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MANCHESTER FAMILY HISTORY RESEARCH
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WHAT DID HAPPEN TO THE REMAINS OF THE PRISONERS EXECUTED AT MANCHESTER?
SEE MANCHESTER AND SALFORD PRISON REGISTERS...AND MUCH MORE HERE.
THERE has been speculation as to what happened to the remains of the Manchester Martyrs and the other prisoners executed at Manchester. Various sources say one thing, others say something different. I have been trying to piece together the accurate facts that are available. I have reached the following conclusions.
Only six executions took place at the New Bailey Prison: James Burrows, August 25th 1866; The Manchester Martyrs, 23rd November 1867; Miles Weatherill and Timothy Faherty, April 4th 1868. All the remains of these men were buried inside the walls of the New Bailey Prison. This was widely reported in the Press.
The first man to be executed at Strangeways Prison was Michael James Johnson 29th March 1869. On 30th March 1869 The Manchester Courier wrote:
After the Inquest the body of the Prisoner [Johnson] was buried in a grave adjoining those of the prisoners executed at the New Bailey which were removed to the new gaol when it was first occupied.
On the same date The Manchester Guardian published:
The body [of Johnson] was subsequently buried within the walls of the gaol, alongside the Fenian murderers of Sergeant Brett, whose bodies have been removed from the New Bailey.
In early 2008 I discovered a miscellaneous document (MISC518) relating to the history of the New Bailey Prison. By the fact that it is a miscellaneous document there is no knowledge of the author. It can be dated post 1881. One thing for certain is that the person was quoting from an article in the Manchester Guardian dated June 1867 regarding the opening of the New Bailey Prison, as can be read here. The document also includes the following passage.
"The site of this vast gaol covering many acres was several years ago (1881) absorbed by the Lancashire + Cheshire (sic) Railway Company. And the rugged stones of the building itself used in forming a new wall at Peel Park Salford but it has subsisted long enough to have housed against their will more than one generation [of] notable prisoners amongst whom stand out conspicuously the three Fenians executed on top of the New Bailey Wall in 1867 for a fatal attack on a prison van. It is said on authority that when the ground was to be cleared, the coffins of the buried prisoners were smuggled out of the gaol at eleven in the forenoon, hidden under [a] pile of mattresses, to be re-interred at the new county prison, a list being appended of the exact moment of their transfer had been know".
I think that this possibly happened in June 1867, when the prisoners were being transferred to Strangeways over a four day period. It may have occurred a little later when the cells were being cleared.
According to my research a total of 100 people were executed at Stangeways Prison plus the six executed at the New Bailey would make a total of 106 sets of remains being buried in the grounds. So it would seem that the bodies of the Manchester Martyrs lay in the ground of Strangeways Prison from 1868 until about 1991. What happened after 1991 has not been entirely clear.
After the 1990 riot at Strangeways, the prison had to be extensively renovated. During the renovation it was necessary to exhume the remains of the prisoners executed there and those executed at the New Bailey Prison and re-inter them elsewhere. I subsequently discovered that there were two separate exhumations. This fact does not seem to be widely known.
I have been able to have access to the Grave, Burial and Cremation registers for Blackley Cemetery. The Grave Register shows that two plots were purchased by the Governor of HMP Strangeways. The first entry for grave number C2711 shows that 60 caskets of cremated remains were buried in this plot in 1991. The second entry for plot number C2710 shows that 51 caskets of cremated remains were buried in 1993.
The Burial Register shows that on 7th February 1991 60 "Unspecified Fenian Remains " were buried in plot number C2711. On 7th April 1993 the register shows that 51 "Unspecified Fenian C/ remains" were buried in plot number 2710.
This seemed a little strange to me as there were only three Manchester Martyrs who were executed in November 1867. I then sought out the former Prison Chaplain of HMP Strangeways who said prayers along with at least one other minister at the first interment. He informed me that he was given a list of the names to read out of the people who were re-interred in plot C2711 and the first names were "The Manchester Martyrs". This did not agree with the information in the Grave and Burial Registers.
I paid another visit to Blackley Cemetery to inspect the Cremation Registers for 1991 and 1993. Over a period of a few days before 7th February 1991, I noted that 60 sets of remains with the address of HMP Strangeways were cremated. Of these 45 were named and fifteen were entered as "un-named fenian". I recognised many of the names entered in the register, but the names of the six executed at the New Bailey Prison were not included. These remains were interred in plot C2711.
