Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Executions at Swansea Jail

Early executions at Swansea Prison took place in a purpose built room, constructed in 1926. On the upper floor of the Tread Wheel house , a beam and brackets for use in hangings were built, however there was no trap for the drop; this was borrowed from Cardiff Prison. This building was demolished on 24th September 1963.
In 1929 a purpose built execution shed was in Swansea jail. Plans show the condemned cells, bathrooms and the dreaded trap where hangings took place.
Between 1858 and 1958 a total of fifteen executions took place at Swansea Prison. From passing of sentence to actual execution, three clear Sundays were allowed - a period of around twenty one days. The executioner arrived at the jail by four o' clock on the afternoon before the hanging and during his hours inbetween, it was his task to get the gallows prepared. He would also consult the condemneds records to calculate the length of drop required. (Too long and the inmate would be decapitated, too short and he would be strangled).
The rope had to be stretched by using sandbags and only used once. It was a most sought after souvenir, often sold by the hangman himself to grisly collectors once the buisness of the day was over. An hour before execution the weights would be removed, allowing elasticity to return in the rope.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the condemned cell in jails was located near the gallows, to avoid long walks to the gallows and undue stress, problems and mistakes.
But accidents did occur; on 11th December 1928, in Swansea Jail, the assistant executioner (Alfred Allen) failed to step off the trapdoor when chief executioner Robert Baxter pulled the lever. Allen followed the condemned inmate into the death pit, without much serious harm to himself.
Following tradition, a black flag was flown from the prison whenever there was an execution, being unfurled at the minute the prisoner was hung. This practice stopped at Swansea after the execution of Joseph Lewis in 1898, and even the ringing of the jail bell was stopped soon after. It was considered too stressful for the condemned man to hear the bell as he walked to the scaffold. From then on the only public sign that a hanging had been carried out was the posting of a notice on the prison gate.
That ended in 1957.
Swansea Prisons last execution was that of Vivian Frederick Teed on 6th May 1958. When he went to the scaffold, the passing of time was the only indication that the execution had been carried out.

No comments:

Post a Comment