Crime and Punishment

​Over its history, Derby has seen many brutal acts of both crime and the punishment meted out for crime. With five gaols or prisons over the years and countless executions, the pages of its history have many stories to tell. From the man who executed his own brother and father, to the last sentence of hanging drawing and quartering passed in the UK, there are many stories that highlight the harsh realities of Derby’s past. Here at Derby Uncovered we are unearthing much of that for your reading pleasure. As ever, if you want to be amongst the first to know when there is more added, then please sign up now.


The masthead of the broadside produced for the execution of John Brown, Thomas Jackson, George Booth and John King

Derby Gaols

Over the course of its history Derby has had five prisons or gaols. Two of these were borough gaols and three were county gaols. The history of all five share common themes of malfeasance and corruption, as well as conditions that were life threatening – even if you escaped the hangman. Read on to find out more about the histories of these grisly establishments.

Derby Borough Gaol – Guildhall Gaol

When Henry III allowed the borough of Derby to have a coroner, it was a large step in its governance becoming free from that of the county of Derbyshire as a whole. When a charter was granted in 1483 allowing the town to have a gaol, Derby, in the words of Anton Rippon in The Book of Derby became ‘self-sufficient in the punishment of law-breakers’.

This was possibly the reason for the rebuilding of the Guildhall into a form which has long been superseded by its successors. However, at that time the Guildhall included a stone gaol-house with two cells. This was Derby’s first borough gaol. It was from this building that a man named Okey was hanged in 1599, one of many executions in Derby over the centuries. The stone gaol-house under the Guildhall was also the building inside which a blind woman, Joan Waste, was confined. In 1556 Waste, who had been born blind, was condemned as a heretic and burnt at the stake at Windmill Hill Pit, which lies near what is now Burton Road in Derby. Undoubtedly this was a crueller age, but even so, such a punishment stands out as being particularly barbaric.

Due to its size, the gaol-house at the Guildhall was unsuitable for its purpose and when the Guildhall was pulled down in 1729, in preparation for its successor, a lean-to was added to the county gaol in the Cornmarket. It was here in 1731, that the gaoler John Greatorex was confined as a prisoner himself. His crime was playing football, a sport of which Mayor Isaac Borrow strongly disapproved. Declaring that ‘the prison should not hold him one night’, Greatorex promptly fulfilled his boast, broke out and fled before morning. In 1756, the borough prisoners were transferred to a new gaol in Willow Row.

Derby Borough Gaol – Willow Row Gaol

The borough gaol in Willow Row was a small building consisting of two yards, cells for the male prisoners, cells for the females and a gaoler’s house. Debtors were held up a flight of stairs in three cells. As was becoming predictable in Derby, the gaol was inadequate. In 1812, James Neild wrote of the gaol:

“This Prison, which is also the Town-Bridewell, is situated in Willow Row.

The Gaoler’s house fronts the Street, and his back room has a full command of the court-yard, which is 33 feet by 24; and has a pump and two sewers in it, with a leaden cistern for a cold bath: Hard and soft water are accessible at all times. The above court is the only one for Prisoners of every description. Debtors have a day-room on the ground-floor, 12 feet by 11, which has a fire place, and an iron-grated window, looking towards the Court. Above-stairs, they have four sleeping-rooms, of about the same size, with glazed windows and fire places; and to each room the Corporation allows wooden bedsteads, loose straw, two blankets, and a rug. Debtors from the Court of Requests are sent here, and have the same allowance as paupers, from their respective parishes. The Felons’ day-room is about 10 feet square, with a fire-place, and iron-grated window. Their sleeping-cell, called The Dungeon, is 12 feet by 8, lighted and ventilated by a small iron-grated window, of 11 inches only by 10; with a bar rack bedstead, straw, three blankets, and a rug. The Women’s day-room, 10 feet square, has a fire-place, and iron-grated window towards the court. Their room to sleep in is above-stairs, and of the same size as that below; but the window is glazed. Closely adjoining are two rooms for petty offenders. All are allowed to work who can procure employment, and they receive the whole of their earnings.”

In 1828, borough prisoners were relocated to the former county gaol on Friar Gate which served as the new borough gaol until 1840. An arrangement was then made for all borough prisoners to be housed in Derby’s third and final county gaol on Vernon Street.

Derby County Gaol – Cornmarket Gaol

For centuries, Derbyshire had been unified with Nottinghamshire in all matters judicial. One sheriff was responsible for the two counties and the prison for felons was in Nottinghamshire.

However in 1532, an Act of Parliament was passed stating that ‘a new Jayle (is) to be made within the Countie of Derbye…”. It was to be a while before the Derbyshire justices decided to act upon this, but in 1566 a separate sheriff was appointed for the County of Derbyshire and soon after the Assize Justices began pressing the county to fulfil its duty.

A gaol was finally built – Derby’s first county gaol and in 1588 John Baxter of Kirk Langley was appointed gaoler. From the very beginning, the gaol was badly designed and badly located. The gaol was located in the Cornmarket over a brook which was, at that time, exposed. We should also remember how the majority of waste was disposed of in those days, which meant that the open brook was effectively little more than the town sewer. Hutton, a local historian, wrote that ‘our ancestors erected the chief gaol in a river, exposed to damp and filth, as if they meant to drown the culprit before they hanged him’. This was indeed the case when, in 1610, a sudden rising of the brook during the night drowned three of the captive prisoners. Hutton went on to describe that ‘a vile arch admitted the horse passenger and a viler the foot; inconvenient to both, hurtful to the stranger, dangerous to the inmate; a reflection upon the place, without one benefit as counterbalance’.

