The hangmen that executed the murderers

James Berry
James Berry

During the 19th century convicted prisoners could face the gallows for a variety of offences. The office of public executioner was a much sought after position that gave the holder celebrity status. Three of the most famous of those that held office during the Victorian period were :

  • William Calcraft, 1829-1874 ;
  • William Marwood 1872 – 1883 and
  • James Berry 1884 – 1891

others were to follow until capital punishment was abolished in 1965.

One of the most interesting of these executioners was James William Berry b. Prior to his appointment as public executioner he had served for 8 years as a police constable in the Bradford police. He successfully applied for the position in the face of 1500 other applications.  During his period as hangman he executed 131 men and women. His more famous failed execution was the failure to execute John ‘Babbicombe’ Lee (Read: The Man they couldn’t hang.) After three attempts and failures John Lee’s sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

James Berry became a Bradford celebrity subsequently owning several houses in the district and becoming a local publican.

His dismissal from the post caused him to suffer from severe depression and suicidal thoughts. He ultimately changed his life after an encounter with Smith Wigglesworth a Bradford preacher and faith healer. (Read: The Hangman and the Preacher)

There are several references to James Berry in the local history books written about Berry’s relationship with mysterious events and sinister characters in Bradford.