Monday, 22 February 2010

Carmarthen Gaol Closed

On the 13th February, 1922 the people of Carmarthen heard that their historic gaol was to close. The government were looking to save expenditure in all departments; docks, board of health, mines, police and prison. All through Wales and England none were left unaffected as government looked to save £75 million.

Report from The Western Mail, 13th February, 1922:

'The Home Office has issued an intimation that it proposes to close His Majesty's Prison, Carmarthen, as from the end of March.
This step is believed to be in accord with the present campaign to affect economies in the national expenditure as urged in the Geddes Report. Eight other prisons in the country, it is learned, are also to be closed.
The Geddes Committee report states regarding the closing of prisons (England and Wales): We understand that the Prison Commission are of the opinion that no further closing of prisons is considered to be practicable at the present, but in view of the release of Sinn Fein prisoners we think thisquestion should be very carefully examined.'

In those times Carmarthen gaol served the three counties of Carmarthen, Pembroke and Cardigan. It had played a major role in the history of the town and surrounding Counties, all the way from the earliest days of public executions.
The day following the announcement of Carmarthen's closure, Swansea prison announced that all of its female prisoners would be moved to Cardiff, making way for the inmates of Carmarthen gaol. There is no doubt that if the prison had not closed, the walls of Carmarthen gaol would have witnessed more condemned ending their days on the gallows.
With the transfer of inmates to Swansea Prison, executions in Carmarthen were ended. In March 1922, the famous Gaol finally closed and it was demolished in 1938 to make way for the new County Hall. In so doing, Sir Eric Geddes achieved in 1922 at Carmarthen what John Nash and all the others before had failed to do and that was to destroy one of the most historic landmarks in West Wales.

**** Life Comes Full Cycle ****

The gates to the gaol went missing after its closure and for over 70 years, their disappearance remained a mystery. Those gates that were once used to keep inmates locked up, returned to Carmarthen museum and are now left open for all to see and walk freely through. The last governor of the prison, Captain John Nicholas, had removed the 12 foot gates to adorn his countryseat, Maes Teilo, near Llandeilo. But now Maes Teilo was a nursing home, and they returned the gates to Carmarthen as it was felt that gaol gates were not an appropiate entrance to a nursing home.
History again coming its full cycle.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Thomas Richards - Hanged 29th November 1894

The Carmarthen Journal, 1894:

'It was on a Saturday morning that Thomas Richards, a 41 year old sailor, appeared before Carmarthen Assizes charged with the wilful murder of his sister-in-law Mary Davies of Borth, sometime between 20th and the 21st September, 1894. At the time the precincts of the Guildhall was crowded with an eager crowd waiting for the court doors to open.
By 9.30, the jury were in place and awaiting the arrival of the Judge Mr Justice Lawrence. With the arrival of the judge, the warders brought the prisoner from the cells below and the court fell into silence at his appearance. He appeared to be very sickly and despondent. With the charge read out, he replied in a quiet voice "Not Guilty".'

It seemed that Mary Davies's husband, a sailor, was also a friend of Richards and on the morning of 20th September, James Davies was leaving Swansea Harbour just as Richards was arriving in port. Richards had asked the captain for four days leave of absence to go to Swansea Hospital. This was untrue. In fact he went to Aberystwyth, arriving between 10pm and 11pm, and then stealing a horse from a field. He made his way to Borth some 9 miles away, and went straight to his sister-in-laws house.
He broke into the house and ransacked downstairs but as he made his way upstairs, Mary Davies lit a candle and started yelling. Richards put a pillow over her face to smother the shouting and left her for dead. At first nobody missed her because she was a seamstress and was often away from home for a few days at a time. However as the weekend drew near, neighbours became suspicious, entered the house, and discovered Mary's body on the bed with a pillow covering her face. In the beginning there was no hint of foul play and it was not until the discovery of a five pound note on the floor of Richards's by his son that suspicion fell on him.
It appeared that the National Provincial Bank in Aberystwyth had handed over £62.11s.7d to a man who had signed his name as James Davies. Richards had stolen a deposit note from the house and had forged the name James Davies to obtain the money. He had asked the bank to cash the deposit note that contained £262.4s.8d and to place £200 in another account, leaving him with £62.4s.8d plus the interest. He then put £40 in a tin and mailed it to his wife and the new deposit note back to Mary's house. A witness was produced stating that Richards had been in the Skinners Arms in Aberystwyth and that he had asked the landlady to write two envelopes for him, one of which was addressed to Mary Davies and the other to Mrs Richards.
After a search that went on for several days, Thomas Richards was arrested at the Falcon Inn, Old Market Street in Neath, on suspicion of robbery at Borth and immediately said, 'I know nothing about it'. At the police station he was searched and a watch, £7.8s.5 1/2 and a gold wedding ring were found in his pocket. He protested his innocence and stated that he had not been in Aberystwyth for over a year and demanded to know with what evidence they were charging him. He was charged with the death of Mary Davies, at Borth on 20th September, 1894 and with breaking into the house on the same night, and stealing a deposit note to the value of £263 and a £5 Bank of England note and with forging the name of James Davies at the National Provincial Bank Aberystwyth and obtaining £62.11s.8d by deception. He denied all charges, saying the witnesses were wrong.
The ring proved to be the most damning evidence. John Davies, Mary's husband, was able to identify the ring and said that his wife would never remove it from her finger. When the coroner had seen the body he noticed that a ring had been recently removed from the dead woman's hand. The evidence against Richards was conclusive.
At first Richards denied being in Borth, saying that he had gone to Neath from Swansea having recently returned from France in a vessel called the Dorset and that he had bought the ring some 3 years before. He said he'd paid 30 shillings for it. He denied being in Aberystwyth in the previous 12 months. When he was confronted with the evidence of the landlady of the Skinners Arms and the bank teller, he broke down and said 'Oh dear, I don't know what came over me'.
Thomas Richards made a confession to the police as he was being taking from Neath to Aberystwyth.

**** Statement when arrested ****

'I wish to tell you all as far as I can remember. I came to Aberystwyth by the last train on Thursday night last and then went to Borth. On the way I turned into a field, caught a pony, which I rode to near Borth. I left the pony near Borth and went to my sister-in-law's house and got in through a window, which I opened with a gimlet (small boring tool). After I got in I lighted some matches and found some keys on a chest of drawers and took from one of them two notes, I then went upstairs, where my sister-in-law slept, who by that time, had lighted a candle. She was then screaming, and in order to prevent her, I pushed her on the bed and placed a pillow over her head.
I never thought of killing her, I only wanted to prevent her from screaming. I did not know she was dead until you told me at Neath. (Chief Contsable of Cardiganshire, Mr Howell Evans). I left the house through the front door, and went onto Aberystwyth. On my way, I passed my own house, and pushed the note (£5) under the door. I had been drinking heavily, and did not know what I was doing. I must have been mad.'

Recorded in the Carmarthen Journal

On his return to Aberystwyth, Richards was further charged with removing the ring from Mary Davies's finger. This he denied. It was not until 2nd October that he sent for the Chief Constable. He the then confessed to stealing the ring from the dresser. He denied that he had removed the ring from the dead woman's finger:

'I had no intention of taking her life, and if I did, I hope the Lord will forgive me.'

At his trial, Richards continued to protest his innocence despite the witnesses who saw him in Aberystwyth and Borth before and after the murder. The jury took one hour to return a verdict of guilty.
With that the judge donned the black cap and addressed Thomas Richards:

'The jury, after a long patient, and exhausting trial, have found you guilty of the crime of murder, and I always think it right, and I think it is the least that the jury can ask of the presiding Judge, that when he agrees he should express that agreement publicly. I think there is no other conclusion, which could be rightly come to except that verdict which the jury has given on the present occasion.
That you were the means by which this unhappy woman lost her life I think no one can have possible doubt. You were there for the purpose of taking valuable property in any case, and there can be no doubt whatever that you chose a time when you knew that the husband had gone to sea, and that you did all that you possibly could to hide the result of your crime.
Maybe, I do not know; it is a matter only as far as your mind is concerned; you knew when you left that house whether that woman was dead or not. Undoubtedly the whole of the evidence shows that there can be no doubt whatever that her death was due to violence used by you, and ask you earnestly that during such time as may be left to you, to make your peace with that God against whose laws you have so grievously offended. The only duty that I have now to discharge is to pass sentence upon you in the terms which I am obliged to pass by law; and that sentence is that you be taken from hence to the place from whence you came, and from there hanged by the neck until you shall be dead and that your body be afterwards buried within the precincts of the prison in which you shall be last confined after your conviction. And may the Lord have mercy on your soul.'

