How Rotherham criminals paid the ultimate price for justice


HANGING was seen as the ultimate deterrent in times past. It was regarded as the only punishment available for the most heinous of crimes and it was only abolished in the UK within living memory.

Growing concern about miscarriages of justice, perhaps more than the morality of the state killing someone deliberately, was what caused the government of Harold Wilson to instigate the Murder Act, (the Abolition of the Death Penalty) in 1965 which only suspended capital punishment for five years.

But it was finally ended in 1969 — though not for all crimes. It was abolished as a punishment in 1971 for crimes of arson in Royal dockyards and, surprisingly, not until 1973 in Northern Ireland.

This seems remarkably recent but consider that France last used the bloody guillotine to chop off criminals’s heads as recently as 1977 — just 44 years ago.

Hanging has been the favourite method of despatching criminals in Britain since Anglo-Saxon times, though beheading and burning have also had a look-in.

Official records show that since the early 18th century, a fair number of unfortunates either from Rotherham or who committed their offences in the town got up close and personal with the hangman’s noose.

Some were even hung by members of the infamous Pierrepoint family.

Albert Pierrepoint is probably the most famous hangman ever to have lived. Born in Clayton, a part of Bradford, in 1905, he famously sent 200 people convicted of war crimes in Germany and Austria to meet their maker but at home he was responsible for the demise of William Joyce who as Lord Haw Haw broadcast pro-Nazi propaganda to Britain during the Second World War, ‘Blackout Ripper’ Gordon Cummins, ‘Acid Bath Murderer’ John Haigh and the infamous John Christie who killed a number of women at 10 Rillington Place in Notting Hill.

But what is less known is that Albert Pierrepoint came from a family of hangmen. His father Henry and his uncle Thomas were also official executioners.

It was Thomas Pierrepoint who despatched some of those executed from Rotherham. He hanged Rotherham killer Andrew Anderson Bagley in 1937 for murdering a 16-year-old girl, Alfred David Bostock for a Roundwood murder in 1925 and Walter William Sykes for the grisly killing of two children in Kimberworth in 1913.

Not all of the criminals who did their nefarious deeds in Rotherham and who were executed for it were charged with murder. People could be hung for all manner of offences in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and earlier, such as poaching, rustling, piracy, pickpocketing, arson, treason, and even illegally cutting down a tree.

There were 200 offences for which the death penalty applied between the 1600s and 1800s, being referred to as the “Bloody Code”.

Today most people see capital punishment as barbaric though there are always calls to bring it back from some quarters, particularly after a terrorist incident or child murder.

In the past, justice was swift and harsh and the courts were not always as fair as they aim to be today.

A handful of Rotherham people paid the ultimate price for their actions, perhaps driven by poverty, jealousy, mental illness, plain nastiness, who knows? It is a grim tally for a small town.

WHO were the Rotherham victims of the hangman? Here is a list of the cases which still exist in the annals of criminals history:

When executed: August 1, 1740
Where executed: Staffordshire
Why executed: Stealing a black mare worth £5 from Thomas Moggs in Rotherham in 1738. Instead of receiving the death penalty, he was initially transported, probably to Australia, but made the mistake of returning to the UK. He was apprehended and hung.

When executed: April 7, 1798
Where executed: York
Why executed: Highway robbery of William Winn in Rotherham on November 21, 1797, in which they stole a silver watch, a purse and 28 gold guineas.

When executed: April 14, 1792
Where executed: York
Why executed: Highway robbery of George Bosley in Rotherham on January 29, 1791, in which he stole a leather portmanteau worth £2 and a leather bag, both the property of the King. His body was afterwards hanged in chains on Attercliffe Common.

When executed: April 11, 1752
Where executed: York
Why executed: Burglary of the house of William Buck of Rotherham. He stole a horseman’s frise coat, a silk handkerchief, a pair of cloth breeches, a fustian frock, a cloth waistcoat and a man’s cloth riding coat, all belonging to Mr Buck. He also snatched a pair of cloth breeches, two linen sheets and money belonging to George Wilson and a fustian frock, a cloth waistcoat, a woollen waistcoat, a horseman’s cloth riding coat, two pairs of gloves, a pair of buckles and a pair of Fleames belonging to Richard England.

When executed: August 14, 1959
Where executed: Leeds
Why executed: Shot and killed Joyce Moran (21) and Neil Saxton (20) with a revolver at Rotherham Technical College on April 7, 1959.

When executed: February 10, 1937
Where executed: Leeds
Why executed: Murdered Irene Hart (16) at Hartington Road, Rotherham, on September 12, 1936. Bagley and Hart lived in the same house. He stuffed her mouth full of newspaper and strangled her, then put her body in a tin trunk.

When executed: September 3, 1925
Where executed: Leeds
Why executed: Murdered Elizabeth Sherratt (24). She had suffered head injuries and was found in a river at Roundwood in Rotherham.

When executed: April 23, 1913
Where executed: Wakefield
Why executed: Murdered Amy Nicholson (10) and Frances Alice Nicholson (7). They were found with their throats cut at Abdy Farm, Kimberworth, on November 15, 1912. Despite a confession, which he later retracted, he was found guilty. It has been claimed that there was a miscarriage of justice in this case.

When executed: December 29, 1904
Where executed: Leeds
Why executed: Stabbed Samuel Barker in a dark alley in Rotherham on November 12, 1904. Both rabbit poachers, the two men had a falling out and Jeffries was seen to stab Barker with a cobbler’s file after threatening him.

When executed: August 16, 1904
Where executed: Leeds
Why executed: Murdering his girlfriend Jane Hirst (43) at Sheffield Road, Ickles, on May 10, 1904. Both drinkers, they argued and he attacked her with a hatchet, claiming his attack was due to impulsive insanity. He confessed to the offence after giving himself up.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s