The Cremation Register for 1993 shows that over a period of a few days prior to 7th April 1993, 53 sets of remains were cremated. All of these remains had the address HMP Strangeways and all were named. The Register also shows that the ashes of two sets of remains were strewn in specified areas of the cemetery as opposed to being placed in plot C2710.
That gives a total of 113 sets of remains that were removed from Strangeways Prison. As I stated earlier, my research suggests that there should only have been 106 sets of remains buried there. Could it be that prisoners who died while serving their sentences were buried in Strangeways? There is also the question of there being 15 "un-named fenians". It may be safe to assume that three of them are the Manchester Martyrs and three are the other prisoners executed at the New Bailey Prison. So who were the other nine? On what evidence were they all deemed to be "un-named fenians"?
In an attempt to throw some light onto this subject I made a Freedom of Information request via the Data Access & Compliance Unit. The Ministry of Justice sent me a photocopied list of the details of those buried at Strangeways Prison and also a map of the burial sites. The information it contained was tabulated in the following form:
On examining the burial records from Strangeways Prison some of my previous questions have been answered. It appears that this document was a transcription of an earlier record. One of the entries was omitted and reference was made to it in the remarks column. Only three people appear to have compiled the register, which covers a period from 1881 to 1964. Some of the dates of interment seem to have been transcribed incorrectly. There were 33 separate graves. The bodies from graves 13 to 16 were removed to grave 33 in 1965 to facilitate the erection of a new gate.
The first thing to note is that, only the names, or in some cases initials, are entered from November 1881 onwards. The first entry in the register is shown above. The first name to be recorded is that of John Aspinall Simpson. He was executed on 28th November 1881 (not the 23rd as appears in the register). He was the tenth person to be executed at Strangeways Prison. The number of remains buried at Strangeways can summarised as follows:
The bodies from Knutsford Prison were re-interred at Strangeways on 23rd November 1928. It was announced on 16th October 1915 that it would cease to be a criminal prison although it continued to be used to house conscientious objectors, and perhaps other military prisoners until the end of the war. It was demolished in the 1930's.
The men executed at Knutsford Prison were:
The grave register also reveals that one set of remains were exhumed from Strangeways Prison on 6th December 1966 and returned to relatives thus:
There are ninety one names on the list plus the eight from Knutsford, that gives a total of ninety nine. That is a shortfall of fifteen names, which can easily be explained. The first nine executed at Strangeways were not named, likewise the six executed at the New Bailey. A total of fifteen, exactly the same number as "un-named fenians". To the best of my knowledge, the other 12 members of this group were convicted of murders that were not related to the Irish problem. Certainly some of them were Irish and at least one had Fenian sympathies, but how this group became to be known as the Fenians, may well never be discovered.
The 15 "un-named fenians" can be named as follows:
PLOTS C2710 (left) AND C2711 AT BLACKLEY CEMETERY THE RESTING PLACE OF THE MANCHESTER MARTYRS AND
THE MAJORITY OF THE OTHER PRISONERS EXECUTED AT MANCHESTER INCLUDING EIGHT REMAINS FROM KNUTSFORD PRISON
picture: Gerard Lodge
SEE THE MANCHESTER COLLECTION HERE
Those Manchester and Salford Prison records that have survived can be seen on line here.
The following is a list of all executions at Strangeways compiled by using the details from the prison burial list and cross referencing them with details from the Manchester Guardian, Evening News and Evening Chronicle.
***entered as A T on the prison burial register
**entered as F R on the prison burial register
*entered as W W on the prison burial register
*It was reported at his inquest that Henry Mack was not his real name, although he was tried and executed as such. "Mack" seems to have been short for McWiggins.
*entered as Thomas William Booker in the prison burial register.
**this entry was missed off the transcription, but added at a later date.
*Known as Bill
*According to the Strangeways Prison Burial Register this man's remains were exhumed and returned to relatives for reburial on 6th December 1966.
The events surrounding the return of the remains of Herbert Roy Harris being returned to his relatives has puzzled me. I would have thought that for this to have happened, a posthumous pardon must have been granted by the then Home Secretary at the time of the exhumation.
This being the case, it should have been possible to find details of this in the public domain. This proved not to be the case, so I made a Freedom of Information Application to the Ministry of Justice:
I would like to know what were the circumstances relating to the decision to allow the remains of Hebert Roy Harris being returned to his family.
He was executed at HMP Strangeways on February 26th 1952 for the murder of his wife Eileen. According to the Strangeways Prison Burial Register this man's remains were exhumed and returned to relatives for reburial on 6th December 1966.
I have searched the online digital national newspaper records, local newspapers, Hansard and TNA catalogue. I have been unable to find any details of this exhumation or the reasons for it being permitted.