Carmarthen Journal 1894

Richards turned pale as he walked to the cells below the court. In a later interview at Carmarthen Gaol with his solicitor, he said he thought 'the judge was a bit hard on me.'
Richards's wife and son visited him at the gaol a few days before his execution and the Governor and the warders present described the scene as being terribly touching. They all cried bitterly but it was the son's mournful sound that was the most heart rendering, a sound that was heard throughout the gaol. It was the last meeting and parting of a husband and wife, and the final farewell of an affecionate son before the hangman arrived to carry out the extreme and just penalty of the law. It was shortly after this family visit that the High Sheriff arrived to inform Richards that the date of execution had been set for 29th November.
During his incarceration, Thomas Richards resigned himself to his fate, as much as it is possible to imagine a man in his position to be. However as his final day neared he presented to the prison staff a final statement:

'I don't remember leaving Swansea or how I left there. The first place I remember was Pencader, where I asked if I could have a drink, and I am not sure whether I had one or not. The next place I remember was Aberystwyth Station, and I think I went out straight. I don't remember going into the Railway Inn, but I won't swear I went in. This was after ten o'clock. Very few can tell I am drunk until they speak to me, as drink does not affect my walk very much.
The next time I remember anything was turning into a field, and I have a indistinct recollection of catching a pony. The pony was a fresh one. I had not ridden for many years, and I had no reins. I don't know how I got out of the field. I can remember going through with my arms around the pony, and when near Brynbala I let go of my arm and fell on my back. I then passed my own house, but just by the board school, something came into my mind and told me to go to my sister-in-laws house to fetch money.
I knew she had money, and had an idea where she kept it. That is where her mother kept it when I lived there for two years immediately after we were married. I thought she kept it in the small drawer at the top of the chest of drawers on the left hand. I went there and did not go near my own house. I saw nobody about. When I got to the deceased house, I tried the windows first, and found there was no bolt. I lifted the window right up and went in. I am positive of this.
Although I am reminded of the gimlet hole in the back door, I know nothing of the gimlet or the back door. After going in I began to look for the drawer. I lit a match, and found the door locked, and I saw keys on the top of the chest immediately above the drawer. The ring was also there. I took the ring and opened the door. I found the deposit note and the £5 note. This took me about five minutes. The door of the parlour was open. I then went upstairs, and, as I was upstairs, I heard her strike a match.
I went forward to the bedroom, and saw the deceased with one foot out of the bed - I think it was her left. She had not got wholly out of bed. When she saw me she screamed once, and I gave her a small push on the breast, which caused her to fall on the bed, and I then threw the pillow on her face with one hand to prevent her screaming. No unnecessary violence was used in any way, and all I thought was to get away. I was then anxious to get out, and I believe I blew the candle out and went downstairs and out through the front door.
I had put the window down when I first went in. I was there a moment. I did nothing to her in anyway indecent, nor had I ever done anything to her. I did not do anything to her except as I have said, and did not intend to harm her in any way, as I had no cause to do anything to her. I am innocent of any intention of doing her any harm. I think I heard her scream as I went through the front door, but not much.
I did not know she was dead until the Chief Constable of Cardiganshire told me on Wednesday. I was only in the house a little over 5 minutes. There was no struggle at all except as I have said. I have said all that has taken place. I said nothing to her and she said nothing to me, as when she began to scream I was afraid somebody would hear and rouse the village up. I left the keys in the same place as I had found them, unless I left them in the lock. I took nothing away except the ring, the deposit note, and the £5 note.
I don't know what possessed me to take them. After leaving, I went up to my own house and put the £5 note under the front door of my wife's house. I had no gimlet, and have no recollection of any such thing. I don't know why I didn't go into the house. I heard the clock strike two when I was doing this. I then left for Aberystwyth, and when I got to Moelcerni I went into a field and slept until daylight, when I proceeded to Aberystwyth. Ifirst went to the Skinners Arms about eight o'clock and had several beers there.
Miss Ellis's story is true as to what took place. I admit every thing that the witnesses say to the money, but I most emphatically deny the murder. I don't know why I took th £64. I sent the deceased the note for £200 on the Friday morning. I admit all the witnesses say as to what took place on Saturday. I do not remember saying anything about the ring, as I was drinking hard the whole time. I stayed at the Royal Oak until the Monday, when I left for Llanelli, and there saw Peake, but I do not remember what I said, as I was muddled.
I bought shoes there and I also bought fowls from there, and that is all I remember, I was drinking hard there. I do not remember that I said anything about the ring. From Llanelli I went to Neath about seven o'clock, and went to the Falcon until I was arrested. I do not know what I said when I was arrested, and it may be what the police say is true. When I first saw the chief, he said in Welsh that he charged me with three things, breaking in the house, stealing the money and causing her death. I do not remember what I said 'they are mistaken'. I was completely overcome when he told me she was dead, and I hardly knew what I said as to Pugh's evidence. My recollection is that I went to the bank, produced the note, and told him how much I wanted and he asked me to sign.
I did so, 'J.D.' He did not ask me to sign my own name. When I was on board the Coquette, captained by Captain Jenkins, Havelock Villa, Aberystwyth, in the west coast of Africa, I got a fever, which affected my joints and head. I was never in my mind. All I thought was to get the money, and when I considered that, they would find the money gone. I sent my wife £40, as I knew she would not use it, and it would be there for the deceased. I did not know that she was dead until the chief told me at Neath. Before my God I say I never intended her any injury or to murder her.
I had got the money before I went upstairs. I don't know what possessed me to go upstairs, unless it was to talk to her in my silliness. She used to sleep in the parlour where the money was kept. I don't know whether recognised me. I did not touch her body anywhere, except on her chest with my own hand. I did not touch her face or thigh - did not touch her clothing, in fact, I did not touch her at all, except as I have said.
When I touch her I used the left hand, which had the effect of making her lie across the bed, and I took up the pillow with the right. I did not intend to strangle her, and only meant to stop her, for I put out the candle the same time. We had no struggle in any way. I have only come to myself since I have been in custody. I am nearly broken-hearted at what has happened.

Thomas Richards.'

**** Execution ****

The Home Secretary stated that he could see no reason why he should interfere with the carrying out of the sentence of the law. Richards appeared to accept his fate. He even told his warder that he believed the sentenced passed upon him was a merciful divine decree.
The rrival of hangman James Billington in the town caused a stir despite the fact he had been the hangman at the execution of George Thomas in the previous February. Town folk were keen to see the famous hangman and followed him from the train station to gaol.
When he had first been admitted to prison Thomas Richards had weighed 136 lbs, but when weighed on the Wednesday he had gained 12 lbs and now weighed 148 lbs. 'Grief Fat'.
Billington allowed a drop of 7 feet, and a weighted sack filled with sand to Richards's weight of 148 lbs attached to the hangman's rope in order to stretch the rope overnight.
It was at 7.58am that Billington entered the cell and pinioned Richards. The condemned man made no comment, and walked unaided to the platform. He had made up his mind to die. With the rope secured around his neck, the clock struck 8am and the lever was pulled, Richards fell into eternity. It had only taken two minutes from the entry to the cell to the hoisting of the black flag outside.
Richards was buried fully dressed in quick lime during the course of the morning, within the prison walls. With the customary notice pinned to the gaol gate, it announced the end of Thomas Richards.

Monday, 15 February 2010

George Thomas - Hanged 13th February, 1894

On 9.45pm, 19th November, 1893 George Thomas approached Police Sergeant James Jones who was patrolling King Street Carmarthen, with news that would shock the entire community.
He confessed to killing a young girl, and leaving the body near the 'Joint Counties Lunatic Asylum'. At first the policeman could not believe it, and it was only when he was in the police station under the lights that the bloodstains on his hands and clothes became clear to see.
The law immediately went to the area indicated by Thomas and about a quarter a mile from the asylum, between Pentremeirig Farm and the small cottage of Dawelan, searchers found the body of a young girl lying in pools of blood. She had two gaping gashes in her throat, and her head had almost been severed from her body. One of the wounds had started from the ear and crossed the jawbone to the cheek, whilst the other, described as a clean cut across the throat, severed the windpipe. The weapon found nearby was a long black handled razor. The body was moved before the town folk awoke in the morning.