The possibility of drowning whilst confined in the gaol wasn’t the only concern that the inmates may have had. ‘Gaol fever’ accounted for the deaths of at least 34 prisoners in an approximate 50 year period from 1630 onwards. Back in 1588 the dreaded gaol fever was responsible for the deaths of Anthony Fitzherbert and Humphrey Beresford, both of whom had been held with over thirty other fellow Catholics, in the name of religion.

On July 25, 1588, three of the prisoners – Nicholas Garlick, Robert Ludlam and Richard Simpson, all Catholic priests, were taken from the gaol to be hanged, drawn and quartered after which their remains were hung from St. Mary’s Bridge.

For those who avoided drowning, gaol fever or brutal execution, prison life was still very appalling. On many occasions it seemed that the justices felt that once the prisoners were under lock and key, that was where their responsibilities ended. Around the year 1647 the gaoler, one Henry Agard, petitioned the justices for the money that he himself had to disburse for the prisoners’ bread, stating he had paid £15 ‘to ye bakers for ye prisoners’. In the end his request was granted.

In 1680, some prisoners themselves presented a petition as they found themselves detained even after they had received a pardon because they could not afford to pay the fees of the Clerk of the Assize.

One such petition read:

“The petition of Francis Gibson A poore prisoner in Derby Goale to the Right Worshipfull his Maties Justices of the peace at the quarter sessions houlden at Derby the 5 of October 1680 humbly sheweth That whereas I youre poor petitioner, having been confined to the Common Goale at Derby for four score weekes together, & i had my tryall at St. James Asize was twelfh…..& at the last Asizes my pardon Came Downe and was Red to mee, but I am still confined here at the Cunteries charge and my own Reuin by the Clarke of the Asizes for….which he demands of mee, which I am altogether Unable to pay, for all of this fourscore weeks I have been here, I have not had the vallor of A grote from any Relation I Have in the world; nether have I any friends or Relations to help mee in the least if I was shure to perish; And Mr. Vessy the Gaoler knows my powverty soe well, that provided I might be set at liberty he saith he will forgive my fees which are deu to him, therefore worthy Gentlemen I humbly beg of youre Worships, that you will comiserate my condition & by some meanes procure my liberty, And I shall ever pray for the prossperity of your Noble familys whilst I Live & am.

Fran: Gibson

It is refreshing to know that the petition was granted.

The issue of the prisoners’ bread arose again in 1682 when a petition was submitted complaining about its quality. The following order from the justices was issued as a result:

“Whereas the poor prisoners in this County each preferred their petition to this Court this p’sent Sessions, by which it appeared upon readinge hereof that they complayned of Thomas Mee the p’sent Baker appointed by Order of last Sessions to bee baker of the said poor prisoners’ bread, that his bread was not soe wholesome and serviceable as that which former Bakers have delivered to them to their great injury, And therefore prayed that another Baker might be employed by this Court to joyne with the said Thomas Mee in bakeing of their bread for the future; by which means they might expect better usage.

“It is ordered by this Court upon consideration had of the said petition, and for the reliefe of the said petitioners that for the future from this time forward and untill the further Order of this court that John Piggin bee joyned with the said Thomas Mee in the bakeing of the said poore prisoners’ bread and that they bake weeke for weeke by turnes, And that the Gaoler keep their Tallies severall and distinct in Order to the keeping and deliveringe Upon their Accompts by the same distinct to the Clerke of the peace.”

It is no wonder that the prisoners were concerned at the state of the bread because it was the only food supplied to the prisoners at the public expense at that time. If prisoners required extra food, they generally had to rely on friends or relatives sending it to them.

It was also in 1682 that considerable repairs were undertaken to the county gaol. All of this came too late for a prisoner, who in 1668, had cut his own throat in the gaol and had been buried somewhere in Green Lane. Considering the importance of the bread in the prisoners diet, the method of getting it to them was surprisingly open to corruption. At the Mich. Sessions of 1712 it was stated that: “The court being informed that greate irregularities are used touching the delivery of bread to ye Prisoners in this County Gaole…”

In 1717, it was discovered that the bakers had entered into a conspiracy with the gaoler to deliver bread to those that boarded in his house, who at that time were mainly imprisoned for debt, instead of the prisoners in the main body of the gaol itself.

It may seem strange that there were prisoners boarded in the gaoler’s house but this was actually quite common. Those who had money could pay him a chamber rent in return for the privilege. In short, you could buy yourself a better quality of confinement. In order to prevent bread being received by the wrong prisoners, the court ordered that it be personally delivered by the bakers to those it was intended for and to no-one else.

By now, the county of Derby was being pressed to improve or replace its gaol, but for a long time it resisted. It was finally shamed into building a new gaol when, in February 1752, four prisoners broke out of the gaol by making a hole in the wall. Anthony Frost, one of the escapees, returned of his own violation – his three companions appeared to have escaped apprehension.

This represented what may have been the final nail in the coffin for the gaol as echoes of an earlier scandal in 1747 had barely had the chance to die down. The scandal in question was a petition by a group of prisoners in regard to the cruel treatment they were receiving. It transpired that the gaoler, a member of the Greatorex family, who had been responsible for the running of the gaol for at least 23 of the 27 years preceding the petition, had prevented the prisoners having their own food bought in. On top of this, his wife had been known to force liquor on prison visitors, keep for herself charitable donations and strip the prisoners of their clothes if they could not pay their fees. Failing this, she would cause ‘lyce and other filth’ to be put in their beds.

Whether it was a combination of these factors, or one in particular, remains unclear. Whatever the case, in 1756 a new county gaol was erected in Friar Gate, bringing to an end an establishment that was both disreputable and dangerous.

