Local historian Keith Johnson looks at the case of a hangman spared the gallows himself after committing a crime...
Following the public executions in April 1806 of Mary Jackson and Christopher Simpson, who had been involved in crimes in the neighbourhood of Preston, along with James Foxcroft a Manchester offender, it was announced that four others sentenced to death had been spared their lives.
Sally Eddleston convicted of felony, George Lowe for uttering a forged bill and Richard Weeds convicted of horse stealing were set to be transported for life.
Special dispensations were offered to Edward ‘Ned’ Barlow, the notorious hangman of Lancaster Castle, who had been convicted of horse stealing at the same Assizes. He was informed his life was spared and that his role as executioner was to continue. Barlow found guilty by the jury of stealing a gelding from North Meols was given a sentence of 10 years imprisonment within the walls of Lancaster Castle.
His career as the executioner for the county, a task he had carried out for the last 20 years hanging at least 84 culprits, was to continue.
In late August 1806 the next Lancaster Assizes took place before the Hon. Baron Graham and altogether 54 prisoners faced trial. The list included John Eastwood who had been committed for trial by the Preston coroner Richard Palmer. He was accused of the wilful murder of Nicholas Kershaw in Preston. Although the Grand Jury found a true bill against him the common jury found him not guilty.
John Shorrock was also sent from Preston accused of killing and slaying Henry Gregory in the town. In his case the accusations that followed a coroner’s inquest and led to a manslaughter charge was considered by the Grand Jury. They concluded that due to a lack of witnesses no bill would be issued for his trial and he was acquitted.
Burglary, theft, bigamy, rape and manslaughter were amongst the numerous offences considered and many were committed to prison or transportation. One man from Lancaster named as George Ellis, aged 50, was convicted of assault. Besides a prison term of two years he was ordered to stand twice in the pillory in the Lancaster Market Square at midday.
On the day that the Assizes concluded Baron Graham, in a solemn and impressive manner, passed sentence of death upon thirteen capitally convicted prisoners. Five of them had their sentences commuted to imprisonment or transportation and two had their date of execution delayed.
For six of them executioner Edward Barlow was on hand to despatch them into eternity in the middle of September 1806. Samuel Stockton, John Powell and Joseph Holland had been convicted of the unnatural crime of sodomy, Luke Lockard and Peter Higgins had been convicted of forgery and James Yates had been found guilty of rape.
Shortly after midday they made their way onto the scaffold and into the public gaze. All of them had an agitated look about them and trembled as Barlow attended them on the scaffold. Within minutes they were precipitated into eternity together.
Within a fortnight the wretched scene was acted out once more as Isaac Hitchin and Thomas Rix, convicted for the same offence as Stockton, Powell and Holland, became the latest culprits to be hung by Edward Barlow, the much maligned resident of Lancaster Castle.
Even before his conviction for horse stealing Barlow had been regarded as a wretched man, who when walking the streets of Lancaster had often been verbally abused and pelted with stones.