The Court

Thomas was brought before the borough bench on Monday 20th November 1893 at 11 o'clock. By now the whole of Carmarthen had heard about the terrible murder and streets around the courthouse were full. When Thomas appeared under police escort the crowd shouted, 'Lynch him!' and police had to force a path to the court.
As the impatient and angry mob waiting outside heard news of the proceedings inside the packed courtroom, many started to bang on the doors, again yelling, 'Lynch him!' As the evidence was read out, Thomas appeared unaffected by the events.
At the end of his appearance Thomas was heard to remark, 'I do not much care for this sort of thing' (meaning the proceedings at the inquest), 'I will have to go there again tomorrow. Then I will have a rest and will only have to go there once again. Afterwards I expect I will have a long drop.'
As Thomas appeared in the corridor of the court further cries of 'Lynch him! He ought to be murdered!' Could be heard from the crowds in the Guildhall Square. Again a path had to be forced, and he had to be carried to the carriage waiting to take him to the gaol. The carriage entered Nott Square and up Queen Street before entering the prison gates, which was by now, under a heavy guard.

The Victim

Mary Jane Jones was 15 1/2 years old, and was descibed as as exceptionally pretty young woman. She lived with her aunt, Mrs Rosie Dyer, at the cottage Dawelan, Carmarthen. Her parents lived near the Joiners Arms, Fforestfach, Swansea; and her father was a weaver. Coming from a family of nine her aunt offered to help the family by taking Mary Jane. She proved a great help to her elderly aunt by collecting the rents to the numerous properties that she had in the town.
Thomas (who was 26) was very much besotted with Mary Jane and had made his feelings known on many occasions. She in return, reciprocated none of that love, but openly discouraged it. In fact, she was very afraid of Thomas and her aunt had noticed this.
When police told her of the murder, the aunts first words were:

'O fy ngeneth fach? Beth wna i? Fyddai'n chwech deg saith os byddai fyw i weld yfory. Ond beth yw pwrpas byw.' (Oh my dear neice! What shall I do? I shall be 67 if I live to see tomorrow. But what is the purpose of living.')

'Pam na sbarith ei bywyd hi? Y ferch druan'. ('Why did he not spare her life? My poor girl.')

Carmarthen Railway Station

Mary Jane Jones' parents arrived at Carmarthen on the 2.56pm train from Swansea. The father had heard the news early in the morning, having received a telegram saying that something had happened to his daughter. At that time, he had no idea of what was to come. The first indication he had was when he was passing a public house in Fforestfach. He heard some men talking about a murder in Carmarthen. He could not bear to read the account and could not even tell his wife of what he had heard.
When they arrived in Carmarthen some relatives we were waiting to take them to the mortuary and this was the first that the mother knew of why they were in Carmarthen. A more heart-rending scene could not be imagined than that of a man and woman of middle age shedding bitter tears of grief, weeping:

'I wish I was near to protect my dear little girl. I wish she had sent to tell me that this man was going after her. He had no right to go after my poor little daughter; she was so young. We have had enough trouble in the family lately, goodness knows, without this terrible stroke.'

No words could describe the scene at the mortuary when the stricken parents hand in hand, viewed the mutilated body of their child.

The Funeral

Johnstown, presented a melancholy and depressing sight on the Wednesday morning before the funeral. The general gloominess of the town was still more marked by the dull sombre sky. Mary Jane's body had been taken to her Aunt Phillips house for the funeral. In the same road stood the house of the murderer. With the funeral service arranged for Thursday afternoon, it was to be a public affair with the internment at Llanllwch churchyard. The coffin was of polished oak trimmed with brass handles. The inscription read:

Mary Jane Jones
Died November 19, 1893
Aged sixteen years.

No doubt with the passing of time some rustic gravedigger has moved that piece of brass with pick and shovel, not knowing what terrible truth lies behind the simple words-

Died November 19, 1893

Long before the funeral at 3 o'clock the cottage adjoining the Royal Oak, was packed with people from the town. Outside the crowds had swelled with hundreds of visitors to Carmarthen who had come to the fate and gala that was to take place on the same day. Mr Studt, the famous fairground proprietor was also in town. However it was the funeral that took everyone's attention.
The service was conducted in Welsh. From the house the procession proceeded to Llanllwch Church where Mary Jane Jones was laid to rest, a young girl who in the spring-like bloom and gentle innocence of youth had met one of the most savage and terrible of deaths.

Sentence of Death

The killer wrote numerous letters to his parents from gaol but none were answered.
George Thomas stood in the dock to answer the charge of murder on Monday 20th January, 1894. There were hints by some that he was suffering from Homocidal Monomania but Dr Williams (the surgeon to the prison) stated that in his opinion Thomas was sane, callous and indifferent to murder and he drew the conclusion that, morally, he was very depraved. Dr Williams also stated that he could not find any indication of illusions or hallucinations. He formed the opinion that Thomas knew exactly what he was doing and that he had full control over his actions.
Evidence also included that of Mr J.W. Forbes, Governor of H.M. Prison, Carmarthen - 'I have held the appointment of Governor for six years. Thomas was received into the prison on 20th November last. I saw him every day with the exception of the days between 1st and 16th December, as I was on sick leave. He was perfectly calm and to all appearances rational. He is the most callous prisoner I have ever known, he is extremely so.'
The jury had two theories to consider. One that he was in full possession of his faculties, thus making him fully responsible. Or that he suffered from homocidal monomania and that the rejection of his affections by the young woman was the spark that lit the powder keg of rage within him, waking up the latent maniac, resulting in Mary Jane Jones' death.
The jury retired at 7pm and after 39 minutes returned with the verdict, 'Guilty AND SANE.'
An official then placed the black cap on the Judge's head and in a hushed courtroom; Mr Justice Kennedy addressed Thomas:

'George Thomas, you have been found guilty of the awful crime of wilful murder by a jury that has most carefully and patiently heard the whole of the evidence in the case. It is not for me to add to that which must be the intensity of your feelings at this moment by long words of mine. I can only express the earnest hope that in such time as may elapse whilst you spend your alloted time on earth you may seek forgiveness for your sins where alone forgiveness of sin can be found.
I must now pass upon you the sentence of the court, the only sentence which I can pass, and that is that you shall be taken hence to the place whence you came, and from thence to a legal place of execution. That you shall be hanged by the neck until you are dead, that your body be buried within the precincts of the prison wherein you shall last be confined after your conviction, and may the Lord have mercy on your soul.'

Throughout the trial Thomas's expression was composed and unruffled, even now when the jury had given their verdict, or still more harrowing, when the Judge pronounced the sentence of death, he did not exhibit the slightest trace of feeling or remorse. As the Judge uttered the words 'And may the Lord have mercy on your soul', he made a left about face, as if on a parade square and disappeared to the cells below.
Many in the square outside were in the windows of surrounding houses and were able to tell the waiting crowd the moment the judge put on his black cap, it was at this moment that the crowds gave way to their frustration and uttered a loud cheer.

The Execution

George Thomas was hanged at Carmarthen Prison on 13th February, 1894 at 8am. From the moment he had surrendered to the final snap of the rope, he had displayed a general demeanour and behaviour described as being opposite to that of any man expecting execution. Whilst in gaol, he had been offered books such as, 'Pilgrims Progress' and 'The Life of Christ'. He never looked at them and spoke about religion in a satirical way. He frequently remarked to the warders, who were detailed to watch over him, when they stated that they believed in the Bible, 'How do you know it is true?' and taunted the warders with being afraid of the afterlife.
He treated evidently looked upon Christianity as mere superstition. When the High Sheriff informed him that the reprieve had failed, he simple said 'Vey well' and walked off in a huff. Indeed he slept and ate as if nothing was wrong. The governor even remarked, 'I never had one like him before.'
The gallows had been prepared and tested by the prison but on the arrival of Billington, the hangman, he set about carrying out his own test. He placed a 115Ib sack of sand (the weight of the killer), attached the rope, and tested the bolt. Over night the sand remained in place to stretch the rope, only being removed two hours before the time set for execution.
At 7.45am, the officials went to the central dome inside the gaol where they could command a view of the condemned cell. Every detail was timed to the second as, almost at once, Thomas came into view and the solemn tone of the prison bell rang out. It was now 7.50am. As if waiting for the chimes, the Chaplain started to read the bible and the hangman pinioned Thomas. Billington spoke to the condemned and the procession formed.
The Chaplain led, reading the burial service, then came Mr Powell the Chief Warder, then the prisoner, walking with a firm gait, between two warders. The Governor, Sheriff, Surgeon, and other officials followed the hangman, who wore a black velvet skullcap. Thomas was so calm and collected that he noticed that Mr Powell was walking with a different step to himself. In a soldierly manner (he'd been a soldier) changed step to be in military form.
The Chaplain walked over the trap to the other side of the room and Thomas quietly stepped onto the mark on the trap door. As he looked at his feet and with the Chaplain reciting, 'Of whom shall we seek for succour but thee, O Lord', Billington quickly pinioned his ankles and with the Chaplain still reciting, the cap was placed over Thomas's head and the rope positioned around the neck. With a nod from the hangman the Chaplain said, 'Lord have mercy on my soul'. With the lever pulled, Thomas dropped and in an instant was dead. A drop of 6ft 6inch had been given. The whole process had taken less than 60 seconds from the time that he had entered the execution shed.
The gallows had been built seven years before and Mr John Thomas, the father of the condemned man, had forged the bolt used to activate the trap door when he worked in the Old Foundry in Carmarthen some years before.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

