A Family Business: Brothers Hanged Together in Gloucestershire, 1730-1830

A Double Execution. Woodcut from Hindley's "Curiosities of Street Literature" (1871), p.372. (Accessed via Google Books)

A Double Execution. Woodcut from Hindley’s “Curiosities of Street Literature” (1871), p.372. (Accessed via Google Books)

Recently I was looking through my lists of people who were hanged in Gloucestershire from 1730 on, and it struck me that there were a number of brothers who were found guilty of committing crimes together, and in consequence were executed together. A few other men who were hanged together shared a surname, and although press reports did not state whether or not they were brothers, it seems likely that they were.

22 August 1735, Nathaniel and Jonathan Willis were hanged at Over, near Gloucester, for committing highway robbery. I have been unable to find a newspaper report of their execution, so cannot confirm that they were siblings.

John and Abraham Wood were executed at Over, for highway robbery. A newspaper report described them as “two gipsies”, who had robbed Henry Lovel of 40 shillings in silver and 16 pence in halfpennies. Again, there was no confirmation that the pair were brothers.

The following have all been confirmed as being brothers:

26 March 1741, Thomas and Francis Cook were hanged at Over. They had been found guilty of “assaulting, beating and abusing in a barbarous manner Roger Rogers, a Carrier, on the Highway”, and taking from him 8s 6d and a pair of scissors, and from his horse, six Cheshire cheeses, a goose and several other things.

6 April 1757, Robert and Richard Colwell were hanged at Over, for housebreaking. At the scaffold, Robert Colwell, the elder sibling, confessed that he had committed the crime for which he had been condemned, and others besides, but he insisted that his brother was innocent. The only crime Richard could think to confess was that he had once stolen some potatoes. A  report on the execution, circulated to newspapers around the country, commented that Richard Colwell might be considered innocent of the crime for which he hanged, but when he and his brother were apprehended, he had swallowed a guinea, part of the loot from the robbery, which “came from him” after he was brought to gaol. He confessed to this and said he would have swallowed more if there had been time. “These are circumstances not much in his favour”, the reporter suggested.

30 July 1784, Henry and Thomas Dunsden were executed for murder. They were hanged at Over, then their bodies were hung in chains near Wychwood Forest in Oxfordshire, where their crime had been committed. The Dunsden brothers were notorious highwaymen, part of a gang operating in the area around Burford in Oxfordshire. There had been three brothers, Thomas, Richard and Henry (Tom, Dick and Harry), but Richard had disappeared some time before, possibly dying after having his arm hacked off by one of his siblings in order to escape from capture during a botched robbery. The downfall of Tom and Harry was the result of a drinking session at Capp’s Lodge public house, on the edge of Wychwood Forest. Stories vary as to what exactly happened, but the night ended with Henry Dunsden shooting a waiter, William Harding, who later died of his wounds. On the morning of their execution Henry acknowledged that his life of crime had led to his sorry end, but he stated that his brother was far less to blame, and tried to keep Tom’s spirits up to the last. As they were being tied up, Henry said to his brother, who was lame in one leg, “Come Tom, you have but one leg; but you have very little time to stand.” It is unclear why the Dunsden brothers were tried and executed in Gloucestershire, when their crime was committed in Oxfordshire.

2 May 1801, William and James Jones were hanged at Gloucester County Prison, for burglary. The brothers came from Eastleach Turville, two of the nine children of William and James Jones. They were tried at the Gloucestershire Assizes in April 1801, and found guilty of breaking into a house in Eastleach Turville and stealing goods with a total value of five pounds. They were buried together in the graveyard of Eastleach Turville Parish Church on 6 May. William was 28 years old and James was 22. The burial register noted that they had been hanged at Gloucester for housebreaking.