If you do have any relevant information about this case, I would be grateful to receive it by email.
I received a very prompt reply.
Dear Mr Lodge
Thank you for your email of 29 May to the Department's Data Access and Compliance Unit concerning the decision to allow the remains of Herbert Roy Harris being returned to his family. I have been asked to reply.
I have conducted a search of our paper and electronic records and unfortunately the information you seek is not held by the Ministry of Justice.
I am sorry that I cannot be more helpful and wish you well with your search.
Coroners and Burials Division
Ministry of Justice
102 Petty France London SW1 H9AJ
Since writing the above I have learned that there were in fact several cases in which the remains of the executed prisoners were returned to their families in this period without a pardon having been granted. I am most grateful to a gentlemen from Finland who put me on the correct tract. When the Act of Parliament, Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act 1965, which temporarily suspended the Death Penalty for an experimental period of five years, was passed 1965 it also repealed The Capital Punishment Amendment Act 1868 which had required, wherever possible, the burial of executed prisoners' remains to be buried within prison walls. The 1965 Act also repealed another eight Acts amongst other things relating to the Army, Navy and Air Force. In essence this new Act permitted the reburial of executed prisoners after December 1965. It has also been suggested to me that the above case would not have been reviewed by the Home Secretary. The crime and trial took place in Wales and therefore any review may have been undertaken by the Welsh Secretary.
This is a letter I received from a former member of the staff of Strangeways. I have reproduced it here as I feel that it contains some important (if gory) historical facts. I have edited some parts of the letter.
I was a Prison Officer at Strangeways in the late 60s - I was also involved using my trade as a T/A in the Works Dept.
I remember well the digging up of Harris and because he was a fairly recent burial where no quicklime was used only major bones remained.
We also had to dig up the remains of 13 bodies to make way for a future new Prison entrance as concrete could not be laid over prison graves in case relatives wanted them removed for reburial.
This was the result of the then Home Secretary Roy Jenkins allowing an Irish martyr to be dug up and sent back to Ireland. [This refers to the repatriation of the remains of Roger Casement that were exhumed from the grounds of Pentonville Prison.]
The remains we had to dig up were ages old and the boxes had been filled with quicklime which because they were buried close to the 26foot high prison wall and the Manchester high rainfall had caused the quicklime to slake so helping to preserve the remains, resulting in a pretty horrendous job plus we had a Home Office walla trying to identifying remains and two Priests wanting to say words over various remains, it was a very nasty job and because the boxes had collapsed on top of each other we ended up building a large coffin and placing all the remains in it and reburying it.
In 1967 I along with another Officer T/A was given the job of dismantling the hanging shed and associated structures on the end of B2 landing, the job had to be done during silent hours, away from public gaze and all pieces of equipment rendered unrecognisable, as we were not allowed to enter from B2 landing we had to use the outside door, so imagine after signing for the key we tried to enter the shed at night. The door was overgrown with weeds and was difficult to open but eventually in we went, located the light switch and found ourselves underneath the floor and trapdoors of the shed, to our left was a wooden staircase which we climbed finding ourselves in the shed itself. Immediately in front was the large lever which operated the trap, above was a massive pitchpine beam which was supported each side of the shed, the beam had with 3 lynch positions and fittings, the leaves of the trap were about 10 feet long and each leaf about 3 feet wide thickness about 4 inches.
The lever operated a series of flat bars the ends of which engaged in the ends of the left hand side leaf retaining it in the horizontal position and supporting the right leaf by way of a half housing or rebate, using this design the minimum amount of mechanics was required and so was more reliable.
Directly under the centre lynch position was a large chalked "T" positioned centrally across the rebate/join of the leaves left over from the last hanging at Strangeways of Owen Evans at 8.00am 13 August 1964 at the same time at Walton Prison Liverpool Peter Allen Evans partner in crime was also topped.
Explaining the chalked T on the trap, the inmate in the condemned cell across the landing had his/her hands secured and was then double (raced across the landing and onto the trap, the feet being positioned either side of the T with the toes against the T and ankles secured, the hood/pillowcase positioned over the head along with the noose, a nod from the assistant to the hangman and job complete...[Edit]
Needless to say 41 years later I still have the safety pin from the trap lever and the centre lynchpin-TUT TUT.
The 3 cells knocked into one condemned cell was returned to 3 single cells but could not be used for 1 or 2 years (can't remember which) quaint rules!! And the "reception cell" opposite likewise.