David Rees - Hanged 13th March 1888

It was around 10.30am on November 12th November 1887 that Thomas Davies, a messanger at the Dafen Tinworks in Llanelli was found dying in a field after having been horribly battered about the head on Bryngwyn Hill. Nearby, covered in blood, police discovered a hanger, a tool used in the tinworks. Thomas Davies had been carrying a bag containing the tinworks wages, £590 in gold and silver, of which £300 was missing.
Later in the evening the police went to question David Rees at his home, and as a result he was arrested on suspicion of having committed the murder. It was widely believed at the time that there was another man involved in the crime. Witnesses had reported seeing another man in the area but despite extensive enquiries Rees stood in the dock alone.
The evidence against Rees was very damning. A young boy, named W.J. Lewis, came forward and told police that he had been hiding in the hedgegrow overlooking the murder scene. He was able to identify Rees. It was this lad who first spoke of the second man. If there was another person involved, Rees was to take his identity to the grave.
Motive was robbery. It was well known that Thomas Davies carried large sums of money from Llanelli to Dafen. Rees was also well known in the area, indeed in the days leading up to the murder he had been asking people for a loan.
What was considered the most damning piece of ebidence came from a Mrs Hughes of the Tremelyn Inn, Llanelli. She stated that on 31st October, she had a long conversation with Rees, and it was during this conversation that he had threatened to kill her because she refused to lend him money. The defence tried saying this was meant as a 'joke' and that Rees had no intention of carrying it out.
Having heard all the evidence the jury retired and returned after 32 minutes with the verdict - Guilty. Rees made no reply when asked if he had anything to say before being sentenced. With great solemnity the judge placed the black cap upon his head and passed the sentence of death.
The condemned was then removed from the dock and taken to the cells below. Then something unprecedented in the annals of court proceedings occurred. Rees started yelling and complaining that he had not understood the sentence or even the fact that he had been condemned to die. On hearing this, the Governor of the gaol Mr O. Thomas, who was present in the court, went to speak to the Judge. The Judge returned to the bench and without dooning the black cap ordered that the prisoner be brought back into court.
He repeated the sentence of the court and requested that the interpreter, Mr Long Price, translate the sentence into Welsh. As the prisoner was led away for the second time Mr Price broke down crying, as did many others at the repitition of the solemn scene. It closed what was at the time decribed as a most remarkable trial. It had lasted two and a half days, a total of twenty three hours sitting time.
Members of the church visited Rees at Carmarthen Gaol and described him as having lost his old sparkle. When they asked how he was, he replied in Welsh - 'Picwl Trist' (sad pickle). In further conversation, Rees went on to say, 'I am innocent, and have been wrongly convicted,' but that he would rather be there in those circumstances than have that crime on his conscience. His words were; 'Ond mae'n well gen i fod yma ar gam na bod yma yn euog.' Reminded of the confession that he had made, he replied emphatically that he was not guilty of the murder, and had nothing more to say about it.
He had said all he had to say on the matter, and added he was he did not kill Davies, laying great emphasize on the word 'Kill'. Being asked who did kill 'Tom Bach', Rees replied, 'Dyna beth sy yn dywyll i fi, syr'. (That is a mystery to me, sir.) The members of the church pressed for him to reveal his accomplice but his only reply was 'Hum'. This was the only indication by Rees that he was shielding another and that he was prepared to go to the gallows with that knowledge. As they left the cell for the final time his parting words were, 'They know me in Llanelli. Remember me to them.'

The Confession

I, David Rees, confess with much grief and sorrow that on the 12th day of November, 1887, I myself, single-handed, and unaided by any other person, did wilfully kill Thomas Davies, of Felinfoel, Llanelli. The money which I took away from the possession of the said Thomas Davies I afterwards hid somewhere in some hedge of the field next adjoining the Box Cemetery, but I cannot at present remember the exact spot.
I wish to state that drink was the cause of all this. I was drunk at the time I committed the crime, but I felt muddled in consequence of my having been drinking heavily during the previous day and night. I am truly sorry for what I have done and I humbly entreat the forgiveness of the deceased relatives for the misery and grief I have caused them.
What I have stated above is a true confession, and I have made this confession as being the only reparation and satisfaction I can offer to those I have so grievously wronged, and may the Lord have mercy on my soul.

(Signed): David Rees, Dafen.
Witnessed O. Thomas, Governor.
T.R. Williams, Chaplain.

The Execution

Tuesday 13th March, 1888, was the day of the execution. David Rees appeared to sleep well during the night and awoke around 5.45am. He got up and dressed with no prompting. At 6.30am, a breakfast was delivered to the condemned cell. It consisted of bread, milk and butter. He refused tea. At 7am, the chaplain, Rev T.R. Walters entered the cell and offered spiritual comfort. All was quiet in the gaol until 7.45am. It was at this time that the prison bell began to toll, announcing to all (within the walls and outside) that the execution was about to be carried out. Berry the hangman entered the cell at 7.57am carrying the pinioning straps.
Timing was important and at 7.57am, Berry pinioned Rees. By now the condemned was crying bitterly. At one minute to eight, the procession started from cell to scaffold. First came the Chief Warder and Warder Jones; then the Chaplain reading the Burial Service; David Rees had to be supported by Warders Howells and Thomas; followed by the hangman; the Under Sheriff Mr D. Long Price; the prison Surgeon Mr James Rowland and the Governor Mr O. Thomas. Reporters followed, representing newspapers of South, West and Mid Wales.
Rees had to be supported as he walked, sobbing, as they made their way to the gallows. During his time in gaol he had put on weight. It was a common occurence in inmates awaiting execution and became known as 'Grief Fat.'
The grim parade reached the shed in which the scaffold had been erected. Rees accompanied by the warders went in followed by the Hangman. Rees was then positioned by Berry on the trap, the white cap placed over his head, and the rope adjusted around his neck.
Finally by placing the brass-locking ring under the left ear, the noose was in position. During all this time the Chaplain had continued to read the Burial Service in Welsh with Rees repeating the verses and shaking his head as if bewailing his terrible fate. At exactly 8.01am as the chaplain read 'Arglwydd, bydd drugarog wrthym ni', the dread lever was pulled. The drop fell and Rees was launched into eternity. The entire process had taken just half a minute from the time he had stepped on the trap. As the drop fell open, the black flag was raised on the gaol flagstaff above the female wards facing Spillman Street.
The scaffold was not new but was described by Berry 'It is the best I have have ever seen'. The rope used was Italian silk hemp.
The burial took place in the gaol grounds in a grave dug in the prison garden on the northwest side of the building.
As usual crowds gathered outside to see the hoising of the black flag and the customary notice of execution to be posted on the gate.
So ended the final day of David Rees, the murderer who with an unknown accomplice murdered 'Tom Bach' of Dafen.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

David Evans - Hanged 21st September 1829

In the 1800's murder was a crime that very few committed, because everyone knew the sentence would be 'Death by Hanging'. However it did occur, such as the time David Evans was charged with the brutal murder of Hannah Davies. The public crowded Carmarthen court, disgusted that such a vile deed could have been perpetrated in their community.
At the trial's end the Judge summed up the evidence and the jury retired for an hour and returned with the verdict of 'Guilty'. The Judge donned the black cap and passed the inevitable sentence. The whole court, as well as the Judge, were clearly affected by proceedings. Evans was the only one who seemed to have little regard to the proceedings and appeared unmoved. He was convicted at the Carmarthen Great Sessions on 16th September 1829 and sentenced to public execution.