24 April 1813, Thomas Edwards and Edward Edwards (also known as Edward Rees) were hanged at Gloucester Prison, along with their brother-in-law James Bailey, for a highway robbery near Northleach. They came from Monmouthshire and had been committing crimes together for years. Thomas Edwards had escaped from a prison hulk at Woolwich in September 1811, and Edward Edwards had deserted from the Glamorgan Militia in January 1812. The two brothers and Bailey had than got together again and continued with their “family business”. After their execution, their bodies were delivered to their friends for burial.

28 April 1827, Mark and John Dyer were hanged at Gloucester Prison for shooting at Thomas Mills. The Dyer brothers were part of the Wickwar Gang, who operated in the south of the county. A number of the gang had been tried at the Gloucestershire Assizes in August 1826, and Thomas Mills had “turned King’s Evidence” – giving evidence against his former colleagues in return for not being prosecuted himself. Two of the gang members were executed as a result, and one of them was Thomas Mills’ own brother, William. In an act of revenge, the Dyer brothers shot through a window at Thomas Mills, but missed him and wounded his wife. After their condemnation, Mark Dyer protested to the court and tried to blame his brother for the crime. When they returned to the prison, both of them told the chaplain that they had another brother who had been responsible for the shooting.

18 April 1829, Matthew and Henry Pinnell were hanged at Gloucester Prison for robbing James Kearsey on the highway, between Rodmarton and Tetbury. After their condemnation, Henry asked the judge to order his body to be delivered up to his mother for burial. The brothers were said to be well-built young men, and there were more women than men in the crowd who came to watch the execution. Some of the spectators asked to touch the bodies after they were dead, presumably in the belief that this would cure some affliction, such as a cancerous growth or a wen in the neck.

It is interesting that in all but one case, these brothers were executed for crimes of theft, in particular highway robbery. If they had been found guilty of committing such offences from the mid-1830s onwards, they would not have died together on the scaffold, but would have been transported (not necessarily to the same place) or imprisoned.

Sources:

Newspapers: Stamford Mercury, 8 Sept 1737 and 26 March 1741, Oxford Journal, 9 April 1757, 5 June and 7 Aug 1784, Bath Chronicle, 16 April 1829. (All accessed via British Newspaper Archive.)

Jill Evans, Hanged at Gloucester (The History Press, 2011)

Betty Smith, Tales of Old Gloucestershire (Countryside Books, 1987), Chapter One, “The Highwaymen of Wychwood Forest”.

© Jill Evans 2015

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The last woman in England hanged for arson: Charlotte Long of North Nibley, 1833

Hay-making, from Birket Foster's 'Pictures of English Landscape', 1863 (Internet Archive Book Image)

Hay-making, from Birket Foster’s ‘Pictures of English Landscape’, 1863 (Internet Archive Book Image)

On the night of 25 July 1833, the hay-ricks of three farmers in North Nibley were set on fire. Each blaze was quickly extinguished and no great damage was done, but it was suspected that an arsonist had been at work, and the culprit was soon detected.

Charlotte Long was a native of North Nibley, born Charlotte Bendall in 1799. In March 1819, she married John Long, and the couple had two children. In August 1829, John Long got into trouble with the law and was tried at the Summer Assizes in Gloucester, charged with stealing bacon. He was found guilty and sentenced to seven years’ transportation. Charlotte remained in North Nibley with her children, until in April 1833, it came to the attention of the parish authorities that she was pregnant. As the child was clearly not her husband’s, it was thought likely that she would become a burden on the parish rates when the child was born, so she was questioned as to her place of legal settlement, and it was decided that this was Alkington, near Berkeley. (I have been unable to find out why Alkington was chosen. It may have been the birth place of John Long, or he and Charlotte may have lived there for a while.) A magistrate ordered that she should be removed to Alkington, and she was sent on her way, escorted by North Nibley’s parish officer, Henry Excell. By July of the same year, she had returned to North Nibley, now with an infant son.

Soon after the arson incident, a woman called Betsey Burford stated that it was Charlotte Long who was the culprit. Henry Excell subsequently went to Charlotte’s home with a warrant to arrest her, on charges of setting fire to hay-ricks belonging to Jesse Organ, Thomas Gilman and James Nicholls. When Excell told her that Betsey Burford had sworn that Charlotte was responsible for causing the fires, she replied, “Betsey Burford has dug a ditch for me, and I shall fall into it”. She protested that Burford had put her up to committing the crime.

