Personal archive of the most famous British hangman Albert Pierrepoint

7/06/2018     Latest News

A recent documentary about Ruth Ellis brought Albert Pierrepoint (30 March 1905– 10 July
1992), Britain's most famous hangman back into public view. He became famous when the
press discovered that he was the hangman for some of the Nazi war criminals and once he
resigned from his part time job as executioner, he often commented on changes in the law
and famous executions like for example the Ruth Ellis case. She was the last woman he
executed and the last woman to be executed in the UK before the law changed.


The collection includes his note book, listing the executions with important details to
determine how to achieve the quickest death for the almost 500 criminals listed, but also
his father Henry's notebook. The plaster cast of Pierrepoint's face and hands, some
photographs, his watch chain and cigarette holder are also included and the lot is
expected to sell for £25,000 – 40,000 in Summers Place Auctions' Anniversary Auction on
Tuesday, 12th June 2018.


Pierrepoint almost inherited the job of executioner, as both his father and uncle (with his
uncle Thomas below) had also been executioners. He decided as a young boy that he
wanted to follow into their footsteps. He worked in a grocery shop and did deliveries near
Bradford, but qualified as an Assistant Executioner in 1932 and a Chief Executioner in
1941. As an assistant executioner he earned 1½ guineas (about £100 when adjusted for
inflation) per execution, with another 1½ guineas paid two weeks later, if his conduct and
behaviour were satisfactory. Executioners and their assistants were required to be
extremely discreet and to conduct themselves in a respectable manner, especially avoiding
contact with the press. He resigned in 1956 and the Home Office acknowledged
Pierrepoint as the most efficient executioner in British history and believed him to have
hanged more criminals than anyone else in Britain.

 

 

He was the executioner for William Joyce ("Lord Haw-Haw" the Nazi propaganda
broadcaster) and John Amery, the first person to plead guilty to treason in an English
court since Summerset Fox in May 1654. After the Second World War, he executed some
200 war criminals between 1945-49 in Hameln, Germany (near Bergen-Belsen) and Graz,
Austria (near Liebenau). While war criminals at the Nuremberg trials had US executioners,
it was agreed that Pierrepoint would conduct the executions in Hameln. He was appointed
an honorary lieutenant-colonel for the purpose and on 11 December 1945 he flew to
Germany for the first time to execute the first 11. The press discovered his identity and he
became a celebrity, hailed as a sort of war hero. Among those executed were the camp
commandant, 'the Beast of Belsen', Josef Kramer; Irma Grese, at 22 the youngest
concentration camp guard to be executed for crimes at Bergen and Auschwitz; and Dr
Bruno Tesch, co-inventor of the insecticide Zyklon B used in the Holocaust.
In England, Pierrepoint hanged Timonthy Evans for a crime committed by his neighbour
John Christie, who was also hanged by Pierrepoint in 1953, three years after Evans. This
wrongful execution is acknowledged as a major miscarriage of justice and was a
contributing factor for the suspension of the death penalty in Britain in 1965 and its
eventual abolition. Other execution included Gordon Cummins, the "Blackout Ripper" and
John George Haigh, the "Acid-bath murderer". Pierrepoint also dispatched Derek Bentley
for his part in the “let him have it” murder of a policeman, which also had many people
calling for the abolishing of the death sentence.
His first execution as principal hangman was in 1941 – it was the gangland murderer and
nightclub owner Antonio "Babe" Mancini who apparently said "Cheerio!" before the
trapdoor was sprung at Pentonville Prison. He also executed the last person in the
Republic of Ireland, Michael Manning, in 1954. Although there is a film that suggests he
was the last hangman in Britain, that is indeed untrue as he resigned eight years before
the last execution.


Pierrepoint always said that the key to a quick and as clean as possible execution was the
'drop' a careful calculation of the person's height, weight, age, gender and build to allow
for a quick death. In Ruth Ellis's case the drop was 8 feet, 2 inches.

 

The vendor is selling this exceptional collection of crime memorabilia as he is downsizing
and moving abroad, but is still fascinated by it's importance as a witness of social and
legal history. He originally bought it to research some of the stories behind those executed
by Pierrepoint and believes that it would ideally be purchased by a museum, which would
enable many more people to analyse these historic documents in their wider social and
legal circumstances.


Pierrepoint's wife didn't know for years what her husband's part time job was, although he
finally told her when he returned from a job abroad. The boost of income provided by the
German executions allowed him to leave the day job and they became pub owners, first in
Hollinwood, Greater Manchester and later near Preston, Lancashire before retiring to
Southport. His autobiography was published in 1974, it was the first time he had made his
views on capital punishment public - a decade after its abolition. He allegedly became an
opponent of capital punishment. In 1950 he had to hang a slight acquaintance, a regular
in his pub, who had been there on the night when he murdered his girlfriend in a fit of
jealousy. It made Pierrepoint feel that hanging was no deterrent, particularly when most of
the people he was executing had killed in the heat of the moment rather than with
premeditation or in furtherance of a robbery. In his autobiography Executioner:
Pierrepoint , he wrote: “It is said to be a deterrent. I cannot agree. There have been
murders since the beginning of time, and we shall go on looking for deterrents until the
end of time. If death were a deterrent, I might be expected to know.” He did however
believe until the end that "our method was the cleanest, quickest and most humane in the
world.”

For further information on the auction, please visit
www.summersplaceauctions.com or call 01403 331331.
For press information or images please contact Silke Lohmann
(silke@exclamationpr.co.uk/ 07932 618754).