executioner between1941-1955.

Harry Bertrum Allen - Manchester

Executioner between1941-1964.
Just died recently in 1992

Robert Leslie Stewart - Chadderton Lancashire

Executioner between1950-1964.

he died in 1988

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