Widespread poverty continued to exist in Durham at the start of the twentieth century. Improvement in working and housing conditions was a slow. Wages in dominant industries associated with iron and coal were higher than those who still worked on the land, in service and elsewhere but, for most families, it was a hard existence. The social and economic context of capital crimes are apparent in many of the cases featured in this volume. Alcohol-fuelled jealousy or the need for money was often the prelude to a meeting with the executioner. The voices against capital punishment became louder as the century progressed – but too late for the 55 men hanged at Durham, the last in 1958. Executions took place in private and, though witnessed, were not the great public spectacles of the past – but they provided good copy the newspapers of the day and the hangmen maintained a celebrity status.
Having lived in Durham for the past ten years and also having walked past the infamous Durham Gaol several times, I was very interested in this fabulous little book.
It tells how Executioners were paid a princely sum of £10 per execution, how they came to be executioners and how even their families followed in their footsteps to do the job also.
Whilst hanging people must have been quite revolting, some of the executioners died hideous deaths themselves, including one who slit his own throat.
It was only in 2003 that Britain abolished the death penalty for Piracy and High Treason which to me is really quite fascinating.
Durham Gaol at Elvet housed and still houses some of the most vile of criminals and a total of 55 men were hanged in 1958.
Durham Executions describes the murders that were committed and the reasons for these murders. They vary from being pregnant to just a drunken ‘mistake’.
It is a brilliant read and rather interesting, even though a little macabre.