Come and see the only working execution pit in the UK. Discovered during renovation works in 2005, the pit has now been restored to its’ full working order, with the able assistance of Gary Ewart, one of the UK’s leading authorities on hanging.
Look and learn how many of the Jail’s condemned were dispatched to eternity with the ‘Long Drop’.
William Marwood, was the pioneer of the long drop, as it became known. Marwood had taken heed of Samuel Haughton a Chaplain who in 1866 introduced the standard drop without much success. Marwood refined this to the long drop, and was very successful with it giving instant death to the persons condemned to die by hanging.By the time Marwood attended Bodmin Jail, all executions had gone behind the prison walls, and only a handful of persons were allowed to witness the procedure.
Marwood like his predecessor was a cobbler and boot maker. He officiated at Bodmin jail twice in his career, and in both cases death was instantaneous with each culprit receiving a drop of eight feet.
So successful was Marwood in his career as a hangman he termed the saying “I prefer to be called an executioner”. As he said about his predecessor Calcraft, “He hangs them, I execute them”.
Children even made a rhyme about Marwood which went, If Pa killed Ma, who’d kill Pa? – Marwood.
After Marwood’s last execution at Bodmin jail in 1882 there was not to be another execution in Cornwall, or at Bodmin Jail for 19 years. During this time a committee was set up on the orders of Queen Victoria to Lord Aberdare in 1886. After two years the committee published its findings, and this became known as the ‘Aberdare Report’. With this came the changes in the way executions were carried out from 1888. This led to the development of the execution shed, just like the one in the corner of the front yard of the Jail today.
The hanging of William Hampton at Bodmin Jail – Last person hung at Bodmin Jail, the last in Cornwall
The execution took place on 20th July 1909. Twenty-four year old William was the last person hanged at this jail. Present at the execution were the prison governor, the chaplain, prison doctor, undersheriff of the county, the mayor of Bodmin Mr W E Bennet, Henry Albert Pierrepoint as executioner, his brother Thomas William Pierrepoint as assistant, and some senior warders forming an escort party.
The execution of William Hampton in July 1909 spelled the end of all executions in Cornwall. Cornish people continued to be executed, but were moved to prisons nearby that were fitted with gallows and execution sheds, or chambers.
Up until the 1940’s Cornish death sentences were carried out at Exeter and thereafter at Winchester and Bristol.
The Executioners at Bodmin Jail
From the building of Bodmin Gaol in 1779 there have been a total of 55 executions carried out; a good number of them for what we consider today as petty offences.
Over the years there have been many hangmen invited by the authorities to carry out the execution of the unfortunate condemned. Some hangmen would have been prisoners who were themselves condemned; they were given a chance of reprieve if they carried out the execution if no hangman could be brought in.
One of the earliest recorded hangmen is George Mitchell, who hailed from Cork Gates, Ilchester, Somersetshire. Records indicate that George Mitchell was a hangman from 1800 until 1854. This would seem to be incorrect, as no one hangman has ever served this length of time. It would probably be that the original George Mitchell had his son assist him at hangings and the name carried on, as his son would then have become hangman for the South West.
For further information on the hangmen of Bodmin Jail goto our schools information section