I’ve long had a fascination with historic crime – and particularly the motivations of female offenders. I studied criminal poisonings academically, focussing on crimes tried at the Old Bailey in London. This article focusses on a nineteenth century female offender that was outside of the scope of my initial research but is a fascinating story nonetheless.
Thirty-two years after being built, Walton Prison in Liverpool witnessed its first execution. On 14 March 1887, Elizabeth Berry suffered the ignominy of being the first prisoner and one of only two women to be executed there. The execution chamber was hastily built. It appears that a reprieve for the prisoner was expected and when this was not granted, the Coach House, an outbuilding where prison vehicles were stored, was converted to exact justice on those sentenced to death.
Work started on 6 March, with twelve prisoners digging a pit, ten feet deep, ten feet wide and twelve feet long. A team of bricklayers and plasterers were then employed to construct the walls of the execution chamber, as essentially it was still just a wooden shed. The newly constructed gallows were situated over a trap-door covered pit, on level ground, negating the need for the condemned prisoner to climb the…
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