Perhaps the ghost of the gaol in the Cornmarket lived on in its successor however, as the Derby Mercury reported that on May 5, 1756:

“Our old county gaol, which was begun a few days ago to be pulled down, is now almost level with the ground; the materials of which are carrying away as fast as possible to the Nuns-green, where the necessary preparations are making for building a new one…..”

County Gaol, Friar Gate, c 1826.

Derby County Gaol – Friar Gate Gaol

Designed by William and David Hiorne, the county gaol on Friar Gate opened in 1756. Gaols at this time were designed to hold accused awaiting trials or punishment and not for punitive punishments such as incarceration for periods of time. As such, this plain brick building was cramped and lawless. The building contained seven cells for felons, each cell measuring 7ft by 7ft 4 inches wide and 8ft 3 inches high and four rooms for female prisoners, each measuring 12 by 12ft and 9 ft high. Debtors and lesser offenders were placed at the rear of the gaol. These cells were often extremely overcrowded with a report from 1819 showing that the seven felon cells housed a total of 69 prisoners.

It was entirely possible for felons, debtors, males, females, the young, the old, the untried and the convicted to communicate freely. There were no rooms for accomplices who had been admitted to give evidence, no infirmary or no sick wards. It will come as no surprise that in such an insecure environment, some prisoners managed to escape. In December 1786 a prisoner named McKew, held awaiting transportation, locked the deputy wardens in one of the exercise yards and made his getaway.

Prisoners were allowed to work to receive all they could earn, however this work would have to be procured by themselves at the approval of the gaoler.
The gaoler made quite a substantial profit selling ale to the prisoners. In 1782 the incumbent of that position was Blyth Simpson who received an annual salary of £60. When, two years later, a statute which stated that ‘no gaoler is to suffer tippling or gaming in the prison, or to sell any liquors….’, became law, he began to receive an extra £120 per year. In the annual accounts, this appeared under the heading: “A year’s increase of salary on account of his not being allowed to sell ale.”

There were over 50 executions at the gaol between 1756 and 1825 including John Brown, Thomas Jackson, George Boothe and John King who were hanged for setting fire to hay and corn stacks in South Wingfield, when their accomplice, Thomas Hopkinson, turned King’s evidence. Hopkinson was hanged for highway robbery only two years later.

The leaders of the Pentrich Revolution were also hanged and beheaded in front of the building in 1817, following their failed revolution.
In the same year, an architect’s report condemned the gaol as ‘insufficient and insecure’. Three years later at the Summer Assizes, Judge Baron Garrow informed the Grand Jury that if improvements to the gaol were not made by the time of his next visit, he would ‘impose a heavy fine upon the county’. Left with no choice, the Corporation of Derby began to draw up plans for a new county gaol.

Derby County Gaol – Vernon Street Gaol

With the county gaol on Friar Gate now deemed inadequate, it was decided in October 1821 that a new jail would be built on six acres of land valued at £2,400. The architect responsible for this was a Mr. Francis Goodwin and his plans were approved on January 16, 1823. The prison took around five years to build, and once completed, it featured large entrance gates, Martello towers and 25ft high walls.

With 185 cells accommodating a maximum of 330 prisoners, the gaol cost £65,227 to build, (around £6.6 million in today’s money), and had its own infirmary which comprised of a day room, surgery, bathroom, basement and four rooms on the upper floor. The gaol also had its own chapel, a dedicated area for solitary confinement and a treadmill. At any given time, up to 48 men could use the treadmill as they held onto a rail and walked on the steps of a continuously revolving staircase.

The regime of the gaol was incredibly tough with many prisoners being sentenced to hard labour. Those that received this sentence worked for nine hours a day and, apart from one meal of meat per week, existed on a diet of bread and porridge.

In 1833, John Leedham became the first person to be executed at the gaol for the crime of committing bestiality with a sheep and, by 1834, a prison report described the gaol as one of the most complete prisons in England. At this time the governor was paid £500 per year, the surgeon £100 (plus £22 for medicine) and the chaplain, a Rev. George Pickering, received £150 per year.

The last public execution at the gaol was on April 11, 1862. The condemned was Richard Thorley who, two months previously, murdered his girlfriend, Eliza Morrow, on Agard Street by slitting her throat in a jealous rage. More than 20,000 people attended the execution and afterwards his body was buried within the prison grounds.

In 1873, Benjamin Hudson was hanged for the murder of his wife and became the first private execution to take place at the gaol.The last person to be executed at the gaol was William Slack who was executed on July 16, 1907. He was hanged by Henry Pierrepoint for the murder of Lucy Wilson in Chesterfield.

The gaol was closed in 1916 and from 1919 until its demolition in 1929, acted as a military prison for prisoners who had been convicted by court martial. During the demolition the bodies of executed prisoners were moved into a plot of land beneath the prison walls and once the demolition was complete, only the imposing façade remained and this can still be seen to this day.

Vernon Street Jail 1904.


​There were of course a wide varied of punishments meted out over the course of Derby’s history – both capital and non-capital. Below are some of the most common ones.

A contemporary illustration of the hanging of Anthony Turner in 1852.

Capital Punishment


The most common form of execution, by far, was that of death by hanging. Though in the past the re-introduction of hanging has been debated on occasions in the House of Commons, what we now regard as hanging, is fundamentally different to the method of hanging used many years ago in one crucial respect. It was not until the 1800s that any thought was given to making the death of the offender instantaneous. Over a period of years from that era onwards, the placement of the knot, rope length and the offender’s height and weight, were all taken into account in an (often unsuccessful) attempt at instantaneous death. Before then it was a slow and excruciatingly painful method of strangulation. If you were lucky enough to have the money, you could pay the executioner to pull your legs, (or alternatively have a member of your family pull them), in an attempt to hasten your death. This practice gave rise to the expression – ‘pull the other one’ or ‘pulling your leg.’