On 9 August, Charlotte Long was committed to Gloucester Gaol. She took her breast-feeding infant into the prison with her. Betsey Burford had also been committed to gaol, charged with  having “procured, counselled, commanded and abetted” Charlotte Long to commit arson. The assizes were already underway at Gloucester, and Charlotte’s trial took place the next day, before judge Baron Gurney. Betsey Burford was not tried alongside her, however, because she had “turned King’s Evidence”, meaning she had agreed to give evidence against Charlotte in return for not being prosecuted.

In court, Charlotte appeared in the dock with her baby in her arms, but as he began to cry, she handed him over to her sister. Burford said that Charlotte Long had told her that she was going to set fire to the hay-ricks of Henry Excell, in revenge for him removing her to Alkington. She had gone to Excell’s field, but then the thought struck her, “that if she set his ricks on fire, she should be found out, because she said to him when he removed her, that she would serve him out when she came back, and if he bit her finger she would bite his thumb.” So, she had decided to set fire to the ricks of a few other people first. Henry Excell was then called and said that when he took Charlotte to Alkington, she had made no threats in his hearing.

Because Charlotte Long had admitted to setting fire to the hay-ricks, the jury had to find her guilty, but after delivering their verdict, the foreman of the jury added, “We beg leave most strongly to recommend the prisoner to mercy, because we think she must have been set on as a tool of some other person”. Two of the victims of her crime also asked the judge to show mercy, but Baron Gurney replied, “I am sorry that I cannot attend to these recommendations. I have considered the matter very much. There were three ricks fired all on the same night. The prisoner is not a young girl, and I find that her husband has been transported.”

Unfortunately for Charlotte Long, setting fire to hay-ricks had been made a capital offence under the Black Act of 1723. In more recent times, agricultural riots had made landowners fearful for their property and the courts were determined to treat incidents of criminal damage severely. At this assizes, another arsonist, Thomas Gaskins of Deerhurst, had also been found guilty, and he was brought up to stand beside Charlotte in the dock as both were sentenced. If Charlotte hadn’t had her character tainted (in the judge’s eyes), firstly by being married to a criminal, and secondly by giving birth to an illegitimate child, her life might have been spared, and Gaskins left to be made an example of, but Gurney sentenced them both to death.

The Gloucester Journal commented, “The impressive effect of the Judge’s sentencing was heightened by the loud and frequent interruptions of the female prisoner crying for mercy, and she was removed from the bar in a most pitiable state.”

Other newspapers gave an even more dramatic description: “During the passing of the sentence a most distressing scene occurred. The female prisoner was crying and begging for mercy, almost every person present was in tears, and the learned baron himself was so overcome that at the conclusion of the address to the prisoners his voice evidently faltered, and as soon as the fatal sentence had been passed, the female prisoner dropped on the floor and was carried out of court moaning most dreadfully.”

Although the judge had told Gaskins and Long that there was little hope of their sentences being commuted, petitions on behalf of both of them were sent to the Home Office, but no reprieves were issued. Charlotte Long’s infant son had remained in the care of his aunt, who had him baptised and named William at Dursley Parish Church on 24 August. Unfortunately, the Dursley Parish Registers reveal that William was buried four days later. According to newspaper reports, when Charlotte was told that her child was dead, she said she was glad, because she would see him soon in heaven.

Charlotte Long was executed alongside Thomas Gaskins on the roof of the prison gatehouse on Saturday, 31 August 1833. On 3 September, she was buried in the churchyard of St Martin’s Parish Church, North Nibley – the same church where she had been baptised and married.

Charlotte Long was the last woman to be hanged in England for committing arson. The last man to be hanged in England for the same offence was Daniel Chase, who died at Ilchester, Somerset, on 31 August 1836. Most forms of arson were removed from the list of capital crimes in 1837.

