Spooky walk to commemorate hangman’s centenary

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Heckmondwike’s ghoulish history could be brought to life to commemorate a spooky centenary.

October 2013 marks 100 years since the death of James Berry, one of the country’s most well known executioners who refined the hanging method to reduce suffering.

And traders are considering putting together a Halloween ghost walk to tell the story of Berry, who was born in Heckmondwike in February 1852, and other spine-chilling sagas from the town.

The walk would be part of a pumpkin festival in the town, where visitors could make pumpkin lanterns and get dressed up as the fearsome fruit.

Simon Thirkill, from Heckmondwike Business Alliance, said: “It would be nice to link the festival with a walk where people can meet historic figures from Heckmondwike and the more macabre people that were executed by the Heckmondwike hangman.”

Berry was the hangman tasked with executing John Babbacombe Lee, famously known as the man they couldn’t hang.

He carried out 131 hangings in his seven years in office, including those of five women.

He was notoriously meticulous when calculating his measurements for the length of the rope, and resigned when a prisoner called John Conway was almost decapitated after a prison medical officer interfered with his judgement.

He wrote two books about his experiences, and in 1905 he wrote: “the law of capital punishment falls with terrible weight upon the hangman and that to allow a man to follow such an occupation is doing him a deadly wrong.”

In 1887 he was called on to execute a Mrs Berry, who had poisoned her 11-year-old daughter for life insurance money. They were not related, but did know each other, and had danced together at a police ball in Manchester.

Berry even had his own waxwork in Madame Tussaud’s.