David Evans' Written Confession

'This is the confession of me, David Evans, who am justly condemned to suffer, for committing a great offense against the laws of God and man. I die in charity with all men; I forgive all who may have offended or injured me, and hope that all whom whom I might have injured in word or deed will forgive me also.
I was received by Hannah Davies as her lover, and was much attached to her; I visited her on Thursday, the 11th June last, and remained in her company on that occasion about two hours, and before we parted she asked me, if she were to go to her father's house the following Saturday, would I accompany her on the road near Esgar Fynwent. I left home between nine and ten o'clock and took a billhook with me and told my sister that I was going to mend some gaps in the hedge; I began my work, but before I finished closing the gap, Hannah Davies came and called me, and asked if I was coming; my answer was that I would rather not that night, and gave as an excuse that my sister was washing my stockings.
She said, 'come this night, or I will never forgive you.' On this I went and proceeded on the road to Cwmsifigw, in the parish of Llanybyther. We then went over the mountain, and proceeded along in a friendly manner until we reached the spot where the murder was perpetrated. As we were passing the small hollow where the body was found, I struck her with the billhook, which was concealed under my coat, across her neck.
She did not fall to the ground on the first blow; a second which I immediately dealt, brought her to the ground, but on what part of the body it fell, I cannot exactly say, nor how many more blows I gave, for I was bewildered, and almost frantic, and scarely knew what I was doing. I was instantly smitten by my conscience after striking the first blow, and was sorry for the act; but I was urged to finish the deed for fear she would recover, and that the attempt would be discovered, and I suffer for it.
I did not drag her from the road to the ravine, but she fell, I should think in that direction from the force of the blows. I then ran homewards as fast as I could, and on the way dipped the billhook in a pool of water, to wash away the blood. I reached home about one or two o'clock on the Sunday morning, and got to bed very silently, where I lay about an hour; I then got up, wiped my shoes, and put grease on them.
These were the shoes produced at the trial. Upon leaving the house on Saturday I told my sister, to prevent her coming out of the house, that she not see me going with Hannah Davies, that I would drive the cattle into the night field; and in order to decieve her further, I finished mending the gaps in the hedges, after I got up on the Sunday morning. I not think my sister heard me coming into the house, for I came in as silently as I could, and she was in bed.
There was no blood on my clothes, and I had no accomplice whater in committing the murder. I was instigated to this dreadful act by a feeling of jealousy, and I earnestly implore all young men to take warning by my melancholy, and do not give way to unruly passions, I return my most sincere thanks to those, in whose charge I have been ever since the awful and just sentence of the law was imposed against me, for the very humane and tender kindness and attention, spiritual and temporal, which I received from them.'

David Evans

* This confession was delivered voluntarily by the prisoner in Welsh and translated by Thomas Jones, Chaplain of Carmarthen Gaol. 1829


On Monday 21st September, 1829, 10,000 spectators gathered outside the gaol for the very public hanging of David Evans. The gallows had been erected on a platform raised inside and above the front wall of the gaol facing Spillman Street. As the day approached, the murderer turned to the church for redemption.
His victim, Hannah Davies, had walked unsuspecting to her death. First he seduced her and then hurried her 'with all her imperfections on her head,' into the hands of her maker. So quick was her death, that she was not able to even cry for help. But his death would not be so swift. He had time to dwell on the wickedness of his crime and in doing so, made the above confession.
At 9am the High Sheriff arrived at the gaol and the procession was lined and proceeded to walk to the gallows.
Evans ascended the steps with a firm walk and positioned himself on a mark over the drop. The prearranged signal was a dropping handkerchief, but alas when the handkerchief fell and the trapdoor opened, the beam holding Evans collapsed, bringing a loud groan from the crowds.
Evans fell to the ground in a heap and was unhurt. He was now expecting his life to be spared because he believed that as the first attempt to hang him had failed, then he could not be re-hung. He yelled in broken english:

'No hang again, no! No! No gentleman was hung twice for the same thing!'

He then continued to shout in Welsh about suffering a second punishment for the same offence. He begged all around to help him, claiming to have escaped the first death. He carried on shouting and struggling while the Governor explained that the sentence of death had to be carried out.
The beam was quickly replaced, and the process continued. Evans accepted his fate and ascended the scaffold for the second time. The noose was placed over his head and he plunged into eternity. He was left suspended for one hour and when the body was removed it was dissected and placed in an open coffin for the public to inspect.
William Spurrell records the executioner as being a penshioner. David Evans was the last man to suffer dissection in Carmarthen

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Carmarthen: The Gallows At Work

As has been said elsewhere on this site, many early executions were recorded in William Spurrell's book, but it was with the new weekly newspaper that more detailed accounts were reported. They are great records for feelings and emotions of the time.
Take bits of this letter dated 1752 from Grifeith Philips of Cwmgwili to his son in London for example:

'there are this day to be hang'd at Carmarthen two men for house breaking, which I suppose will draw al ye country peoples together, it being a very uncommon thing here to get em hang'd in pairs.'

Another letter dated 1788, from Richard Jones, Carmarthen, to John Philips, M.P. stated:

'we had three persons condemned, two for horse stealing and one for stealing goods and breaking into a house in the day time; this last was the hangman in the gaol, a person not 20 years of age, who had been tried at our bar three times; not half an hour after he received sentence he hung himself in the gaol.'

A large number of executions are recorded as having taken place at Carmarthen.

Edward Higgins - Hanged 7th November 1767

Higgins was a notorious highway man, housebreaker and burglar, and his escapades had excited the County. He was finally convicted of the burglary of Lady Maud and Madam Bevan's residence at Laugharne. As was the case for burglary at the time he received the death sentence.

The Bogus Respite

On 23rd October, Higgins wrote to his friends asking them to arrange a reprieve. Accordingly on 3rd November, four days before the hanging, a respite duly arrived at the office of the Under Sheriff.
The document was a forgery; it appeared to be in the handwriting of Lord Shelburne and initially it was accepted as being genuine. However, the Under Sheriff suspected that the respite was fake when he discovered that the envelope used to deliver the letter carried a Brecon and a London postmark. He made enquiries only to find that the wife and sister of Higgins had disguised themselves and had delivered the respite to the Under Sheriff's office in the late evening.
He made further enquiries, and is reported as saying, 'for I do not want on my conscious the death of Higgins if the respite is genuine.' Having been satisfied that the document was a forgery, on the evening of 6th November he went to the gaol and told Higgins of his findings and that he should now prepare himself for the execution in the morning when he would be sent into eternity.

The dawn approached and was bitterly cold as crowds gathered outside the gaol and lined the route to the hanging, which was to take place in public at Pensarn, a mile from Carmarthen. A huge crowd greeted Higgins as he stepped from the gaol gate at 7 o'clock. The robber walked so fast on his way to the gallows, (over the old Roman Bridge), that the officials and spectators following had to run to keep pace.
As they walked/ran, the crowd called the Under Sheriff a 'Scoundrel', shouting that the respite was real, and that he the Under Sheriff was taking away the life of a man with a reprieve in his pocket. The chanting lasted the entire journey to the gallows at Babell Hill, Pensarn.
Higgins approached the scaffold without a falter in his step and mounted the steps. He looked like a man without a care in the world, with a flower in his buttonhole, not at all resembling a man about to meet his death. He scanned the vast crowd and made a speech:

'Gentlemen now is the time to do as you please. You have my reprieve in your custody.'

Higgins prayed for 5 minutes and said to the waiting crowd:

'I am ready.'

He then handed a letter to the Under Sheriff, which not only included his confession to the crime for which he was about to hang, but also several other crimes committed throughout the country. More startlingly, he confessed to the murder of Mrs Ruscombe, of College Green, Bristol, and that of her maidservant.

With that, the executioner kicked away the stool on which he was standing sending Higgins off to meet his maker. It was not the end of the story however. The crowds who had been calling the Under Sheriff a 'scoundrel' were not to know that he had struck a deal with the undertaker. The body was removed from the gallows almost immediately and not allowed to hang for the customary hour in public.
With the body now in the mortuary in Carmarthen and the apprentice set about to dissect the body. However, when they went to cut the body Higgins was still alive and it now fell to the apprentice to have the 'honour' of giving him the coupe de grace and finishing the sentence of the law.
The undertaker made a cast of the body and had it on display in his private museum for many years. This anecdote finally put an end to the story of the notorious Lancashire highwayman who passed through Carmarthen on his way Laugharne and ended his life hung, dissected and buried in the north side of St Peter's Church in Carmarthen.