 

Sources:

Jill Evans, Hanged at Gloucester (The History Press, 2011)

Gloucester Journal, 17 August, 21 August, 7 September 1833

Gloucestershire Chronicle, 17 August 1833

Bristol Mercury, 17 August, 7 September 1833

Gloucestershire Archives:

County Gaol Registers, Summer 1833 (Q/Gc5/4)

Poor Law Records: North Nibley, Removal Orders, 4 April 1833 (P230 OV 3/2/157)

Parish Records: North Nibley Parish Registers: Baptisms, 1799; Marriages, 1819 and Burials, 1833 (P230)

Parish Records: Dursley Parish Registers, Baptisms and Burials, 1833 (P124)

 

 

John Parker: hanged 1813; skull sold 2014

Recently (16-21 May 2014), it has been reported in the media that the skull of convict John Parker, who was hanged at Gloucester in 1813, was sold at an auction house in Billingshurst, West Sussex, for £2,000. As John Parker’s story is included in my book, Hanged at Gloucester, I thought I would write a short piece about him here.

John Parker was from Langney, near Chippenham, in Wiltshire. In the Gloucester Gaol Calendars, his age is given as 30, but newspaper reports say he was 36 or 37. He was committed to Gloucester Gaol on 25 June 1813, along with three other men – Thomas Rodway, Joseph Bath and William Webb. The four were charged with breaking into the dwelling house of Elizabeth Grey at Clifton, Bristol, and stealing silver spoons, a damask tablecloth, two shirts, and various other items.

Parker, Rodway, Bath and Webb were tried at the Gloucestershire Summer Assizes, held in late August 1813. Joseph Bath, who was the youngest at 22 years old, was found not guilty. The other three were found guilty and condemned to death, but William Webb, aged 26, was reprieved. This left Parker and Rodway for execution. Thomas Rodway was either 36 (according to Gaol Registers) or 30 (in newspapers), and from Bristol. He had a previous conviction, having been sentenced to transportation at the Easter Quarter Sessions in Bristol in 1805, for stealing lead. He wasn’t sent to Australia, but instead served his sentence on a prison hulk at Portsmouth.

Once Parker and Rodway had been sentenced and were back in gaol, waiting in the condemned cells until the day of their executions came, the prison chaplain began paying them frequent visits. It was one of the duties of the chaplain to try to persuade condemned criminals to confess that they were guilty of the crime for which they were to suffer, and also to ask about any other offences they might have committed. In this case, it was known that Parker and Rodway were members of a very large gang which had been terrorising the area around Bristol, and the chaplain made frequent visits to the two men, during which he endeavoured to get information out of them concerning their crimes and the names of their associates. The Gloucester Journal reported that “much useful information” had been obtained, but the chaplain recorded in his prison journal that Parker and Rodway had divulged little of any use.

John Parker and Thomas Rodway were hanged together on the roof of the prison lodge, on 11 September 1813. What happened to their bodies afterwards is not recorded. As they had not committed murder, there was no legal requirement for them to be sent to be anatomised, but it appears now that this is what happened to Parker, at least. A report on the “This Is Wiltshire” website (link below) states that John Parker’s skull had been partially cut away to serve as an anatomical specimen.

John Parker’s skull was auctioned at Summer Place Auctions in Billingshurst, West Sussex, on 20 May 2014, with an estimate of £2,000 to £3,000. The auction house had stated that there was one person who was seriously interested in buying it, and it sold for £2,000. It is to be hoped that whoever bought this “curiosity” remembers that he or she now owns part of a fellow human being.

Sources:

This is Wiltshire, 16 May 2014, “Executed Chippenham burglar’s skull up for auction.”

BBC News Wiltshire, 21 May 2014, “Hanged thief’s skull sells for £2k.”

