Manchester’s Vilest: The First Person to Be Hanged at Strangeways 150 Years Ago

This very week marks just over 150 years since the very first person was hanged at Strangeways Prison.

By Alex Watson | 15 April 2020

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As we’re now officially in lockdown I’ve decided to delve into the past of Manchester, so expect plenty of what we call ‘toilet reads’ coming your way to keep you entertained or help you procrastinate from actual work.

The construction of Strangeways itself, now Grade-II listed, was finished in 1869. It was designed by Alfred Water and Joshua Webb for £170k, a hefty sum at the time. A reason for this high cost was of course security, with rumours circulating that the walls are completely impenetrable from the inside or out and are 16 feet thick.

The prison gained a special execution room after WWI and a specialised cell for the condemned criminal, becoming one of only a few prisons to have permanent gallows. Historically, making gallows permanent acted as a deterrent and made a pretty grim symbol of the powers of justice. Often they were placed on the top of hills to really make a statement.

I suppose the tower does a pretty good job of reminding us of the justice system though, eh!

Michael Johnson became the first person to undergo capital punishment in Strangeways on March 29th 1869 for the murder of Patrick Nurney.

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Now it was a hell of a long time ago so there’s not much to be said about his crimes. But he murdered someone and back in those days that was sufficient enough to warrant your death too. In fact, it was worthy of capital punishment until 1969 which seems a bit too recent really given the medieval nature of the act.

100 more executions took place within the walls of Strangeways after Johnson’s, including many that made history including the first woman to ever be executed, Mary Ann Britland.

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The quickest British execution EVER took place at Strangeways of James Inglis in 1951. It took just 7 seconds to get him from his cell to the moment the trapdoor opened.

The bodies of executed criminals were buried in unmarked graves within the prison walls as was the custom at the time.

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Day of Final Execution. Photo credit: GMP.

Following a major riot in 1990 and some serious redevelopment of the prison, 63 bodies were exhumed, cremated at Blackley crematorium and re-interred into 2 graves, named C2710 and C2711 at the adjacent cemetery.

Gwynne Owen Evans left & his executioner Albert Pierrepoint right.

Fast forward to 1964 when Gwynne Owen Evans was executed for the murder of John Allen West. This became the 100th execution at Strangways and the last ever execution in Britain.