John Morris - Hanged Saturday 16th June, 1804

On Saturday 23rd June, 1804 the Cambrian newspaper carried the following article:

Saturday last (16th June, 1804) John Morris was executed at Carmarthen for horse stealing. Great interest was made to save his life, but it proved unavailing. The unfortunate culprit has been accused of much levity of conduct while under sentence of death but we can state on good authority, that his behaviour since his trial, and at the place of execution, (Pensarn, Babell Hill) was such as became his unhappy situation.

Rees Thomas Rees - Hanged Saturday 19th April 1817

His crime was the murder of his sweetheart. He was described as an honest, honourable man who occasionaly preached at the Presbyterian chapel in Llangadock.
Rees Thomas Rees had been courting Elizabeth Jones for a number of years, and they intended to marry but her parents felt she was too young at 19, and Rees 26. She fell pregnant during this courtship but with her family still continuing to refuse consent, Elizabeth became concerned about the social stigma associated with being pregnant, and being forced to raise a child out of wedlock.
Elizabeth had heard of a medication that would help her terminate the pregnancy and she asked Rees to get it for her. He agreed and went to Brecon to buy it. They then set about hiding their shame by terminating the pregnancy and Rees administered the medicine to Elizabeth. Rees left her house at midnight and went home. Not long after, Elizabeth's sister, Gwenllian Jones, was awoken by groans from her sister. She described how she found her rolling on the floor in agony, her body had become swollen and blood was coming from her mouth.
After getting her to bed she was able to ask her what caused the illness. Elizabeth, through swollen lips, managed to describe how Rees had given her a grey medicine. She immediately became ill and told Rees he was killing her, and she went on to tell her sister that he had just walked away. She told how the medicine burned her throat like fire but Rees had forced her to swallow at least three amounts of the liquid. It was later dicovered that the poison was so strong it had ulcerated her throat, and her gums and cheeks became so swollen they had stuck together. Her teeth turned black, and she was able to pull them out to show her mother.
In this terrible condition, Elizabeth was able to last a few hours before death became her salvation.
Rees had not gone home, instead he started walking away from the area, intending to go to America and start a new life. However, he decided to return and face the authorities in the hope the outcome would be in his favour.
He was charged with murder and brought before the court. In his defence, he insisted that Elizabeth had swallowed numerous concotions on the days before her death. He also stated that her family had known about the pregnancy and that they had also obtained various medicines for her to take.
Nevertheless it was evidence from Gwenllian that sealed his fate. Her evidence was considered that as being a dying declaration. Many witnesses came forward on behalf of Rees, and all concurred that he had previous excellent character. The judge, Mr Justice Haywood, in his summing up directed the jury that their judgement must consider all the aspects of the case and urged them to fully consider all the circumstances.
The jury retired at 8pm and after 2 hours of deliberation, they returned to the hushed courtroom and announced their verdict. Guilty!
Mr Justice Haywood pronounced the sentence as prescribed by law, death by hanging. He said that execution was to take place on Saturday 19th April, 1817 and the body would be dissected. Rees returned to Carmarthen Gaol to await his fate.
It was reported that after been sentenced, Rees made a full and frank confession to two vicars. He admitted giving the medicine to Elizabeth, but it had not been his intention to kill her. His only intention had been to prevent the pregnancy and in doing so save the shame they would have had to endure if the pregnancy had gone through.

The Execution

On the morning of the hanging, Rees Thomas Rees was brought out of the gate of the gaol and placed in a chaise and carried through 10,000 spectators who had gathered to witness the grim event. As Rees ascended the gallows at Pensarn, the ministers started praying with the crowds joining in. Rees looked down on the masses and joined in with the singing and rejoicing that was taking place. It lasted for an hour. He then addressed the crowd in calm voice and recited a prayer.

'O Lord, thou knowest that I am a great sinner.
But my heart is glad to think that thou hast mercy fot the greatest sinner.
Thou gavest mercy to Messiah
Mary Magdalene was cleansed.
Thou didst save the thief on the cross.
Oh cleanse thou me! Cleanse me
Cleanse me from my sins.
I am found wanting in the balance in this world.
Oh for a sufficiency to stand in judgement!
Here the mercy of men faileth.
Here the help of all is ended.
Lord, Jesus recieve my spirit.'

When he finished, the crowd was silent.Many women were crying. The handkerchief was placed over his eyes by the hangman. As he felt the steps on which he was standing start to move he cried out:

'Nawr ydw fi ar ochr tangnefedd pob hwyl yn crudo ar y yr arglwydd Iesu I fyn ysbryd!' - Now im on the edge of eternity, goodbye, I give my spirit to the Lord Jesus.

The body of Rees Thomas Rees was later dissected before burial as instructed by the court.

The Day James O'Connor Swung Twice (1867)

The robed priest walked directly in front of the condemned, a bound figure. Next hobbled an aged, palsied, trembling man, Calcraft, the official executioner. At the foot of the fatal tree, Father Bonte offered O'Connor a crucifix to kiss, which he did with evident devotion. I shuddered as Calcraft placed the rope round the victim's throat and drew it tight.
The white robed priest - last friend of the dying man on earth, read on. A crash! A thud! The end has come! No; the rope flies loosely in the air! What has happened? With a vault Father Bonte sprang into the pit, his priestly vestments flying in the wind I followed him. Propped up against the wooden partition lay O'Connor the broken rope around his neck, and the white cap over his eyes.
Seizing my arm with his pinioned hands he exclaimed: 'I stood it bravely, didn't I? You will let me off now, won't you? Let me off do!' Think of the horror of that appeal! 'You will let me off won't you?' And there was no power to do so. 'There to be hanged by the neck until you are dead,' was the dread sentence, and the law must be obeyed.
The half hanged man was supported by warders and taken behind the scaffold, while the other officials hurriedly procured a new rope, and then again he was placed in position. Calcraft pulled the lever, the drop fell, and James O'Connor was dead.

Unnamed witness

Monday, 8 February 2010

Lifting The Hood Off The Executioner

In order to unravel the myth of the post of executioner, one must first delve into the history of the hangman. Thousands crowded to watch the morbid spectacle of public hangings and beheadings, with all of their early clumsiness and countless botched executions. With head and limbs sometimes hacked from the body, the crowds just yelled for more, and to see a dissected body soon after termination was considered the climax of the day's gory festivities.
The hangmen were not from classes of nobility, they came from all lifestyles. I have even noted on this very site that one executioner volunteered for the job on condition that his sentence of deportation was halved. A good many hangmen were actually assaulted and many of them were no better than the criminals they had come to execute. Quite a few hangmen ended his days on the gallows himself! They were classed as the lowest of the low, but at the end of the day they were simply an extension of the court and if nobody condemns the 'Hanging Judge' then who are we to despise the 'tool' who carries out the sentence of the court.
Indeed many early hangmen tried to hide their identities and yet in later years they were open and displayed their trade with buisness cards. For many centuries they were shunned, and hangmen were targeted by Punch & Judy shows. In market places, Mr Punch would murder his wife and then outwit the hangman to the delight of the audience.
And we use many terms of execution in everyday phrases. Take 'toe the line' for example. This originated from the condemned having to cooperate with his executioner by standing on a line while the hangman left the platform to make final adjustments before sending the miserable soul into eternity. Even the notion that ladders are unlucky stems from the days of executions, when the condemned were made to climb a ladder to the scaffold.
'To shoot the bolt' originates from the hangman pushing the lever to open the trap.

Under Sentence of Death

'That you, be taken to the place from whence you came and from thence be drawn on a hurdle to the place of execution, where you shall be hanged by the neck, not till you are dead; that you be taken down, while yet alive, and your bowels taken out and burnt before your face - that your head be then cut off, and your body cut in quarters, to be at the King's disposal. And God Almighty have mercy upon your soul.'

This was the grim sentence read out to condemned prisoners up until the 1820's, clearly explaining to the wretched inmate the fate that awaited him. It had been the sentence of the court for well over five hundred years, first used in the reign of Edward III (1327-1377) in the 14th century. However a form of it was known to exist as early as 1283, when Dafydd, the last native Prince of Wales, was executed.
By the 1820's reforms were being made and dissection of the body after the execution was discontinued, the wording on passing sentence of death to the accused was changed to the following:

'The sentence of the court upon you is, that you be taken from this place to a lawful prison and thence to a place of execution and that you be hanged by the neck until you are dead; and that your body be afterwards buried within the prescints of the prison in which you shall be confined before your execution. And may the Lord have mercy on your soul. Amen.'