Jill Evans, Hanged at Gloucester (The History Press, 2011)

Gloucester Journal, 30 Aug 1813 and 13 Sept 1813

Gloucestershire Archives:

County Gaol Calendars, Q/SG2, Trinity 1813 (Prisoners for Summer Assizes)

County Gaol, Chaplain’s Journal, Aug-Sept 1813 (Q/Gc31/1)

 

 

 

 

The last woman burnt at the stake in Gloucestershire.

On  Friday, 13 April 1753, two men and a woman who had been condemned to death at the Gloucestershire Assizes were taken from Gloucester Castle to Over, the execution site for county prisoners. The two men, Walter Crabb and William Webley, had been found guilty of theft, and were hanged. The woman, Anne Williams, had been condemned for murdering her husband. Under English Law, this offence was a form of petty treason, and the punishment for a female who committed this crime was to be burnt at the stake.

The crime of petty treason had been defined in the reign of Edward III, under the terms of the Treason Act, 1351. It applied to a wife who killed her husband, a servant who killed his or her master or mistress, or a clergyman who killed his prelate. Murder in any of these circumstances was regarded as an act of betrayal and disobedience. In the case of marriage, a wife was subordinate to her husband and must obey him, just as the king must be obeyed by his subjects.

While the punishment for men found guilty of petty treason was to be hanged, for women, the punishment was to be burnt at the stake. Females were also burnt if condemned for producing counterfeit coins, which became an act of high treason by the terms of the 1351 Act.

By the time Anne Williams was burnt at the stake, it had become common practice for the hangman to tie a rope around the prisoner’s neck and strangle her, before the flames had reached high enough to burn her alive. The following illustration of Anne’s execution in The Newgate Calendar therefore uses as a certain amount of artistic licence, as it shows her fully conscious and praying.

The execution of Anne Williams, from The Newgate Calendar. (www.exclassics.com)

The execution of Anne Williams, from The Newgate Calendar. (www.exclassics.com)

The first indication that something was amiss in the Williams household is recorded in the Gloucestershire Gaol Calendars, which in the mid-eighteenth century often listed prisoners held in the various houses of correction, as well as in the main county gaol. In October 1750, a certain Giles Swain was committed to Cirencester House of Correction, to await trial at the next county quarter sessions, “William Williams having taken his Corporal Oath that he Goes in Danger of his Life.” Swain presumably was released at the next Quarter Sessions, perhaps on entering recognizances to keep the peace. Then, in June 1752, Anne Williams was admitted to Cirencester House of Correction, being suspected of poisoning her husband, William Williams. Giles Swain was admitted on the same day, also on suspicion of poisoning William Williams. At the Trinity Quarter Sessions, held in July, Anne Williams was ordered to be held for trial at the next assizes, but there was no further mention of Giles Swain.

Anne had to wait until April in the following year for her trial, at the Lent Assizes. The trial was reported in the Gloucester Journal, but no details were given of where the family lived, or the reasons for the murder. The evidence against her was that she had sent the servant, Richard Painter, to buy some white mercury. After her husband died, she told Painter that she had given her husband the poison in some “pap”, and in a drink, and he was immediately seized with “violent Vomitings and Purgings.” William Williams sent for his sister and told her that Anne was a wicked woman, and that he had been very well “till after she made him eat some Pap, which (he said) had done his Business for him, and that he should die.” Indeed, he did die, the following morning, “when his body appeared as if mortified.” Anne Williams had little to say for herself and called no-one to speak for her. She was found guilty and sentenced to death, but the sentence was respited for a few days. The Gloucester Journal reported that she “pleaded her Belly, but, a Jury of Matrons being sworn, she was found not quick.” [Meaning she said she was pregnant but on being examined was found not to be.]

On 13 April, Anne Williams was put to death in the manner prescribed for petty treason. Her execution was recorded in the Gloucester Journal, and copied in many other newspapers, even being considered worthy of a paragraph in the Gentleman’s Magazine. It was reported that the two men hanged on the same day behaved well, acknowledging the justice of their sentences and asking for God’s forgiveness, but Anne Williams, “who was burnt at the stake, protested her Innocence of the Fact for which she suffered with a Behaviour quite unbecoming her melancholy Departure.”