Throughout the centuries, people from all walks of life were sentenced to hang at Derby for a variety of crimes. As a general rule, the further we go back in time the fewer details we have on the people involved and the facts surrounding their execution and trial. For instance, we know that in 1578, Peter Graves of Bubnell, Thomas Robinson of Wirksworth, Eleanor Wright of Bakewell, Edward Morrys of Chesterfield and Christopher Harrison of Monyash, were all hanged at Derby, but little more is known about the event.

In contrast, as time moved on, details of executions were reported in both official records and in the ‘penny dreadfuls’ – papers sold to the public that told the story of the crime and  subsequent execution.

In 1705, we were reliant on the historian William Hutton for an account of one of Derby’s most disturbing executions. Hutton wrote:

“This year furnishes the annalist with as dreadful an instance of human depravity, and the wont of parental and brotherly affection, as ever has been recorded. About the reign of Oliver Cromwell, or the beginning of that of Charles II, a whole family of the name Crossland were tried at Derby assizes, and condemned for horse stealing. As the offence was capital, the Bench, after sentence, entertained the cruel whim of extending mercy to one of the criminals; but upon this barbarous condition, that the pardoned man should hang the other two. When powers wantons in cruelty it becomes detestable and gives greater offence than even the culprits. The offer was made to the father, being the senior. As distress is the season for reflection, he replied with meekness, ‘was it ever known that a father hanged his children? How can I take away those lives, which I have given, have cherished, and which of all things are the most dear?’ He bowed, declined the offer, and gave up his life. Barbarous Judges! I am sorry I cannot transmit their names to posterity. This noble reply ought to have pleaded his pardon. The offer was then made to the eldest son, who, trembling, answered, ‘Though life is the most valuable of all possessions, yet even that may be purchased too dear. I cannot consent to preserve my existence by taking away his who gave it; nor could I face the world, nor even myself, should I be left the only branch of that family which I had destroyed.’ Love, tenderness, compassion, and all the appendages of honour must have associated in returning this answer. The proposition was then made to the younger, John, who accepted it with an avidity, that seemed to tell the court, he would hang half the creation, and even his judges, rather than be a sufferer himself. He performed the fatal work without remorse upon his father and brother, and acquitted himself with such dexterity, that he was appointed to the office of hangman in Derby and two or three neighbouring counties, a job which he continued into extreme old age. So void of feeling for distress, he rejoiced at a murder because it brought the prospect of a guinea. Perhaps he was the only man in court who could hear with pleasure the sentence of death. The bodies of the executed were his perquisites: signs of life have been known to return after execution, in which case he prevented the growing existence by violence.”

Whilst it is doubtful that the prosaic language used by Hutton was uttered by these men, the facts remain true – an offer was made to all three men and John the younger accepted and hanged his own father and brother before becoming hangman for Derby.

It was not unknown for people to try to escape their fate at the hands of the hangman by taking matters into their own hands. In 1784, John and Benjamin Jones, sentenced to hang for housebreaking, hanged themselves in their cell at the County Gaol on Friar Gate. They were found by the turnkey, hanging by their shirts from a mortice hole in a piece of wood over the cell door. A surgeon was summoned and ‘bled’ the men in an attempt to revive them, (presumably so they could be hanged once more!), but they were beyond revival and had escaped the hangman by taking their own lives.

Until 1862, the overwhelming number of executions were public executions which were quite an event and very big crowd-pullers. It is estimated that around 50,000 people attended the execution of Samuel Bonsall, William Bland and John Hulme on March 31, 1843, for the murder of Miss Martha Goddard. People were prepared to walk miles to be a spectator and special trains were laid on for the day. The Derby Mercury wrote that:

“The concourse of persons was by far greater than on any similar occasion in Derby. The crowd, as seen from the scaffold, presented a densely packed mass of human beings covering the whole spacious area in front of the prison, and extending through the whole of Vernon Street and into Friar Gate. The roads, gardens, yards, windows, housetops, in fact every possible situation commanding a view of the drop, had its separate crowd of gazers.”

 Although a crowd of 50,000 would represent the largest gathering for an execution in Derby, many others were witnessed by large crowds. The executions of John Platts on April 1, 1847 and George Smith on August 16, 1861 both drew crowds of around 20,000.

Going back to 1817, we find out that another large crowd assembled for an execution. This was to be a slightly different execution however – it was the execution of Jeremiah Brandreth, William Turner and Isaac Ludlam – otherwise known as the Pentrich Martyrs.

The Pentrich Revolution, as it has become known, began on June 8, 1817 when, in an inn at Pentrich, Brandreth attempted to raise a band of armed men to march on Parliament. Around 60 men marched with him, in what they believed would be a national uprising for a more democratic government. At Langley Mill they were met by the 15th. Hussars from Nottingham and a detachment from the Derbyshire Yeomanry. Many of the men were arrested there and then and most who escaped were captured by the civil authorities later. The men were brought to Derby and Brandreth, Turner and Ludlam were charged with, and found guilty of, high treason. This was despite a spirited defence by Thomas Denman who was later to become a Lord Chief Justice of England.

The three men were sentence to be hanged, drawn and quartered, although the drawing and quartering were later commuted and they were instead hanged until dead and then beheaded. Many of their colleagues were sentenced to suffer transportation.