Records Of Executions In Carmarthen

On 22nd May 1739, a man by the name of Edwards from the village of Llandefeilog, was hanged at Pensarn for the crime of pilfering. On the following day, 23rd, May Elinor Williams, alias Hadley, a servant at Job's Well, was hanged on the common below the Royal Oak Gate, for murdering her child. Buried near Carmarthen railway station her body is reported have been placed in the gibbet before burial.
On that same day, two young lads were executed for stealing cider from Mr Evan Thomas, landlord of the Greyhound Inn, Carmarthen.
It was in the year 1742 that a girl aged just 8 years old, was tried at Carmarthen Assizes. She had been charged with the murder of her brother and sister, ages 6 & 4 respectively. It appeared the children were frightened by stories making the rounds about the cruelty inflicted by the Spaniards and the expected Spanish invasion. During the night, a violent thunderstorm erupted and the children believed it was the invading Spaniards.
The young children begged their sister to kill them. She carried out the killings with a blade used to trim hedging. She then attempted to use the blade on herself. Records show this child was acquitted at her trial.

In 1745, Robin Lewis Richard of Abergwili, was hanged for the murder of William Owen of Carmarthen. Two years later in 1747, Captain Owens, a noted smuggler, was hung for the murder of a dance instructor.
The year of 1750 announced the hanging of Joseph Jenkins, 'a noted swearer was comitted to the town gaol for the murder of his wife.' Once convicted he was hanged on the common near the Royal Oak Gate.
St Peter's Register records the murder as '1750 December 11th'.

On 28th March 1770, nine men were condemned to death at Hereford, before Mr Justice Yates and Baron Perrott, for the murder of William Powell of Glanareth, Llangadock, in his parlour on the 8th January. On the 22nd March, all nine men had been removed from Carmarthen Gaol and taken to Hereford by Habeas Corpus. Of the nine who had been tried, William Spiggott, (alias Spicket), William Morris, David Morris, David Morgan, (alias Lacey), William Walter Evan, Charles David Morgan and David Llewellyn, of Llandovery, were found guilty and were all hanged in Hereford on 30th March.
William Spiggott and William Walter Evan were later hanged in chains. William Thomas (alias Blink John Spiggott) and William Charles were both acquitted, but William Thomas returned to live in Carmarthen and was hanged at Pensarn for horse stealing. Walter Evan had turned King's evidence but it didn't stop him from being hanged later for further crimes.
Charles David Morgan was betrayed by footprints and blood in the snow which were traced to him, typically he accused several of his accomplices. The evidence was given in Welsh, where it was claimed that William Williams was the instigator and ringleader of the gang. He was never brought before the court because he fled to France.
William Powell had been murdered because William Williams wanted to marry Powell's wife. Of the twenty wounds inflicted on William Powell, it was proved by the prosecution that any one of eight would have caused death. At his funeral, his casket was covered in a scarlet cloth to show that he had been murdered.
Records also proved that William Powell's wife had planned her husbands murder, and the wife of William Williams was also aware that her husband was trying to kill her. On one occasion he had attempted to hang her while on another he put white powder into her tea. It was only that her child had said that Williams had put some sugar from his pocket into the cup that saved her. The tea was later given to the dog and days later it was dead.
As to what became of Williams in France, he was taken prisoner by a French privateer, but again managed to escape and fled to St Omer were he became a school teacher. However he drowned when he took a party of school children on a cruise. In his parents at Boulogne, they discovered a pocket book with a blood spot and an entry on the page 8th January, 1770 read 'my finger bled today how singular.' The story ends with the story of a man who had been interpreter at the court, who was fired at as he went home by a man disguised in an ass's skin who had jumped from the hedge. No record mentions a conviction for this crime.

1788 kept the hangman busy at Pensarn with several executions. One of these was Will Mani, for murdering a woman on Pembrey Mountain. The cuff from his coat was found in his victim's hand and was identified by a tailor and convicted Mani. He was hanged then gibbeted on the hill at Pensarn.
Gutto (Grifeith) Rowley was charged with murdering a tithe collector. He escaped to Bristol and worked in a sugar warehouse for about 6 years and it was only while attempting to rob a pig drover from Llanddarog on Bristol Bridge that he was recognised and arrested. Years later his son was hanged for being involved in the robbery of his aunt and her attempted murder.

In 1789, John Nash began constructing the new County Gaol. After its completion in 1792 all the prisoners were transferred from the town gaol to this new County Gaol, which stood on the gate between King Street and Market Street (Nott Square).

The next hanging to take place was that of shoemaker Sioni'r Cornell, who in 1797 murdered his father at Llanfihangel, Abercowin. He swung at Pensarn. On 4th August, 1802 records show that a person had been placed in the pillory.

In 1810, the Borough Gaol was built and on 27th August, all the town prisoners were sent to this new gaol. A dungeon was discovered at the County Gaol in June 1814, deep underground it was described as having a stout wooden pillar in the middle of the room. It was assumed at the time that condemned inmates were secured to the pillar prior to execution.

Three men were arrested on 2nd November 1834 for robbing a warehouse, and sentenced to transportation to the colonies. Whilst awaiting transportation they attemted to escape from Carmarthen Gaol but failed and were promptly despatched to the colonies.

4th of January, 1866, was the date when two prisoners, Owen Pritchard (29) and John Reid (16) escaped from Carmarthen Gaol. They used a piece of wood to make a hole into each other's cell and then broke into the chimney flue to gain access to the prison yard. Then with their bed sheets and a weighted pillow case they scaled the prison wall.
Pritchard was captured the next day, having been chased by a policeman. In Spurrell's own words: 'he was a desperate character; and when taken was bare footed, and armed with a pointed hedge-stake, to which he made significant reference; two sharp raps on the head showed him that his observations were duly appreciated'.

In 1832 a noted character from Pembrokeshire drove a cart of smuggled spirits through the town, and was pursued by a group of excise men, who had lain in ambush near the Royal Oak Gate. Putting his horse into gallop, he outdistanced his hunters, escaped with his cart over the bridge and deposited his load in safety close to Llanarthney.
He later drowned near Pembroke, after having run into the water in endeavouring to escape from the officers of a revenue cutter who were attempting to catch him. He used to keep casks of spirits under a stone in the floor of his pigsty. On one occasion, not having time to stash them in the usual place, customs officers visited him but he was able to keep the officers at bay with a hot poker, while his son wrecked the casks and emptied the alcohol into the drain.

Carmarthen And Its Neighbourhoods

William Spurrell was educated at Queen Elizabeth Grammar school. At 16 he became apprentice at a Carmarthen printers. After a few years he left for London and was involved in the printing of the first editions of Charles Dickens' Pickwick Papers and Nicholas Nickelby. When he returned home to Carmrthen in 1839 he opened his own printing company that was a huge success for a hundred years in Carmarthenshire.
We are truly indebted to him because it is from his publication in 1879, 'Carmarthen and its Neighbourhood' that the town of Carmarthen has kept a truthful and accurate recording of its colourful past. Visitors and locals will find places of interest (both old & new) in Spurrell's book.
From his work we have an account of conditions in and around Carmarthen from amazingly as far back as AD 52 to 1879. And it was during the later period that many a public hanging took place. Carmarthen had established itself as a place where serious crime was almost unheard of but the town's poor did indulge in theft, if only to eat and survive.
By direct result the penalties for these crimes were high; hard labour, transportation or hanging. William Spurrell wrote a lot about the past but it is in his recordings of the hangings in Carmarthenshire that his accounts have proved invaluable to historians and ghouls.
Many of these stories would have gone untold were it not for Spurrell's collected work. Please note that no actual dates can be attributed to the early events because memory often forgets the date, just recounting the occasion.
The esteemed publisher recalled that a Welsh Bard had been locked in the town's pillory four times. His crime was 'Doing something against the government.' Another occasion of interest was when an old man was due to hang at Pensarn for stealing a horse. It appears that no one in the town would stand as hangman. A prisoner in the gaol sentenced to 14 years transportation, volunteered for the wretched duty on condition that he recieved a lesser sentence. The old man duly went to the Pensarn gallows and the prisoner, come executioner, got his wish. He was transported for only 7 years and not 14. In a final twist, the gallows was stolen during the night after the execution and the timber it is said was used to make a bed!
Spurrell's book also records the removal of the old gate at each end of King Street, and the Dark Gate, and all the poor debtors lowering their bags on cord, asking for aid in their accustomed phrase, 'remember the poor debtors.'