Less than a month after Anne Williams died, her reputed lover, Giles Swain, appeared in the Gloucestershire Gaol Calendars again, having been committed on 4 May, for “Stealing a Dragg Chain from a Waggon, the property of the Widow Webb, and a great Coat the property of William Boulton, both which facts he on his Examination Confessed.” He was tried at the Michaelmas Quarter Sessions in September 1753 and sentenced to 7 years transportation. The Gloucester Journal commented, “This Swain is the Person who kept Company with the Woman that was burnt here, at our Lent Assizes, for poisoning her Husband.”

Anne Williams was the last woman in Gloucestershire to be burnt at the stake, but another 19 women in England and Wales endured this punishment after her. 4 of them had been condemned for coining, 2 for murdering their mistresses, and 13 had been found guilty of murdering their husbands. The last woman to be burnt at the stake was Catherine Murphy (also known as Christian Bowman), who died in London in 1789. This form of punishment was abolished in May 1790. The category of petty treason was abolished in 1828.

Sources:

Gloucestershire Archives, Gaol Calendars (Q/SG1), Epiphany 1750/1, Trinity 1752, Michaelmas 1752, Epiphany 1753 and Trinity 1753.

Gloucester Journal, 10 April 1753, 17 April 1753, 4 Sept 1753.

Gentleman’s Magazine, Volume XXIII, April 1753, ‘Historical Chronicle’, p.198.

Information on petty treason can be found on www.englishlegalhistory.wordpress.com.

The punishment of burning at the stake is discussed on Richard Clark’s site, www.capitalpunishmentuk.org/burning.html.

New thoughts on burial places of prisoners hanged at Gloucester

In my earlier post, “How many prisoners were buried at Gloucester Prison?”, I reported that out of the 121 prisoners who were hanged at Gloucester Prison between 1792 and 1939, 81 of them were executed for offences other than murder, and so were not required by law to be either sent for dissection (up to the 1832 Anatomy Act) or buried in the prison grounds (after 1832). I had found 33 of these 81 prisoners either had their burials recorded in parish registers, or were said to have been collected by friends, leaving 48 people whose fate was unknown.

I now believe that I was being rather naïve in saying that these 48 prisoners were probably buried in a pauper’s grave somewhere. Although there was no requirement by law for hanged prisoners who had not committed murder to be sent for dissection, it seems likely that if no-one came forward to claim a body, it would probably have been quietly sent to the infirmary.

My revised thoughts on this subject arose from a communication from Nikki Bosworth, who sent me a piece she had written about her ancestor Matthew Pinnell, who was hanged alongside his brother Henry in 1829, for highway robbery*. Looking again at newspaper reports on the case, I found an article in the Bath Chronicle of 16 April 1829, which stated that after the judge had sentenced the brothers to death, Henry Pinnell said:

“My lord, I have one favour to ask you, and that is, that you will order my body to be delivered up to my mother.”

This suggests to me that Henry may have been worried that his body would be sent for dissection. He does not appear to have been worried about the fate of his brother’s remains!

*Nikki’s article was printed in Wiltshire Family History Society’s Journal, no.132. You can read it in the comments section on my ABOUT page.

From Morris dancing to murder: Chipping Campden, 1772

Before Gloucester’s new county prison opened in 1791, most prisoners who were condemned to death at Gloucestershire’s Assizes were hanged just outside Gloucester, at the village of Over. Some murderers, though, were hanged and gibbeted near the place where their crime had been committed. This happened in 1772, when William Keeley was found guilty of murdering Joseph Dyer, on a road near Chipping Campden. It was arranged that he would be hanged near the scene of the crime, then placed in a gibbet afterwards, where his body would be left to rot.

