Born on the 5th November 1911, in Yorkshire, Harry Bernard Allen once resided in Tottleworth, and became the chief executioner for the United Kingdom in 1956 when Albert Pierrepoint retired in that year.
Born in Denaby, near Denaby Main, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, Harry was brought up in Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire, and was educated at St Anne's Roman Catholic School in Burlington Street, Ashton. His first job was in the Transport Department at Park Bridge Iron Works, before he became a bus driver with Ashton Corporation, a job he continued to hold even after he became an assistant hangman in 1941.
Harry Allen's first wife was Marjorie Clayton who he married in 1933.
His first term of employment in the prison service commenced in the 1930's, becoming employed as an assistant executioner to Tom Pierrepoint, the uncle of Albert Pierrepoint.
Harry had been taught his trade by Tom, and one of the hangings which he is known for was the unusual hangings of five young prisoners of war, at Pentonville Prison on Saturday the 6th October 1945. They were Joachim Palme-Goltz, Josep Mertins, Heinz Brueling, Erich Koenig and Kurt Zuchlsdorff. All five were in their early twenties. They had been convicted of the murder of Sergeant Major Wolfganf Rosterg on Saturday the 23rd of December 1944, who they had beaten and hanged within their prisoner of war camp as they suspected that he had given them away to the authorities for attempting to escape. While they admitted that they had killed Rosterg, they viewed the killing as the execution of a traitor (hence presumably, why they hanged him) rather than murder. They were tried at Kensington Palace Gardens before a military tribunal and quickly convicted. Albert Pierrepoint, assisted by Steve Wade and Harry Allen carried out the executions. It is assumed that there was one triple and one double hanging at hour and a half intervals, in the order that they are mentioned above. Harry wrote in his journal that "it was a foul murder, they had staged a mock trial, kicking him to dead and dragging him by the neck to the toilets, were they hung his lifeless body on a waste pipe."
Harrys total time in office as hangman was from 1941 to 1964, but was retained after this well into the 1970's. In total he took part in 82 executions.
After Albert Pierrepoints resignation, Steve Wade and Harry Allen took over the job as joint Chief Executioners. However the execution business was slowing down with a general reduction in hangings partially due to the Homicide Act of 1957. Harry Allen performed 29 executions and assisted at around 40 others. He also worked in Cyprus on a number of occasions.
Like his predecessor Albert, Harry also owned a public House, it turns out he owned two. One in Farnworth near Bolton, and the other in Fleetwood.
Allen became a publican in Farnworth, Lancashire, at the old Rawson Arms Hotel in Peel Street, in the 1940s combining his role as executioner with running the pub, which he ran until the early 1950s when he took over another pub in Whitefield. The pub was burnt down at Farnworth.
He was married to his first wife, Marjorie, until 1962, producing one son and one daughter. 12 months later he was introduced to Doris Dyke, whom he married the following year.
The Burgess Roll (register of electors) shows Doris and Harry living at number 1 Tottleworth during 1973, and continued to do so until 1977. After this time there is no record of number 1 Tottleworth in the Burgess Roll, despite the fact that the cottage is still in existence.
Strangely there is no listing of Harry Allen living in Tottleworth in any of the Barrett's Directories which can be found within this site.
He tells that he was 29 when he witnessed his first hanging on the 26th November 1940 at Bedford prison. 24 year old William Cooper had been convicted of murdering John Harrison, a farmer, at Cambridge. Harry described the execution as a good clean job, despite Mr Coopers loss of courage, who had to carried to the scaffold owing to his faintness.
Whilst in public, Harry had always maintained that hanging was a "swift and humane business". However, in his diaries he revealed that one prisoner, Peter Griffiths, who was convicted at Lancaster assizes of murdering a three year old child, June Anne Devaney, in the grounds of Queens Park Hospital in Blackburn on 15 May 1948, was still alive 30 seconds after the trapdoor opened. Griffiths was 22 years old, 5 feet 10" tall, weighed 148 lbs and was given a drop of 7 feet 6 inches on 15 November 1948 at Walton gaol.
John Vickers became the first man to die for a murder committed under the provisions of the Homicide Act of 1957 when he was hanged at Durham on the 23rd of July 1957.
Harry Allen also hanged George Riley on the 9th of February 1961 at Shrewsbury Prison for the murder of his neighbour, Adeline Mary Smith.