Interestingly enough, three months before their execution on November 7, John Brown, Thomas Jackson, George Boothe and John King were hanged for setting fire to hay and corn stacks at South Wingfield, the self-same residence as William Turner and Isaac Ludlam. It is more than likely, that if still alive, they would have taken part in the Pentrich Revolution. Brown, Jackson, Boothe and King were convicted largely on the evidence of Thomas Hopkinson. Hopkinson had taken part in the crime, but when apprehended in Chesterfield on a charge of horse stealing, he turned King’s evidence on his counterparts and their fate was sealed. It seems that their fate offered no warning to Thomas Hopkinson. In 1819, he was found guilty of highway robbery and hanged in front of the County Gaol in Friar Gate.

As mentioned earlier, the last public execution in Derby was in 1862. It occurred on April 11 and the offender was a 26-year-old man named Richard Thorley. Thorley had been charged with the murder of Eliza Morrow at Court No.4 on Agard Street. On February 12, Thorley had visited Morrow with whom he had a relationship. Thorley had seen Eliza with a young soldier and had gone on a drinking spree. He returned twice, the first time Ann Webster, with whom Morrow lodged, had called the police after Thorley had caused a disturbance. On his return, Richard Thorley and Eliza Morrow stood arguing in Court No.4. A group of young boys who witnessed the argument ran off, but one of them, Charles Wibberly, remained at the end of the alley. Moments later Wibberly heard a scream and saw Thorley rushing away. Morrow was found by two neighbours, slumped against a wall with her throat cut. A razor was spotted by Wibberly and one of the neighbours, Emma Underwood, took it into number four. In the meantime, Thorley had gone to the Spa Inn on Abbey Street. When blood was spotted on his clothing, he claimed he had been fighting at the Abbey Inn earlier in the evening. Thorley left the Spa Inn after 10pm and was arrested by Detective-Sergeant Thomas Vessey in Canal Street. At his trial it was largely the evidence of young Charles Wibberly that convicted Thorley. At the end of the trial Thorley was found guilty and sentenced to death. On the day of his execution the prison chaplain asked him if he regretted his actions, to which Thorley replied: “No. She got what she deserved.” He was executed before a crowd of around 20,000 and left a hymn book for his sister. Inside the book he had written: “Hannah Brearley, with her brother Richard’s dying love. April 11, 1862″. From this date onwards, all the executions in Derby were carried out behind the prison walls at the gaol in Vernon Street. The last execution to take place in Derby was on July 16, 1907, when William Edward Slack, 47, was hanged for the murder of his mistress, Mrs Wilson.



As we look back into the history of crime and punishment, we often notice particularly barbaric moments. Surely one of these is the method of execution being burnt at the stake.

This was a sentence reserved for women, particularly witches. In most cases, but not all, the women were strangled before being burnt. However, bearing in mind that this was done by frequently drunk and, quite often, incompetent executioners, we must surely hold severe reservations about their effectiveness. In 1601, a women was burnt at Windmill Pit, (off Burton Road), for poisoning her husband. In 1693, a girl in farm service at Swanick was burnt for murdering her master. This was the last case in Derbyshire of death by burning that we are aware of.

However, preceding both of these, the year 1556 saw what was probably the most tragic example of this barbaric punishment – the burning to death of Joan Waste.

Joan was the eldest daughter of William Waste, a barber and ropemaker of All Saints’. She was blind and had been since she since birth. Deeply religious, she had followed the teachings of the vernacular Bible and prayer book, but when Queen Mary came to the throne in 1553 and began acquiring her nickname of ‘Bloody Mary’ with the re-introduction of Catholic rites, backed up with the cruel persecution of those of the Protestant faith, Joan’s faith became a danger to herself.

Joan refused to renounce her beliefs and was arrested on the orders of the Diocesan Bishop. Queen Mary had revived the laws of heresy and with Joan’s steadfast refusal to alter her beliefs, a writ of De Heretico Comburendo was passed.

On August 1, 1556, this young blind girl was taken to Windmill Hill Pit, after receiving a sermon at All Saints’ Church from Dr. Anthony Draycot, the Diocesan Chancellor and one of her chief accusers. Her brother held her hand along the journey and, when placed upon the stake, Joan called upon Christ for his mercy and then gave her life in the flames.

Joan Waste led to her execution where she was burned.

Pressing to Death

Although it may be difficult to believe, the sentence of ‘peine forte et dure’ or ‘pressing to death’, may be even more barbaric than that of burning to death.

This sentence was devised for any accused who refused to plead guilty or not guilty. Under an old English law, those who refused to plead would not forfeit any of their land and property to the Crown, whatever the outcome of the trial. To try to counteract this, pressing to death was introduced. Before this sentence was passed, the accused would be asked three times to plead and was given time for consideration. If the accused still refused to plead, the following sentence was passed:

“That you be taken back to the prison whence you came, into a low dungeon into which no light can enter; that you be laid on your back on the bare floor, with a cloth around your loins but elsewhere naked; that there be set upon your body a weight of iron so great as you can bear – and greater; that you have no sustenance save, on the first day, three morsels of the coarsest bread, on the second day three draughts of stagnant water from the pool which is nearest the prison door, and on the third again three morsels of bread as before, and such bread and such water alternatively from day to day until you die.”

An example of the pillory.

Non-Capital Punishment

The Pillory

This was a small timber platform which was elevated away from the floor so as to place the victim in full view of the public. Both hands and head would be secured and the victim would be made to stand for various periods of time, completely at the mercy of the crowd as they were pelted with rotten vegetables and often much worse. The pillory in Derby stood in the Market Place and it was here in 1732 that perhaps one of the most dramatic exposures on the pillory took place.

