In Ireland and Britain, death by hanging was the principal form of execution from Anglo-Saxon times until capital punishment was abolished in 1964. Up to 1868 all hangings were carried out in public and attracted large crowds who were at least supposed to be deterred by the spectacle, but who more probably went for the morbid excitement and the carnival atmosphere that usually surrounded such events. The modern
expression Gala Day is derived from the Anglo-Saxon gallows day. After hangings retreated inside prisons,large crowds would often gather outside the gates to see the posting of the death notice or to protest the execution.
In the 230 year period from 1735 to 1964 there were as many as 10,935 executions in England and Wales alone, comprising 10,378 men and 557 women. In 273 of the early cases, it is not possible to be totally certain from surviving records whether a death sentence was actually carried out or not. 32 of the 375 women executed between 1735 and 1799 were burnt at the stake.
Last executions in the UK
On the 26th of May 1868, Michael Barrett, a Fenian, became the last man to be publicly hanged in England, before a huge crowd outside Newgate prison, for causing an explosion at Clerkenwell in London which killed Sarah Ann Hodgkinson and six other innocent people. Strangely the last fully public hanging in the British Isles did not take place until the 11th of August 1875, when Joseph Phillip Le Brun was executed for murder on the island of Jersey. The provisions of the Capital Punishment Amendment Act of 1868 did not apply there. The last hangings of all in Britain were carried out simultaneously at 8.00 a.m. on August the 13th, 1964 at Walton prison, Liverpool and Strangeways prison in Manchester, when Peter Anthony Allen and Gwynne Owen Evans were executed for the murder of John West. Wales had its last execution on the 6th of May 1958, when Vivian Tweed was hanged for the murder of William Williams at Swansea. The last hanging in Northern Ireland was that of Robert McGladdery on the 20th of December 1961 at Belfast for the murder of Pearle Gamble. 21 year old Henry Burnett was the last person hanged in Scotland in the newly refurbished Condemned Suite at Craiginches Prison in Aberdeen on the 15th of August 1963 for the murder of Thomas Guyan. Ruth Ellis was the last woman to suffer the death penalty in Britain on the 13th of July 1955.