On Sunday, 24 May 1772, Joseph Dyer, who was a gardener and nurseryman, living just outside the town of Chipping Campden, walked several miles in order to collect some money which he was owed. On his way back, now ten pounds richer, he decided that as it was lunchtime, he would stop off at the Fish Inn, on Broadway Hill. He tried to pay for his drink with a 36 shilling piece, but the landlord did not have enough change, and as he knew Dyer, he told him to pay next time he was passing. After finishing his drink, Dyer set off for home. An hour later, he was found lying dead in the road at Campden Hill, about a quarter of a mile from his house, with his throat cut, his head badly bruised, one of his ears nearly torn off and some of his teeth beaten out. The teeth were found in his hat, which lay near him. Also near his body was an unfolded piece of paper, which it was thought had been wrapped round his money.

A girl came forward to say that a labourer named William Keeley had passed her on the road where Dyer was found, shortly after the murder was believed to have taken place, and she had noticed that there was blood on his breeches. Keeley (also spelt in newspapers as Kealy or Kelly) was quickly apprehended. He denied any involvement at first, but later admitted to attacking Dyer, saying that he and another man named Tracy had beaten him to the ground, in order to rob him. Doubting Tracy’s involvement, Keeley’s parents begged him to tell the truth, and he then admitted that the other man had nothing to do with the crime. However, as he was being escorted to Gloucester Castle to await trial, Keeley told a constable that although Tracy had not been involved, he had indeed had an accomplice, named James Warner.

On Saturday, 13 June 1772, the Oxford Journal published an update on the case, and commented:

“It seems that Keeley is a famous Morrice dancer, and on Sunday morning before the fact was committed, he was teaching a set of fellows to dance. Warner used to play on the tabor and pipe to the dancers. It is to be hoped the Justices will suppress such nurseries of idleness and drunkenness as morrice-dancings have generally proved.”

In late August, William Keeley stood trial at the Gloucestershire Assizes for the murder of Joseph Dyer. He was found guilty, and was sentenced to be hanged and gibbeted  near the place where the murder was committed. There was no mention in the newspapers of the fate of James Warner, which no doubt means he was either acquitted, or was not tried at all.

On Friday, 28 September, William Keeley was taken to Chipping Campden to be executed. He walked to Campden Hill, accompanied by officials and by the curate of Chipping Campden Church. He had persisted in denying the murder, but as he approached the spot where the attack had taken place, he finally confessed that he alone had killed Dyer, and that want of money was the motive. He said he had overtaken Dyer on the way back to Campden, and walked with him some way. Noticing a hedge stake lying on the road, he picked it up, and it was then that the thought of murdering Dyer came into his head. As his intended victim climbed over a stile, Keeley knocked him down with the stake, then hit him again as he lay in the road. Strangely, he said he could not bear to search the dead body for money, and ran away.

Keeley was met near the place of execution by his parents, and there they said their goodbyes. Reaching his destination, he found thousands of people waiting to watch him die. After he had prayed and addressed the spectators, warning them against breaking the Sabbath, the executioner put a little straw in his hand, and one of the officials told him to drop the straw when he was ready. Keeley asked the official if he thought God Almighty was ready for him. Soon after, he gave the signal.

After he was dead, Keeley’s body was hung in chains on a thirty-foot high gibbet, to act as a dreadful reminder of the awful penalty for committing murder and, perhaps, to warn the locals of the perils of taking up Morris dancing.

Source: Oxford Journal, 30 May, 6 June, 13 June, 29 August and 5 September 1772.

How many prisoners were buried at Gloucester Prison?

There has a been a great deal of speculation since Gloucester Prison closed, concerning the number of executed prisoners who may lie buried in its grounds. Between 120 and 125 seems to be the usual figure suggested. From the research I did for Hanged at Gloucester, I have been able to come up with my own estimate of the number of prisoners buried there. Between 1791 (when the new county prison opened) and 1939, 123 prisoners were hanged in Gloucester; 2 at the city gaol, and 121 at the county prison (which later became HMP Gloucester). This does not mean, though, that 121 people were buried within the prison grounds.