Eleanor Beare was the landlady of the Crown Inn on Nuns’ Green. One of her regulars, John Hewitt, had formed a relationship with Rosamund Olleranshaw, a servant of Eleanor Beare. The only obstacle to this relationship was John’s wife, Hannah, who fell ill and died shortly afterwards. Investigations showed that she had been poisoned.

Eleanor Beare, John Hewitt and Rosamund Olleranshaw were all accused and tried for murder. However, while John and Rosamund were found guilty and hanged, on March 23, 1732, Eleanor Beare was acquitted. This was not a universally popular decision and the historian William Hutton wrote that:As the world was well convinced, she was the wicked authoress of that mischief, by which three people had recently lost their lives.”

At the next Assizes, several more charges were brought against Eleanor Beare and she was convicted of enticement, inducing abortion and destroying a foetus. This carried a relatively light sentence as none of these were statutory offences at that time. She was sentenced to stand two market days in the pillory to be followed by three year’s imprisonment.

“I saw her”, wrote Hutton, “with an easy air, ascend the hated machine, which overlooked an enraged multitude. All the apples, eggs and turnips that could be begged, bought, or stolen were directed at her devoted head. The stagnant kennels were robbed of their contents and became the cleanest part of the street. The pillory, being out of repair, was unable to hold a woman in her prime….she released herself; and jumping among the crowd, with a resolution and agility of an amazon, ran down the Morledge, being pelted all the way, new kennels produced new ammunition; and she appeared a moving heap of filth…

“The next Friday she appeared again, not as a young woman, but as an old one, ill, swelled and decrepid; she seemed to have advanced some thirty years in one week. The keeper suspecting some finesse from the bulk of her head, took off ten or twelve coverings, among which was a pewter plate, fitted to the head as a guard against the future storm. He tossed it among the crowd, and left no covering but the hair. The pillory being made stronger, and herself being weaker, she was fixed for the hour; where she received the severe peltings of the mob, and they, her groans and prayers.”

After serving her sentence, she recovered both health and beauty and went on to commit more crimes.

In 1825, a man was placed in the pillory for slandering his neighbour’s wife. This was the last sentence of pillory in Derby.

The Stocks

These were located on Leather Lane, near to Derby Market Place, and were a popular means of punishment for petty offences such as drunkenness, profane language and resisting a constable. One of the primary aims of the stocks was to expose the offender to the ridicule of his or her neighbours – it was for this reason that stocks were generally located in a public place. Offenders would be condemned to sit for hours with their legs held down by a board – a very painful experience. This punishment also gave birth to a saying still in common use today. When you had been completely humiliated, you had been reduced to a ‘laughing stock’.

An example of the stocks.


Many towns had a whipping post, usually located near the stock and pillory. There is little evidence of one in Derby. However a post is not required for a whipping to take place – a cart would suffice. In 1586, seven men and four women were whipped in the Market Place. In 1691 two offenders were sentenced to ‘bee stript to the wast and whipt till bloody, in the heighth of the market at Derby.’ A whipping cart could contain two sliding boards which would hold the prisoner’s head and arms as they were driven around the town whilst being whipped. In 1718, two prisoners were sentenced to be ‘severly whipped the next Market Day at Derby from the gaol round the Market Place.’ Often, when a whipping had finished, salt would be rubbed into the open wounds.

An contemporary illustration of the ducking stool.

Cuckold or Ducking Stool

This was a chair, which by means of a pulley system, could be raised and then lowered into water. The cuckold in Derby was located by St. Werburgh’s Church and the offender was ‘ducked’ in the Markeaton Brook, which flowed openly through the area at that time. The cuckold was frequently used to punish scolds, (quarrelsome women), and bakers who broke the ‘assize of bread’.

Public Penance

This was a form of punishment where the offender would offer their penance for their crime in front of a crowd of onlookers. The location for these acts of penance would often be a church. A man dressed in a white sheet did penance for defamation at St. Peter’s Church in Derby when the Rev. R. R. Ward was vicar.


From 1654 certain convicts were transported to British colonies in America to work as an alternative to execution. Incidences of this punishment became more common after the Transportation Act of 1717. Convicts were sent to America until the American War of Independence (1775 to 1783). Transportation to Australia began in 1787 with the first 11 ships departing from Portsmouth in May with 736 convicts on board. The journey to Botany Bay took eight months and 40 people died during the journey itself.

Between 1787 and 1868 around 162,000 convicts were sent to Australia.

The most common crime to result in a sentence of transportation was theft – 80 percent of transported convicts were guilty of theft and most were repeat offenders. It was also a punishment often given to protestors with some of the Luddites, Rebecca Rioters and the Tolpuddle Martyrs transported. Only 15 percent of transported convicts were women and the sentence was often used as an alternative punishment to the death penalty at the time of the Bloody Code. Sentences were either for seven years,14 years or life.

Those awaiting transportation were either held in gaol or on a hulk of an old ship stripped of fittings and permanently moored, especially for use as a prison. Once transferred to a ship it would take over eight months to reach Australia in cramped conditions with convicts often chained by leg irons. Once there, many convicts were made to work building roads or breaking rocks with harsh punishments, such as being whipped, if they disobeyed rules. Those who refused to follow the rules would be dispatched to even remoter areas to work in chain gangs.

Many convicts were assigned to a free settler to work. For the well-behaved convicts, this life may have been bearable. On some occasions good behaviour could secure a convict an early release after four years. Some were also given a ‘conditional pardon’ which allowed them to find paid work of their own for the remainder of their sentence.

Most though, served the full time of their seven or 14 year sentence and received a certificate of freedom at the end. Once free, many settled in Australia and did not return home, undoubtedly because few could afford to pay for the return journey.

