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The Local History Radio Series

You are in: Stoke & Staffordshire > History > The Local History Radio Series > Victorian Crime and Punishment

The hangman's noose

The "Dudley Higgler's" noose

Victorian Crime and Punishment

BBC Radio Stoke's Local History Correspondent Katie Martin has been finding out about the infamous criminals hanged at Stafford Gaol in the Nineteeth Century.

Stafford Gaol was erected in Gaol Road on the north side of Stafford in 1793, and has been enlarged on a number of occasions.

Portable wooden gallows were erected outside the main gates, and crowds of thousands would gather to witness the hangings of local criminals who'd been sentenced to death.

BBC Radio Stoke's Local History Correspondent Katie Martin found out more about the comings and goings at Stafford Gaol...

Rampant piracy and violent crimes

Following the Napoleonic Wars, the British Empire became the world's leading power, controlling one quarter of the world's population and one third of the land area.

It enforced a Pax Britannica (Latin for "British Peace") across the Empire, encouraged trade, and battled rampant piracy.

In Britain, canals and railways were joining major industrial cities, and the Staffordshire pottery industry was booming. 

With an increase in population and wealth, crime rates began to soar, with thefts, assaults and violent robberies occurring frequently.

If arrested and charged with these crimes you faced imprisonment, transportation, or even death by public hanging.

Smith the "Dudley Higgler"

In 1840 hob-nailer George Smith became an apprentice hangman at Stafford Gaol.

Prison life was nothing new to George, who'd served time on two occasions for running naked in the streets of Wednesbury and for debt and failing to support his family.

Smith was known as the "Dudley Higgler", a higgler being a slang term for a hangman.

It was George Smith who placed the noose around the neck of one of Staffordshire's most notorious murderers, Dr William Palmer...

What's your poison?

On June 14th, 1856, thousands of people crowded into Stafford to see the public hanging of Dr William Palmer.

Palmer was involved in several life insurance scams, and was in the process of taking out a policy on a local farmer with his associate John Parson's Cook when suspicions were raised at the insurance firm.

Shortly after their application was declined, John Parsons Cook was drinking at Palmer's house when he fell ill and died shortly after.

An inquest into his death led to Palmer's arrest, and he was taken to London to be tried at the Old Bailey.

His trial lasted an unprecedented twelve days, and resulted in Palmer being sent to the gallows.

BBC Radio Stoke's Katie Martin has been finding out more about Staffordshire's deadliest doctor from local author Nick Corder...

last updated: 06/08/2008 at 12:52
created: 05/07/2008

You are in: Stoke & Staffordshire > History > The Local History Radio Series > Victorian Crime and Punishment

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