It was in the Market place in Carmarthen on 26th February 1555 that is recorded that David Grifeith Leyson, High Sherife of Carmarthenshire personally handed over the custody of Bishop Ferrar, in St Peter's Church, to Morgan his successor, who committed him to the keeping of Owen Jones.
On 30th March, being the Saturday next before Passion Sunday. 'This yeare Bishopp Fferrar the martyr was burnt in the market place where the Conduit Is'.
David Grifeith Leyson, LL.D. of Carmarthen Priory, Principle of St Edward's Hall Oxford, a justice of the peace, and high sherife for Carmarthenshire, who had turned Papist in Queen Mary's reign, 'would not suffer him to speak at the stake. Leyson died soon after, and when he would have spoken, could not.'
Richard Jones (or Johnes) of Cwmgwili, son of Sir Thomas Jones of Abermarlais, first M.P. for Pembrokeshire, called to console Bishop Ferrar under sentence.

It is in the year 1568 that the first executions are recorded by Spurrell. The first was that of David William Parry, a High Sheriff and Bishop Ferrar's brother's eldest son. He and Sir Gelly Meyrick and others were considered traitors to Queen Elizabeth 1 and were duly hanged.
In 1633 Father Arthur, an Irishman, believed to be a Jesuit, was hung, drawn and quartered for conspiring the Kings death; his offence was to curse the king.
In 1665 Nicholas Williams, Rhydodyn sheriff,

In his sherifeship, a woman, viz, gwraig Wil Coch, was burnt, and one of her daughters and a servant man hanged for killing her husband, and another daughter condemned, and after a long confinement was discharged.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

The Pillory at Carmarthen

A wooden frame with holes for the head and arms, in which a criminal was mocked in public, stood in Carmarthen for many a year.Thomas Evans (or Tomos Glyn Cothi), the noted Unitarian preacher, was the last man to use it in 1813. He was a man unafraid to speak out and dared to rebel against the order of the day and would lash out for the principle of freedom and equality among his fellow man.
Thomas Evans was made of stronger stuff than most of his contemporaries, speaking out for the French Revolution and the French wars and for the rights of the poor in the courts. He was suspected of Jacobinism and his views and statements were scrutinised.
It was in 1802 that he was sent to gaol for two years and placed in the pillory for publicly singing 'The Hymn To Liberty,' from an adaptation of 'The Marseillaise Hymn.' Thomas insisted on buying a new waistcoat and overcoat for his stint at the pillory and his daughter stood by him while he was in it. When one woman in the crowd hurled a rotten egg at him, the crowd far from cheering actually turned on the woman. Whatever the authorities thought of him, Tomos Glyn Cothi had found sympathetic supporters among the people of Carmarthen.
When serving his time in gaol, he is noted to have written an Welsh/English dictionary, published in 1817. After his time in prison he went to live in Aberdare and died aged 68 as the minister of Hen Dy-Cwrdd on 29th January 1833.

Executions In Carmarthen

Inbetween 1752 and 1836 the death sentence was carried out on the second day following sentencing unless it was a Sunday (in which case the sentence took place on Monday). Exceptions to the rule were that the judge could respite the death sentence while the condemned sought a reprieve. In some cases, the gallows were built on the very spot where the crime had actually been committed, so that erecting the gallows could delay proceedings. No execution took place on Good Friday. It was customery for the body to be dissected before burial or grimly hung in chains for public display.
It was quite usual for hangings to be carried out in public. In Carmarthen were two locations where executions were carried out; Babel Hill in Pensarn was the place for County executions, and another for town executions was near the Royal Oak Common in Johnstown. By the end of the 18th century it became evident that the lengthy procession to the gallows (roughly one mile) allowed for no crowd control and the condemned suffered additional stress of having to walk the distance to his/her death with crowds shouting and jeering.
The last man to suffer the death walk from Carmarthen Gaol to Pensarn was Rees Thomas Rees in 1817. A better, safer spot had to be found, and so a new public gallows was built inside the front wall of the County Gaol facing Spillman Street.
The last public execution at Carmarthen Gaol was that of David Evans in 1829. Crowds who arrived to see it stretched all along Spillman Street, and following custom, the dissected body was put on public display before burial within the prison grounds. It would be nearly 60 years (1888) before Carmarthen was to hold another execution, which by then was not a public spectacle.

The Neck Verse

During the 17th and early early 18th centuries there was a way for murderers to cheat death with what became known as the 'Neck Verse'. If murderers could prove that they had been ordained as priests, then they could not be sent for trial in the secular courts and were set free. It was then possible for the murderer to be sent for trial in an ecclesiastical court.
In medieval times all that was required to prove ordination was to prove literacy, and all that was required to prove literacy was to read, write or recite one verse of Psalm 51v1. Many murderers learnt the verse by heart to save their necks, before the ecclesiastical court:

Psalm 51v1

Have mercy on me, O God,
According to your unfailing love;
According to your great compassion
Blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
And cleanse me from my sin.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Carmarthen's Two Gaols

It was in 1774 that John Howard (the famous penal reformer) first visited Carmarthen and discovered the town boasted not one but two gaols. One was located in the remains of the castle while the other (Borough) gaol was at the East Gate, known as the Prisoners Gate, which was in the area between King Street and Nott Square.
It was in Prisoners Gate that the towns debtors were locked up and passers by could see baskets hanging from the barred windows with pleas coming from within, 'remember the poor debtors'.
Howard found that conditions in both gaols were the same and described them as being squalid and dilapidated. He also found both buildings were in poor conditions structurally, virtually no sanitation and accomodation being little more than small, damp, mud-floored cells with no drinking water. The condemned dungeon was bitterly cold and damp with water running down the walls.
Interestingly the gaolers lived far from the gaols and received no pay, existing on the discharge fee and other tolls extracted from prisoners or their families/friends.
Inmates were not allowed any furniture, not even a stool. Men, women and children were crowded together in cells but after rapes becoming increasingly worse the women and children were separated from the men but still doors between them remained unlocked.
The windows had no glass, with no fuel permitted even in the coldest months of winter and little food. It was worse if prisoners had no family to provide sustenance because then they had to depend on charity and the mercy of the 'Poor Law Guardians' for bread and medicines. Not even water was in reach to the miserable inmates and could only be obtained when the Head Gaoler was present. And this was not always possible because he lived away from Carmarthen and thus could not help even in emergency.
Gaolers had no scruples about oppressing those individuals who were entrusted with their mercy. Disease was common due to terrible sanitation and personal cleanliness never entered anyone's thoughts.
Segregation of class was unheard of and both old and young were herded together irrespective of their crime. Doctors only visited when absolutely necessary and care for spiritual welfare was never seen to.
These conditions were part of every gaol in the 18th century and Carmarthen was no exception. On John Howard's return to the town around 14 years later in 1788 he found to his horror that conditions had not improved in either gaol. If anything things had got worse and as a result he was able to report to Parliment: 'That the Justices, Gentlemen, Clergy and Freeholders of Carmarthenshire, together with the Mayor, Justices, Burgesses and inhabitants of Carmarthen begged that a Parlamentary Bill be brought in for the demolishing of the two gaols and that a new single gaol be built to serve the Borough and County.'
Plans were submitted to Parliment for the reconstruction of Carmarthen Gaol which were approved and authorised. With the building of the new gaol, the East Gate was closed. However it was still felt that the town needed a town gaol and in 1803 the Borough Order Book reported that on 14th January the Corporation subscribed £400 towards the construction of a new small town gaol (or 'Lock-Up'), known as 'The Roundhouse'. It was completed in 1810 on the 'Old Bowling Green', later the John Street and Cambrian Place area.
Debt were the primary offences but Carmarthen had a reputation for drunkenness and brawls were frequent. However it never appeared to have a high crime rate and even with poor housing conditions, murder, theft and house-breakings were uncommon. So it was debt that many were held for.
At the County Gaol, prisoners were worked on the tread wheel (which supplied water to the building), in stone breaking for the surrounding roads, brick cleaning, cooking, sewing, clog making, cleaning and mending. At the Borough Gaol there was very little employment. Debtors were left to waste their days away and it was considered inferior to the County Gaol. It was described as having four rooms and a yard but no day room. The average number of debtors was seven, but frequently there were between twelve and eighteen locked up at the same time.
As for the inmates of the County Gaol, there were eight cells with a day room and a yard for exercise. Women and children had the same but the yard had been converted into a garden for the gaoler.
Following the intervention of John Howard, work on the new Carmarthen Gaol began in 1789 and completed in 1792. John Nash recieved the commission as the chief architect to build the new gaol; he later became famous for his design of Buckingham Palace and Brighton Pavillion.