Arthur Osborne's case was probably unique, in that he was hanged on his birthday. Osborne had been found guilty of the murder of 70 year old Ernest Westwood on 25th September 1948. He had stabbed Mr. Westwood and robbed him in his own home. After the murder, Osborne fled to Chichester in Sussex where he was going to marry Dorothy Ball. He was already married but his wife was in a mental hospital. At the end of his three day trial at Leeds Assizes, the jury recommended mercy, but the Home Secretary saw no justification for this and Osborne was duly hanged by Steve Wade and Harry Allen on his 28th birthday, the 30th of December 1948.
Only one other teenager was hanged at Wandsworth, after Derek Bentley (another famous hanging case, who was hung by Albert Pierrepoint in 1953, and was granted a posthumous pardon in 1998), Francis "Flossy" Forsyth who was executed by Harry Allen on the 10th of November 1960. Forsyth was one of a gang of four youths who had beaten and kicked to death 23 year old Allan Jee on the night of Saturday the 25th of June 1960 in Hounslow, Middlesex. A witness saw them running from the scene of this motiveless and vicious attack and was able to give accurate descriptions of them. A friend of Forsyth reported to the police that Forsyth had been boasting about the killing and gave them the names of all four. One of the youths was only 17 and one was convicted of non capital murder (as defined by the Homicide Act of 1957) but Forsyth and Norman James Harris were convicted of capital murder at their Old Bailey trial in September 1960. Harris was hanged at Pentonville by Robert Stewart at the same time Forsyth was being executed at Wandsworth.
1957 saw Harry hang Dennis Howard, aged 24, for the murder of David Alan Keasey, aged just 21, whom he had shot on Friday the 17th May 1957. He was hung on Wednesday the 4th December 1957 at Birmingham.
On the 11th July 1958, Harry's first wife Margaret left him, the same day as Harry was carrying out an execution in Glasgow.
The following year saw Harry in action once more. 32 year old Peter Thomas Anthony Manuel had been found guilty at Glasgow by Lord justice Cameron during a trail which lasted from the 12th to the 29th May. He had been found guilty of seven murders, mainly by shooting. He was hung at Glasgow on Friday the 11th July 1958.
The following month saw him back in Birmingham. Mathew Kavanagh was hung on Tuesday the 12th August 1958. He had been found guilty of the murder of 60 year old Isiah Dixon by strangulation on Saturday the 12th April 1958.
Then there was Guenther Fritz Podola in 1959. Podola had been born in Berlin in 1929 and came to Britain at the Spring of 1959, after deportation from Canada where he had been convicted of theft and burglary. In July 1959 he was again engaged in burglary in London's South Kensington. He tried to blackmail his victim, a Mrs. Schiffman, by claiming to have embarrassing photos and tape recordings of her. As she knew she had nothing to hide she reported the phone call to the police who tapped her line and when Podola rang again were able to trace the call to a nearby call box where the police found him moments later. He got away from the detectives and was chased and caught near a block of flats in Onslow Square. While the one policeman went to fetch the car, Podola produced a gun and shot the other policeman, Detective Sergeant Raymond Purdy. Purdy had taken Podola's address book when he arrested him and it was discovered by his widow when Purdy's belongings were returned to her. This pointed the police towards the Claremont House Hotel in Kensington where Podola was staying in room 15. Armed police assembled outside the room and at the signal forced the door. Podola who was probably listening at the door was hit on the head by it as it flew open. He was hospitalised for 4 days as a result and claimed to have no memory of his arrest or the shooting of D S Purdy. He was tried at the Old Bailey and the jury rejected his defence of memory loss. Even though it could be proved that he had shot Purdy, if he genuinely couldn't recall doing so and was not mentally fit to stand trial, he would have had to have been acquitted. He was hanged by Harry Allen on the 5th of November 1959, the last person to be hanged for the murder of a police officer.
James Hanratty was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death after the killing of Michael Gregsten by shooting, and the rape and wounding of Valerie Storie at the side of the A6 main road in Bedfordshire, on the 22nd August 1961. The case became known as the A6 murders. Gregsten and his mistress were forced to drive 60 miles from their usual meeting place, a cornfield in Maidenhead, before the gunman shot them in a lay-by. The case at the time was full of every fiction writers dream, illicit affairs, hired gunmen, and jealous wife's.
