Places of Execution

It would of course be difficult to identify places of execution from the distant past, but there are often local clues in place names, and a certain logic to their positioning.

Gallows, and later on, Gibbets, were placed at a location where they could be seen by travellers and passers by, as a warning of what might happen to them if they misbehaved!!  This would be on the outskirts of the town or village, perhaps on a raised spot for maximum visibility, but not too close to offend the senses of the local population. Quite possibly it would have been the bough of a tree, where a ladder would be used for the culprit to climb, the rope attached, and the ladder twisted so they fell off. They would quite literally be turned off.

In any area a local search usually beings up a few execution related names, and close to where I live is ‘Hangman’s Lane’,  ‘Gallowsclough Lane’ (Gallows Valley),  and ‘Gallows Lunt’, lunt being a small parcel of land. These may are may not give a clue as to what might have happened there in the past

We know that Executions were carried out in Chester, at Boughton, at the top of the hill. This would have been visible for many miles, and especially a deterent when Chester was used as an embarkation port for troops sailing for Ireland. However as the city expanded, and more affluent people moved nearby, by 1800 there was a call for the gallows to be moved. It was first moved from one side of the road to the other, in around 1790, but the debacle of one of three men destined for the scaffold throwing himself off of the cart, rolling down the hill, and drowning in the river, was a catalyst in their removal back to the city.

The first execution within the city was in 1801, with the victims being ‘launched into eternity’ through the attic windows of the old Northgate Gaol. Their bodies reportedly struggled so much they broke the windows on the floor below.

Executions where then carried out at the new house of correction, just within the city walls. Spectators could watch easily, and the advent of the railways brought the crowds in, until 1868, when the law changed to make hangings ‘private’, and held behind the prison walls of Chester Castle.

Then in 1886 Chester became a military prison, and executions were moved to Knutsford Prison, and discontinued there in 1914, when it became a military prison, and executions were then outside of the county.



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