Strange Ways at Strangeways

2 Sep

Image courtesy of N.Bowles.

The Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act came came into power in 1965 ending 305 years of capital punishment in the United Kingdom. For over 3 centuries state sponsored death had been used to uphold the laws of the time and protect the interests of those in power and the society it governed.

On 13th August 1964 at precisely 8.00 a.m. The traps of hanging gallows 50 kilometres apart opened simultaneously for the very last time, dropping and ending the lives of the last two men to be hung in England under the Homicide Act 1957

 

Peter Allen and Gwynne Evans in 1964.

Peter Allen and Gwynne Evans in 1964.

At Manchester’s notorious Victorian Strangeways Prison, 24 year old Gwynne Owen Evans was hanged for the capital murder of John West whilst at the exact same time 21 year old Peter Allen was hanged at Liverpool’s Walton Prison for his role in the murder. Both held out for a reprieve, which would never come. Unknowingly, they would both enter the dark annuls of history as the final victims of a cruel chapter in our forgotten history.

 

We cannot know what their last thoughts must have been as they resigned themselves to the will of a society that sought justice and retribution for the murder of 53 year old John Alan West who they fatally stabbed in a bungled burglary.

 

Strangeways Prison built in 1861 and shown here in the early 1900s showing its Victorian Panopticon design.

Strangeways Prison built in 1861 and shown here in the early 1900s showing its Victorian Panopticon design.

Britains leading hangman Albert Pierrepoint made a gruesome craft of hanging, but even his skill and indeed that of the executioner Harry Allen could never have hoped to curtail the psychological suffering the majority of us pray will never know.

The appalling conditions they must have endured whilst they awaited their fate and which many people around the world continue to endure today and like Evans and West become victims of societies that exact the most barbaric and inhumane justice for heinous crimes that they believe misguidedly will rid society of its ills.

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6 Responses to “Strange Ways at Strangeways”

  1. bakersfieldlad September 3, 2012 at 7:18 pm #

    1965 may have marked the ending of capital punishment in the state we know as the UK BUT it was going on for much much longer than that in England ( cant speak for the other countries). Hanging was first introduced in Saxon England as capital punishment in the 5th Century. The modern term gala day derives from gallows day as executions were often celebrated and witnessed by huge crowds. Hanging might be seen as less traumatic than being burnt at the stake or being hung drawn and quartered – two early forms of capital punishment. Those who were beheaded may have had the quickest death. Frankly what disturbs me was the rise in the number of executions for the most trivial of offences, most of which were enacted to help protect the property of the rich. The Luddites spring to mind. Public executions were maintained in the face of much criticism to serve as a warning of what might happen if anyone were to rise against the ruling classes….. and if a good hanging didnt work they could always bring out the troops a la Peterloo! The Manchester Martyrs also spring to mind, three men hanged but only one (unidentified) shooter who was trying to blow a lock off, not shoot the police officer.

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    • historyme September 3, 2012 at 10:33 pm #

      Many thanks for your comments and I will certainly look at adding more about the history of capital punishment in England which as you mentioned goes back way beyond the formation of the UK. Unbelievable how long it took society to end such practices. Judging by some of the more horrendous tortures and punishments we’ve inflicted on fellow humans, I’m sure as you mentioned many would have took hanging if it came down to a choice which it never was!

      The Police Museum on Newton Street is a great place to find out about how Manchester punished those found guilty and again as you said, certainly some harsh sentences for what we’d see today as very trivial indeed. Especially towards children, but then childhood is a modern concept.

      Certainly need to write about the Manchester Martyrs at some point and I think I do have some photos in storage related to them. I period in our history which is rarely mentioned but very important.

      Another part of Manchester rich history which you may be interested in and which I’ll be posting something on in the near future is that of Blackley born John Bradford, a reformer and martyr who was burnt at the stake in the 16th Century. Now this is a man who above most people deserves a statue in Manchester and like the Luddites was punished essentially because he shook the power base at the time.

      Thank you kindly for your comments and I hope your find the site of interest and please feel free to share any more stories or photographs or indeed comments, in in particular anything you would like to see more of. Its very much about everyone opinion.

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      • bakersfieldlad September 4, 2012 at 2:35 pm #

        I will be following your blog with interest and certainly offering more words and witterings. I am originally from Nottingham but have lived in South Manchester since the 1970s. I am currently researching and writing a story based in my old home town but also determined to write a story set in Manchester. Historical crime seems to be a genre I have fallen into and I absolutely love the research. Havent been to Newton St museum but passed it many times – must go there.

        It seems that anyone who takes on the establishment is persecuted – even in the present day – just look at the Assange business. Well enough mutterings for now but wish you well with your blog and will be reading it.
        PS if you thought the capital punishments were bad in the UK just check out what the French got up to! And I dont just mean the guillotine!

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      • historyme September 4, 2012 at 8:35 pm #

        That would be fantastic and look forward to hearing from you in the future.

        Nottingham. Ye Old Trip To Jerusalem. What a treasure. If only Manchester had kept the the original Rovers Return on Shudehill which was apparently even older. It stood where now sit the brutalistic Arndale Centre! What a loss for the city.

        Look forward to reading you crime work. Fan of the genre myself, especially historical work.

        Police Museum is highly recommended.

        People in power rarely give it up quietly as history proves time and time again.

        Will certainly have a look at the French side of capital punishment and I’m sure they’ll be links back to Manchester somewhere or another.

        Look forward to hearing from you in the future and thank you for the comment and support once again.

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Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. H.M.P. Manchester “Strangeways” Prison Bag – 1940 « historyme - October 20, 2012

    […] Strange Ways at Strangeways! (historyme.wordpress.com) […]

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  2. Postcard from Strangeways? Perhaps… « historyme - October 20, 2012

    […] Strange Ways at Strangeways! (historyme.wordpress.com) […]

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