At the time it became the longest murder trail in British History lasting over four weeks, with the jury taking 9 hours and 30 minutes to come to their decision.
James Hanratty was hung until dead on the 4th April 1962 aged 25 years old, at Bedford Prison, by Harry Allen.
But this particular story didn't end there. A televised broadcast by Peter Louis Alphon in 1967 claimed he carried out the murders, but he was never arrested, even though he was in the 1st identity parade held by the Police. Another appeal was made in 1974 with the backing of John Lennon, which was held behind closed doors, and the jury's decision upheld. On 22 March 2001, James Hanratty's remains were exhumed so that a DNA sample could be taken for analysis. The results showed there was a 2.5 million to one chance that the samples came from someone other than Hanratty.
The mother and brother of James Hanratty both provided samples of DNA to enable a comparison to be made with traces of DNA found on Valerie Storie's underwear and a handkerchief wrapped around the murder weapon before his body was exhumed to confirm the results.
There have been serious doubts raised over Hanratty's guilt and attempts to win him a pardon continue to this day. On 10 May 2002, the Court of Criminal Appeal (Lord Chief Justice Woolf, Lord Justice Mantell and Mr Justice Leveson hearing the appeal) ruled that Hanratty's conviction was not unsound and that there were no grounds for a posthumous pardon. He remains guilty of his crime, even after the DNA results.
Although unbeknown to him at the time, Harry performed the last ever hanging in Northern Ireland, in December 1961.This was at Crumlin Road Prison, Belfast, when Robert McGladdery was hung.
On Wednesday the 14th August 1963, Russell Pascoe & Dennis John Whitty, Aged 24 and 22 respectively, murdered William Garfield Rowe, age 64, at Nanjarrow Farm, Constaantine, which is near Falmouth by battering him and stabbing him to his death. They were tried at Bodmin for his murder between the 29th October and the 2nd November, 1963, when they were found guilty, the trail judge being Mister Justice Thesiger.
They were duly hung at Bristol and Winchester prisons on Tuesday the 17th December 1963, by Harry and Robert Leslie Stewart. Two years later at Aberdeen, on the 15th August 1965, Harry also performed the last hanging in Scotland on Henry Burnett, who had been found guilty of the murder of Thomas Guyan.
The next year after this Harry was present at Strangeways Prison, Manchester, on the 13th August 1964, at 8 a. m., for the hanging of Gwynne Owen Evans (real name John Robson Walby), who was hung at the same time that in Walton Prison, Liverpool, Peter Allan, his accomplice, was also hanged by Harrys then partner, Robert Leslie Stewart from Edinburgh.
There were rumours that the more experienced hangman, Harry Allen, had anticipated hanging both Allen and Owen together at Strangeways but this was a practice that had been frowned upon for some years.
Harry had been miffed nonetheless.
These were the last ever hangings in Britain, and were the last men to suffer the death penalty.
Harry Allen had always worn a bow tie during his executions as a sign of respect. On his job, Harry said, I never felt a moment's remorse and always slept peacefully on the nights before and after a hanging.
Harry Allen was a big, well built man, it is said, and frequented the British Legion in the town quite regularly. After his retirement in 1964, with the abolishment of hanging, Harry went to work at Cobble Engineering in Blackburn as a Security man. Harry Allen worked as Head of Security at Singer Limited (known as Cobble) and retired in l976. He was presentation with a gold plated Gentleman's wrist watch by Marvin of Switzerland, with the reverse inscribed: H. B. Allen Queens Award l973 Singer, complete with leather strap. It is believed that Harry was paid a retainer by the relevant Government Department until well after 1969, to be on standby as a hangman.
Harry finally retired to Fleetwood in 1977, to escape the continued publicity with his second wife Doris, where he worked as a cashier at Fleetwood Pier.
He was a well like man about Rishton, refusing to be drawn into conversation about hanging whenever the subject should be brought up, which was quite often if Harry was on the scene! But never once spoke of his occupation.
Harry Allen died on the 17th August 1992, aged 80. (That was possibly the funeral date, as it is also reported that he died on the 14th). He was present at Albert Pierrepoints funeral on the 10th July at Southport, were he caught pneumonia, which is how Harry passed away.
I am told that there is a commemorative plaque in Strangeways prison, for Harry Allen, which can be found in wing B1, 3rd cell down.