Executions in Derby

A woman and two men were hanged and gibbeted for murdering one of the King’s purveyors at Ashover Moor.

The bodies of three men were hung in chains at Chapel-en-le-Frith for robbery with violence.

c.16th century
On the orders of Sir George Vernon an unidentified pedlar was hanged at Ashford-in-the-Water.

On August 1, Joan Waste was burnt at the stake as a heretic at Windmill Hill Pit. Windmill Hill Pit is on Lime Avenue which is just off Burton Road in Derby.

Peter Graves of Bubnall, Thomas Robinson of Wirksworth, Eleanor Wright of Bakewell, Edward Morrys of Chesterfield and Christopher Harrison of Monyash were hanged at Derby.

On July 24 three Catholic priests, Nicholas Garlick, Robert Ludlam and Richard Simpson, were hanged, drawn and quartered for high treason on St. Mary’s Bridge in Derby.

Seven unknown persons were hanged at Derby.

A man named Okey was hanged in the Town Hall in Derby.

A woman was burnt at Windmill Pit, Derby, for poisoning her husband.

Mrs. Stafford and another female were executed for witchcraft.

Five men and one woman were hanged at Tapton Bridge, the Assizes having been held at Chesterfield owing to the prevalence of the plague in Derby.

Henry Bennett was hanged at Derby for the murder of Roger Moore, a serjeant. It is said that his mother and brother were also involved in the murder.

Richard Cockrum was hanged at the gallows in Nun’s Green for killing a girl named Mills, a servant at the Angel Inn, in the Cornmarket, Derby.

John Crossland and his eldest son were hanged for horse stealing. The hangman was John Jr – his youngest son, who then took on the job of official hangman.

On March 14, a woman was pressed to death in the County Hall in Derby. This was the last instance of someone receiving this punishment in England.

Ten highwaymen – the Bracy Gang – were executed. This was probably the biggest mass hanging in Derbyshire.

A girl in farm service at Swanick was burnt for murdering her master. This was the last case in Derbyshire of death by burning at the stake.

A man was hanged at Derby for horse stealing.

Three men, (Rock, Lyon and Shaw), were hanged at Derby for counterfeit coining.

A man was hanged at Derby for horse stealing.

A man was hanged at Derby for horse stealing.

On March 29, John Hewitt and Rosamund Ollerenshaw were hanged for poisoning Hannah Hewitt at the Crown Inn in Nun’s Green, Derby.

On August 15, John Smith was hanged in Derby for burglary after breaking into the house of Mr Bowyer of Roston and stealing a silver cup.

On March 30, Richard Woodward was hanged at Derby for highway robbery.

On April 9, William Dolphin was hanged at Derby for the highway robbery of a Mr. Lord near Chesterfield.

On August 29, George Ashmore was hanged for coining. After the execution he was buried at Sutton-on-the-Hill. The body was removed the next day by body snatchers.

On April 10, 1741 William Elliott was hanged for stealing.

On August 7, Robert Bowler was hanged for shooting at Edward Rivington on the highway between Belper and Pentrich.

On March 23, Mary Dilkes was hanged for the murder of her child on January 1.

On August 1, Ann Williamson was hanged for picking the pocket of George White of six guineas and a Portuguese gold coin (valued at 36/-) at Ashbourne Fair.

On April 2, John Ratcliffe was hanged for horse stealing.

On April 29, Thomas Hulley was hanged for being at large in the Kingdom (i.e., returning from transportation) on Friday April 29, 1757.

On March 24, Charles Kirkman was hanged for the murder of his illegitimate child and dissected in accordance with Murder Act of 1752.

On August 12, James Perry and Amos Mason were hanged for highway robbery of a Mr Staveley.

On April 20, John Low was hanged for housebreaking.

On May 4, Charles Pleasants was hanged for forgery.

On March 21, Matthew Cocklane was hanged and gibbeted for the murder of Mary Vickers during the course of a burglary at her house on Sunday December 18, 1774, when he stole £300 in money and rings. He was the last person to be gibbeted in Derby.

On March 31, James Meadows, 30, from Handsworth near Birmingham, was hanged for highway robbery. He had robbed William Featherstone of £40 at Gag Lane near Tissington on Sunday October 31, 1779.

On August 25, William Buxton, 26, was hanged for highway robbery. Buxton had been convicted of robbing John Kennedy of six Guineas in gold, some silver and also another highway robbery on July 20, between Buxton and Ashbourne.

On March 28, James Williams was hanged for stealing a dark brown gelding (horse) valued at £15.15s, the property of Mr Worthington of Altrincham.

On August 2, John Shaw was hanged for being at large, having broken out of Derby Gaol to avoid transportation.

Thomas Greensmith was hanged for a robbery at Walton near Burton.

On April 16, William Rose was hanged for horse stealing.

On April 1, William and George Grooby and James Peat were hanged for burglary at the shop of Samuel Leam of Pentrich.

On April 7, John Shepherd, 49, was executed for breaking into the house of Mr Smith at Sandiacre and stealing therefrom. With him on the gallows was William Stanley, 25, who had been convicted of breaking into the house of Thomas Parker at Winshill.

On September 2, James Halliburton was hanged for the rape of Millicent Smith of Biggin.

On April 9, John Porson was hanged for picking the pocket of John Johnson of eight gold guineas and 11 silver shillings.

On March 22, Thomas Grundy was hanged and dissected for poisoning his brother at Dale-Abbey in 1787.

On August 12, Joseph Allen was hanged for stealing two silver candlesticks from the premises of Thomas Barker of Derby.

On April 1, William Rider was hanged for the rape of Mary Barton near Mackeney toll bar and robbing her of three pence.

