Friday, April 07, 2006


I gather that someone has made a film about the life of Albert Pierrepoint, who was the UK's most famous executioner. Capital punishment has now been abandoned in the UK, but for several hundred years executions were carried out by hanging; and Pierrepoint was the acknowledged master of the craft.

After his retirement, Pierrepoint wrote an autobiography called Executioner: Pierrepoint. I've read it twice: once soon after its publication, in 1974, and again about ten years ago, when I was researching a novel. It's a very readable book, and not nearly as macabre as you might imagine. A paperback edition seems to be still in print.

Pierrepoint seems to have been a remarkably calm and balanced individual, continuing in the family tradition (his uncle, Thomas, and his father, Henry, preceded him). He took a great pride in doing the job properly, and was none too impressed by the American military hangmen, who had, shall we say, a number of unfortunate accidents. Properly performed, the act of hanging will exert 1260 lbs of 'striking force' on the second and third cervical vertebrae, severing the spinal cord and producing almost instantaneous death. James Inglis was declared dead only 7 seconds after Pierrepoint pulled the lever.

Altogether, Pierrepoint is said to have dispatched 433 men and 17 women, over a 24-year period (1932-56); this included some 200 Nazi war criminals.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Small comment - James Inglis' execution took 7 seconds from the moment the execution party entered the room, to the moment he hit the end of the rope.