"Harry Allen was my godfather's older brother and although I was only a youngster when I met him in the mid 1970's, I remember he was a big chap with a kind nature and lovely warm smile - a true gent. I believe that as his mother was a strict Catholic, she was never told about his job and whilst he was still a bus driver (before he became full time Chief Executioner) apparently his colleagues recognised when he was either coming from or going to a hanging as he would always wear a suit to work - I wonder if he wore the bow tie as well?" - Jayne Taylor, Chester UK
Harry's Grand daughter, Fiona Allen, went on to TV stardom, Fiona's early TV credits include appearances in Waiting For God, The Lenny Henry Show, Comedy Nation and Goodness Gracious Me. Her first TV role was playing a bloodied road crash victim in a Government anti drink-driving ad.
Her big TV break came in 1999 with the role of Julia Stone, the temptress who broke up Mike Baldwin's marriage, in Coronation Street. She's since been involved with the more light hearted Smack The Pony and Happiness. But she's also 'gone straight' in BBC crime drama In Deep.
After her spell in Coronation Street, Fiona joined Doon Mackichan and Sally Phillips for Channel 4 comedy sketch show Smack The Pony. The show's success was rewarded with an Emmy Award. She's played Rachel in two series of Happiness and has also appeared in Dalziel and Pascoe, Randall and Hopkirk: Deceased, Poirot and the film 24 Hour Party People.
Fiona's been a panellist on the comedy sports quiz They Think It's All Over, a guest on The Frank Skinner Show, also turned her hand to TV presenting as a co-host on On The Couch with Ruby Wax. She's part of an all-star cast, including Sophie Thompson, Anthony Head, Naomi Campbell, Geri Halliwell and Ralf Little, appearing in the film adaptation of Viz cartoon Fat Slags.
She is also married to the son of the former chat show host, Michael Parkinson.
Of her Grandfather she said; "It’s as if I had two grandfathers. One was the sweet, lovely man who took me for walks on the beach, bought me sweets and toys and always had me laughing and giggling. The other one was the man employed to take lives for the Government. When I was a kid, everyone in the area knew what he did. I remember going round to my first boyfriend’s house for the first time and I tried to impress his dad by telling him I wanted to go on the stage. He looked up from his paper and said, ‘Going on the stage are you, lass? Well keep away from the trapdoor!’"
It was announced on the 20th October 2008 that Harrys belongings from his working days were to be sold by his wife Doris. The items included A brown leather briefcase by Cheney, England with the name and initials of H.B. Allen both inside and out. Two scrapbooks with newspaper cuttings relating to Harry Allen. Folder containing large quantity of copies of correspondence relating to various executions carried out by Harry Allen etc. Harry Allen's execution diary containing handwritten lists of most of his executions as Assistant and later Principal Executioner with details of the condemned prisoners name, date of execution, age, height, weight and drop etc some with remarks including 'the last words of the condemned prisoner'. Copy of a list of executions carried out in Britain in the 20th Century. Envelope containing a copy of a report 'a Swastika over Comrie' relating to the murder of a German prisoner in a Scottish prisoner of war camp by five Nazis and their subsequent trial and execution. Framed St. Johns Ambulance First Aid Certificates relating to Harry Allen. Harry Allen's P. S. V. Driving Licence dated l7th February 1942. A Fleetwood Sea Cadets Wardroom Mess membership card dated l979, signed by Harry Allen. Home office travel document H.B. Allen issued by Bolton County Council, No. 4151 dated l4/7/49. Harry Bernard Allen's St. Johns Missal dated l962 revised by the Rev. J. Rea D.D. printed by Brepols Press (Belgium). Copies of five photographs relating to Cypriots executed during the Emergency l956/57 (Harry Allen mentions going to Cyprus in his diary). Two black bow ties and one purple bow tie. A John Rabone & Sons of Birmingham 25ft tape measure No. 4011. * A pair of Elliott Lucas of Cannock Elect Ultra Tensile pliers. When testing the Gallows apparatus a full bag of sand the same weight as the condemned was used, lead weights attached with wire were added/taken away to achieve the exact weight of the condemned, the pliers were used for this purpose. A Rabone boxwood 2ft fold out ruler No. 1167. * A Presentation gold plated Gentleman's wrist watch by Marvin of Switzerland the reverse inscribed: H.B. Allen Queens Award l973 Singer, complete with leather strap, in box of issue. Harry Allen's Industrial Police and Security Associations membership card No. 4223, date of expiry 31st December 1968 in plastic sleeve of issue. A Carol Service invitation to Harry Allen & Guest by the Governor of H.M. Prison, Manchester for December 17th l964. * A letter dated 21st August l964 from the Home Office to J. Shipton regarding his proposal to write a biography of Harry Allen and conditions for doing so. A letter dated l969 written to Harry Allen by an ex-prisoner 'Harry the Pen' (Harry Smith) relating to his experience in prison and executions including a story when clearing a condemned cell finding a pair of dentures which he removed and then used as a spare set. Together with a sketch of a five pound note! A Presentation Book titled: 'Britain's Last Executioner' by Stewart McLaughlin, Wandsworth Prison Museum, London 2007 with handwritten inscription: 'to Brian with wishes and many thanks, Stewart McLaughlin' (Brian Allen is Harry Allen's son, Thomas Pierrepoint was his godfather).
