Young Albert Pierrepoint had an ambition. When he grew up he wanted to take up the same trade as his father. After all, his Uncle Tom was doing it too, so it must be his destiny.

Nothing unusual in that, back in 1916 in North Yorkshire, the tradition of handing down a trade from father to son was almost compulsory. The unusual thing in this case, was the nature of the family business. The Pierrepoints were executioners.

In 1901 Albert's father, Henry, embarked on the bizarre and unique career path that his brother and, eventually, his son would follow. Henry pestered the Home Office with numerous letters that eloquently expressed his desire to become a hangman. He was finally given the opportunity when, after basic training, he turned up at Newgate Prison to assist James Billington in the execution of Marcel Fougeron in November of 1901.

A few years later Henry persuaded his brother Thomas to try for a position on the Home Office list of executioners. Thomas was soon accepted, not least because of the prior training he had received courtesy of his brother in a stable at the back of Henry's house. Thomas went on to have a long career after Henry's retirement, and was still executing in his seventies.

Ten years after his father's death, Albert's ambition was realised. He began by assisting his uncle in executions in the 1930's after being accepted by the Home Office. He went on to become the most prolific hangman in British history. He took part in over 400 executions in several countries, including Germany where, in the years immediately following WWII, he executed 200 Nazi war criminals. Like his father and uncle, Albert was committed to his work and sought the most humane and dignified means of ending the lives of all those that he executed. He retired in 1956, several years before the last hanging took place on British soil.

Between them, the Pierrepoints were involved in around 800 executions. The role of executioner was a strange one, but while there was a death penalty, somebody had to be responsible for administering the punishment. The Pierrepoint family took this responsibility very seriously. For over half a century they dispatched hundreds of murderers, spies and Nazis to their maker. Not only were they responsible for dispensing the ultimate punishment, they also had the unenviable predicament of representing the last human contact with the guilty in their final moments.

© Copyright 2004 Triple Knot Productions

Henry Pierrepoint

 

Thomas Pierrepoint

 

Albert Pierrepoint