Until the mid-1830s, there were many crimes for which you could be hanged, most of them involving some form of robbery. For all except those hanged for murder, the friends and family of the dead prisoner were permitted to take away the body and have it buried where they wished – usually the family’s local parish church. It is not true that executed criminals could not be buried in consecrated ground. This only applied to those hanged for murder, and this was a rule which was sometimes flouted. Of the 121 prisoners hanged at the county prison, 81 of them were convicted of offences other than murder, so it was permitted for those people to be buried in their parishes, or at any other church which would accept them. I found 33 cases where prisoners were buried in a parish churchyard, or their friends were said to have collected them for burial. It is not clear what became of the other 48, but I think it is most likely that they were buried in pauper’s graves in a local churchyard.*

So, that leaves 40 prisoners who were hanged for the crime of murder. They could not be buried in consecrated ground, so they must have been buried in the prison grounds, right? Well, not necessarily. In 1752, the Murder Act was passed, which stipulated that the bodies of hanged murderers should either be sent to the local infirmary to be anatomized, or placed in a gibbet near the area where they committed their crime, until they rotted. The idea was that murderers should not be buried at all – a severe punishment in an era of Christianity which believed that a whole body needed to be buried in order to be raised to heaven at the time of the Resurrection. This Act was in force until 1832. Between 1791 and 1832, 18 prisoners were hanged for committing murder. These 18 prisoners would have been sentenced to be dissected at Gloucester Infirmary, and I didn’t find anyone who escaped this fate, but 4 were collected by their friends or relatives afterwards and taken away for burial, including John Penny and John Allen, two of the so-called Berkeley poachers, who were condemned for the murder of a gamekeeper in 1816. Both men were buried in Thornbury churchyard and their burials were recorded in the parish registers. The others were Ann Tye, buried at Northleach in 1818, and Rebecca Worlock, buried at Bitton in 1820. What became of the remains of the other 14 dissected prisoners is not known for sure.

Grave of John Allen in Thornbury churchyard.

Grave of John Allen in Thornbury churchyard. (Jill Evans, 2010)

The Murder Act ended in 1832, when the Anatomy Act was passed, which provided new sources of bodies for dissection. From then, judges condemning to death prisoners convicted of murder were required to state as part of the sentence that their bodies were to be buried in the grounds of the prison where they were executed. By the 1830s, many of the crimes which had been capital offences had been removed from the statute books, and from the middle of the decade it was usually only murderers who were executed. Of 27 prisoners hanged at Gloucester between 1832 and 1939, all but 5 of them were convicted of committing murder. This means that  22 executed criminals were buried somewhere within the prison’s walls. In a recent interview with The Citizen, Mr Bryan White, a former prison officer at HMP Gloucester, stated that when the new reception and administration block were built in the mid-1980s, they were expecting to find 12 bodies of prisoners who had been buried in the area where the building work took place. I think these must have been the last prisoners executed, between 1886 and 1939, who were buried in a particular area of the prison. Mr White says that the bodies were searched for, in order to transfer them to the cemetery, but only 3 were found. You can read the article in The Citizen here: http://www.gloucestercitizen.co.uk/Ex-Gloucester-Prison-officer-opens-Fred-West-s/story-19650005-detail/story.html So, my conclusion is that with 3 bodies having been removed to the cemetery, there are the remains of 19 prisoners who were executed at the County Prison still buried somewhere within the walls of HMP Gloucester. In addition, there are 48 prisoners hanged for crimes other than murder, whose burial place is unknown, and another 14 who were anatomized and should not have been buried at all, but it is not certain if their remains were disposed of at the infirmary, or if they were in fact returned to the prison. This makes a total of 62 “don’t knows”.

Of course, the new prison was built very close to the old castle, which was the county jail for hundreds of years, before the new prison was built. Executions of county prisoners in those days were held at the nearby village of Over, and it may be that the bodies of murderers – or at least those who were not gibbeted or sent for dissection –  were buried there. Or were they taken back to the castle prison? I shall investigate, and report my findings.

* See an update on this theory: New thoughts on burial places of prisoners hanged at Gloucester.