Brian didn't find out about his fathers previous employment until he was 18 years old, he passed away in 1992, the same year as his father.
The lot was to be sold by Marshalls in Church Hill, Knutsford, on the 11th November 2008. In a dramatic auction, in which several bidders were involved, was eventually won by London-based publisher Mike James. Phone bids from a collector in Canada and a museum in Cyprus steadily pushed up the price, to gasps from the audience packed inside the Knutsford auction house. But Mr James, whose publishing firm `True Crime Library' has published a biography of Harry Allen in September 2008, eventually won with a bid of £17,200. The estimate was between £3,000 and £5,000.
In September 2008 a book, Harry Allen: Britain's Last Hangman about the man and his executions was published. Steve McLaughlin, who wrote the biography, was a prison warder at Wandsworth Prison where he had set up a museum about the death penalty. The collection was to spend some time there.
The books title and Author are above, and the ISBN is 978-1-874358-42-8, and was published by truecrimelibrary (www.truecrimelibrary.com)
The hangings of Harry Allen -
|23rd July 1957||John Wilson Vickers||Durham|
|4th December 1957||Dennis Howard||Winson Green Birmingham|
|11th July 1958||Peter Thomas Manuel||Barlinnie Glasgow|
|12th August 1958||Mathew Kavanagh||Winson Green Birmingham|
|3rd September 1958||Franks Stokes||Durham|
|10th February 1959||Ernest Raymond Jones||Armley Leeds|
|28th April 1959||Joseph Chrimes||Pentonville|
|8th May 1958||Ronald Henry Marwood||Pentonville|
|14th August 1959||Bernard Hugh Walden||Armley Leeds|
|9th October 1959||Francis Joseph Huchet||Newgate Street Saint Helier|
|9th November 1959||Guenther Fritz Podola||Wandsworth|
|1st September 1960||John Louis Constantine||Lincoln|
|10th November 1960||Frances George Forsyth||Wandsworth|
|22nd December 1960||Anthony Joseph Mller||Barlinnie Glasgow|
|27th January 1961||Wasyl Gnypiuk||Lincoln|
|9th February 1961||George Riley||Shrewsbury|
|29th March 1961||John Day||Bedford|
|25th May 1961||Victor John Terry||Wandsworth|
|29th June 1961||Zsiga Pankotal||Armley Leeds|
|6th July 1961||Edwin Albert Bush||Pentonville|
|25th July 1961||Samuel McLaughlin||Belfast|
|8th September 1961||Hendryck Niemsz||Wandsworth|
|20th December 1961||Robert Andrew McGladdery||Belfast|
|4th April 1962||James Hanratty||Bedford|
|20th November 1962||Oswald Augustine Grey||Winson Green Birmingham|
|28th November 1962||James Smith||Strangeways Manchester|
|15th August 1963||Henry John Burnett||Aberdeen|
|17th December 1963||Russell Pascoe||Bristol|
|13th August 1964||Gwynne Owen Evans||Strangeways Manchester|
Gemma Percival (Grand Daughter)
Dave Haworth, Hermitage Street.
Ken Connaghan (Great Harwood)
http://www.richard.clark32.btinternet.co.uk/hangmen.html (No longer available)
BBC Drama Website.
http://archive.thisislancashire.co.uk/2006/1/3/881165.html (No longer exists)