Centenary of the death of Heckmondwike’s hangman

Many years aho I read the true story of John Lee who was sentenced to hanh in 1885 for the murder of a woman who lived at Babbacombe, near Torquay.

Lee was given a reprieve due to the hangman being unable to open the gallow’s trap after three attempts.

What I didn’t know at the time was that the hangman was Heckmondwike-born James Berry, the son of a wool stapler.

Berry was educated at Heckmondwike Day School. On leaving school he served as an apprentice engineer at an iron founders in Heckmondwike. He later worked as a porter at Thornhill Station, Dewsbury, then became a police officer with the Wakefield West Riding depot.

He married Sarah Ann Ackroyd and went to live in Bradford.

One day he heard of the ‘death of Marwood the hangman’. Along with 1,400 applicants he applied for the post of public executioner, he was appointed in 1884.

During his eight years as hangman, Berry executed over 130 men and women.

The personal contact with his ‘victims’, the fixed time of executions, the ritual and time allowed for pondering his actions all took their toll on Berry and he resigned.

He became an evangelical preacher, for a time he kept a public house at Low Moor.

This year is the 100th anniversary of his death. He died of heart failure at the age of 61, on October 21, 1913.

Berry had spent his final years as a farmer at Walnut Tree Farm, Bolton Lane, Bradfordm and is buried at Scholemoor Cemetery in Lidget Green, Bradford.

JOHN APPLEYARD

Firthcliffe Parade

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