On April 4, James Murray was hanged for house breaking. He had broken into the house of Mr Farnworth at Codnor Park in November 1793.

On April 10, Thomas Neville was hanged for the highway robbery of John Morley on January 2, the same year; robbing him of 14½ gold guineas and some silver.

On March 17, James Preston, 70, was hanged for the murder of Susannah Moreton’s illegitimate child. Susannah Moreton was also condemned for this murder but was reprieved on the morning of the execution.

On September 5, Thomas Knowles was executed for uttering a forged guinea note with intent to defraud.

On August 14, a quintuple hanging occurred when John Dent, 47, was hanged for the theft of two cows, the property of Mr Creswell of Ravenstone; John Evans, 22, was hanged for stealing two sacks of oats from a barn; Lacy Powell, 23, and John Drummond, 26, were hanged for a highway robbery and James Gration, 25, was hanged for a burglary in the house of Philip Yeomans of Shuttle in March 1801, stealing eight gold guineas, seven shillings and other goods.

On August 27, James Mellor and Thomas Spencer were executed. James was executed for the theft of a pony and Thomas was hanged for burglary in the house of Mr Flint of Biggin.

On March 19, William Wells was hanged for murder. His body was afterwards dissected in the Shire Hall in St. Mary’s Gate.

On April 6, Richard Boothe and John Parker were hanged for horse stealing.

On March 20, William Webster, 34, was hanged for poisoning Thomas Dakin, Elizabeth Dakin and Mary Roe, in the parish of Hartington.

On April 3, Joseph West was hanged for forgery. He was the last person to be hanged at Nuns Green.

On April 10, James Tomlinson, 27, and Percival Cook, 26, were hanged on the New Drop in front of the county gaol in Friar Gate for breaking into Mr Hunt’s house in Ockbrook.

On April 9, Paul Mason, 34, Richard Hibbert, 24, and Peter Henshaw, 40, were hanged for burglary.

On March 28, Anthony Lingard, 21, from Litton, was hanged and gibbeted for the murder of Hannah Oliver, keeper of the Turnpike Gate at Wardlow Mires. This was the last gibbeting to take place in Derbyshire.

On August 9, Joseph Wheeldon was executed and afterwards dissected in Derby for the murders of his niece, Mary Ann Wheeldon and nephew, Isaac Wheeldon.

On August 15, John Brown, Thomas Jackson, George Boothe and John King were hanged for setting fire to hay and corn stacks in South Wingfield.

On November 7, Jeremiah Brandreth, William Turner and Isaac Ludlam, (The Pentrich Martyrs) were hanged and beheaded for high treason.

On March 22, Hannah Bocking, 16, was hanged for poisoning Jane Grant at Wardlow Miers, within sight of the gibbet containing Anthony Lingard’s bones.

On April 2, Thomas Hopkinson was hanged for highway robbery. Hopkinson had been tried with John Brown, Thomas Jackson, George Boothe and John King but had turned King’s evidence.

On March 25, Hannah Halley of Brook Street, Derby, was hanged for murdering her infant child. She was the last woman to be hanged in Derby and the last to be dissected.

On April 8, George Batty was hanged for the rape of 16-year-old Martha Hawksley. This was the last execution carried out at the county gaol in Friar Gate.

On April 12, John Leedham was hanged for bestiality with a sheep. This was the first execution to take place in front of the new county gaol in Vernon Street, and he was the last person to hang in Derbyshire for a crime other than murder.

On March 31, Samuel Bonsall, William Bland and John Hulme, (alias Holmes, alias Starbuck, alias Jack the Sweep) were hanged for the murder of Martha Goddard. The execution took place from the top of the gatehouse in the county gaol of Vernon Street.

On April 1, 22-year-old John Platts was hanged by Samuel Haywood atop the gatehouse of the county gaol for the murder of George Collis at Brampton. He died hard, struggling for two minutes, according to newspaper reports. The crowd that turned out for his execution was estimated to be around 20,000.

On March 23, Anthony Turner was hanged for the murder of Phoebe Barnes at Belper. Phoebe had previously dismissed him from his job as a rent collector after which he then got drunk and murdered her with a carving knife. He was hanged in Belper.

On August 16, George Smith, 20, was hanged for the murder of his father in Ilkeston.

On April 11, Richard Thorley was hanged for the murder of Eliza Morrow in Agard Street, Derby. This was the last public execution held in Derby.

On August 4, Benjamin Hudson was hanged for the murder of his wife Eliza during an argument at West Handley on April 24.

On August 16, John Wakefield was hanged for the murder of nine-year-old Elizabeth Wilkinson. His motive was apparently suicide by judicial hanging.

On February 28, Albert Robinson was hanged for the murder of his wife.

On November 21, Alfred Gough was hanged for the rape and murder of six-year-old Eleanor Windle.

On August 10, Arthur Thomas Delaney was hanged for murdering his wife with a poker.

On August 21, George Horton was hanged for murdering his eight-year-old daughter to gain £7 insurance money on her life.

On August 5, William Pugh was hanged for the murder of Elizabeth Boot. She was found hacked to death with a bill hook.

On December 21, John Cotton was hanged for the murder of his third wife. In the condemned cell he admitted to murdering the other two as well.

On July 30, John Bedford was hanged for the murder of his girlfriend Nancy Price.

On December 29,,John Silk was hanged for the murder of his mother, Mary Fallon.

On December 27, Walter Marsh was hanged for the murder of his wife, Eliza.

On July 16, William Slack was hanged for the murder of Lucy Wilson. Lucy was murdered after she broke off her affair with William. This was the last execution to take place in Derby.