The last execution in Wales

Monday 6 May 2013, 08:00

Phil Carradice Phil Carradice

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The very last execution ever to be held in Wales took place at Swansea Prison on 6 May 1958, 65 years ago this month, when Vivian Frederick Teed went to the gallows for the murder of a 73-year-old postmaster from Fforestfach.

Swansea Castle had acted as the town's prison for many years, from its inception in or around 1113 right up to the middle of the 19th century. Although the castle prison remained in use until 1858, the new Swansea Bridewell - Cox's Farm as it soon became known after the first governor who leased land to allow prisoners to grow their own vegetables - was actually built and opened in 1829. Two prisons, then, for Swansea.

Like all prisons in the 19th century, Swansea took a wide variety of criminals, from thieves and conmen to killers and burglars. Executions were not uncommon at Cox's Farm, with 15 of them taking place between 1858 and 1958.

When Vivian Teed became the last man to be hanged at Swansea, there was already much debate about the issue of capital punishment in Britain. The rights and wrongs of the punishment were constantly being discussed in the papers, on radio and on television.

Even so, it was to be another seven years before the death penalty was finally abolished, the last execution in Britain taking place as late as 1964.

Vivian Frederick Teed was a man with a long criminal record for offences such as theft, damage to property and assault. He had already served two years in prison and during his time in the RAF he had often gone absent without leave.

He was regarded as an impulsive, abusive and aggressive individual. In November 1958 he was out of work and was desperately in need of money. Unable to find a job, he decided that he would have to resort to theft.

Teed chose the night of 15 November 1957 to carry out the crime, breaking into the Fforestfach post office. He knew the office well, having been one of the builders who had recently carried out alterations on the premises, and knew that the postmaster often kept large sums of money in the building.

There were no lights showing when Teed arrived outside the post office. He first knocked on the side door, not really expecting an answer but, to his surprise, the door was opened by William Williams, the sub-postmaster.

Williams lived alone at the post office on Carmarthen Road, having run the establishment for many years. Teed pushed his way in and, with Williams clearly prepared to fight the intruder, struck him several times with a hammer he carried in his pocket.

The South Wales Evening Post later reported that: "There were no less than 27 separate wounds on Williams's head. Some of these had been inflicted with such violence that the bones of the skull had been forced into the brain."

With the money locked away in the post office safe, Teed left with his hands and pockets empty. He was no master criminal, however, and had left the hammer and his fingerprints all over the house. When questioned by police, he at first denied the crime but later changed his mind and admitted to what he had done.

There was considerable debate about Teed's mental state and the jury even returned to the court room on three separate occasions, unable to reach a decision. Each time they were told to retire again and reconsider the evidence. Finally - and perhaps inevitably - a guilty verdict was eventually returned.

Despite an appeal to the home secretary, the sentence of "death by hanging" was upheld and Vivian Frederick Teed was executed on 6 May 1958. Unlike previous executions, no notice was pinned to the gates of the prison, announcing that the execution had taken place.

Again, unlike previous executions, there was virtually no crowd waiting expectantly outside the prison gates, only a few local people standing in their doorways, sheltering from the rain but with eyes turned quietly to their clocks and watches.

Teed had certainly not gone to the Fforestfach Post Office intending to murder William Williams but he had gone armed. And when caught in the act he was happy to use his weapon. Whether or not that warranted the death penalty is another matter.

The execution shed at Swansea Prison has long been demolished, with workshops now standing on the spot where condemned men had breathed their last. Somehow, that seems a more than appropriate use for the space.

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