Rochdale Hangman

Rochdale Hangman

From the Rochdale Observer of Wednesday 21st September 1932

Rochdale Hangman


Last night Mr John Ellis, the former hangman, was found by his son, Mr Austin Ellis, at his home 3 Kitchen Lane, Balderstone Fold, Rochdale, with a wound in his throat. He was 58 years of age. The discovery was made about 8:15pm.
Dr Harris was summoned, but on his arrival he pronounced life to be extinct.
Mr Ellis was public executioner for twenty-three years, and during that time officiated at about two hundred executions. Amongst those who paid the extreme penalty of the law at his hands were Dr. Crippen, Major Amstrong,
George Smith of the notorious “Brides in the bath” case, Sir Roger Casement, and Mrs. Edith Thompson, He tendered his resignation to the Prison Commissioners in March 1924. In 1927 he appeared at a theatre in Gravesend in a play based on the life of Charles Peace, taking the part of the hangman Marwood. Practically all the executions of Sinn Feiners in Ireland were done by him, and one morning, he used to say, he hanged six before breakfast. The most upsetting execution he undertook was that of Mrs. Edith Thompson. She was the first woman he hanged, and as he admitted, it was a “most upsetting experience”

How he came to take up the idea of public executioner he himself explained in an interview;

 “I was working in a textile place in those days,” he said, “and, when there was an execution, I remember saying, “I wouldn’t mind doing that job” Other people laughed at me and said “ What tha’ hang anybody?”
I made an application for the job and was fortunate enough to get it. It was not a matter of influence, I must have been lucky I suppose, or unlucky. “I was instructed to report to Newgate, and I trained there. Hangmen always had to do a week’s training first. This consists of practising on a dummy, calculating the drop, getting used to pinioning, practising putting on the ropes, and so on. The training was done on a real scaffold, which is now in Pentonville. Later I hanged scores of people on the same scaffold.”

For many years Mr Ellis was a hairdresser in Oldham Road, and his hobby was the keeping of dogs and poultry.
In August 1924, Mr Ellis made an attempt on his life. He was found at his home with a fractured jaw supposed to have been caused by a bullet wound, a revolver was found by his side. Later he was brought before the magistrates on a charge of attempted suicide, and on an undertaking not to repeat the offence he was discharged.

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