Yes on top of the beam once we had got it down was an inscription saying it was erected in 1944, you mention double hangings, they would be hard enough but triple hangings would be a nightmare as it involves gratings across the trap so Officers can stand and "support" inmates safely.
A couple of thoughts, re the 3 Fenians, in the Works Yard was a stone paving slab engraved the 3 Fenians, whether they were reburied there was another question.
Trivia: A bloke called Marwood, cobbler, executioner and Crown Officer invented the "Long Drop" in 1871 which led the way to the present now deleted quickest/most humane method of execution.
Catch you later,
THE ESCAPE OF MURDERER JOHN JACKSON
On May 22nd 1888 an horrific and remarkable murder took place in Strangeways Prison. Prisoner Warder Ralph Webb was murdered by John Jackson, who then effected an escape. He was carrying out work in one of the prison apartments under the supervision of Warder Webb. John Jackson was 29 and was a plumber and glazier by trade. He had been convicted at the Previous Salford Quarter sessions on April 9th for housebreaking and stealing from a Salvation Army Captain named Poynter at Eccles in March. At the trial is was proven beyond doubt that Jackson was also known as Edward Graham and as such had been connected with many robberies in Manchester, Bradford, Beverley, Hull and Huddersfield areas. However he must have been a skilful burglar as he was only "wanted" in these area and had never been convicted there.
When he was arrested in Eccles the circumstances were slightly strange. Jackson had been making enquiries about his target residence in Eccles and the occupier, which had aroused suspicion leading to Alfred Poynter contacting the police. As a result that night, a constable hid inside the house. Jackson entered the house by smashing the kitchen window and went about his business. The Constable made his presence known and after a brief struggle Jackson was arrested and searched. He was found to carrying a couple of jemmies. At the trial Jackson pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six months' imprisonment with hard labour. He was sent to Strangeways.
There was some mystery surrounding the man Jackson himself and the manner of his crime and escape. During his time in the prison Jackson had not been regarded as dangerous and had not shown any signs of escaping. Warder Webb was a tall and finely built man quite contrary to the physique of Jackson. The Matron's apartment in which Jackson had been sent to repair a leaking gas pipe, was well secured with the windows barred and stout locks on the doors. At first not much was know about the circumstances of the escape other than the fact Webb had been struck on the head with a hammer and Jackson had escaped through the roof. Over the next days and weeks the press were to give much coverage to this story and in the process whip up quite a frenzy.
More details of the escape were published in the Manchester Guardian on May 24th. The previous days news report had created a sensation in Manchester which resulted in hundreds of people visiting Southall Street to look at the hole in roof of the apartment from which Jackson had escaped. It appeared that Jackson was working on a gas pipe in the bedroom. He had gone downstairs to melt some lead in order to effect the repair. He had applied some of the molten lead to the pipe and after turning back on the gas supply then asked Warder Webb to smell if they was any gas leaking from the repair. At this point Jackson dealt Webb what turned out to be , a fatal blow to the head with a hammer.
Jackson then effected his escape by breaking through the ceiling and roof of the apartment. The Matron heard some strange noises from the room and when upstairs to investigate. She found the door locked and called for it to be opened. When she got no reply the Matron raised the alarm. When the door was broken open Webb was found on the floor with a massive wound to his head. His boots had been stolen, his pockets which were thought to contain 10 shillings were empty, blood marks were over the floor and there was no sign of Jackson.
The crime had taken place in broad daylight. Two lads who were in Southall Street at the time stated that they saw a man climb through the roof and then drop down into the street. He made off in the direction of the brickfields to the rear of the prison. It was thought that he had hid there until darkness set in and covered the arrow on his trousers using mud. Immediately after the crime had been discovered warders searched the area for Jackson and notified the local police of his escape. The police were not immediately informed of the nature of Jackson's crime, other than the fact that he had escaped. It was not until some time later that the police were informed of Webb's death. Immediate steps were then taken by Chief Detective Inspector Caminada to trace the murderer. Caminada had all the likely hiding spots searched in the town and in the process received a tip off that Jackson had gone to Oldham.
Caminada and several other officers made their way to Oldham in pursuit of Jackson, but they could find no sign of him. They informed the Oldham police that the fugitive was likely to break into houses in order in obtain food and different cloths. This proved to be accurate as the Oldham police later revealed that two successful burglaries and two unsuccessful attempts had taken place. One house that was broken into was in Park Road from which had been stolen a black Chesterfield overcoat, a white linen jacket and a brown tweed vest. A stone bottle containing half a gallon of porter and some cigars were also stolen. They was little doubt who the intruder was because at the scene of the crime had been left a prison issue stocking and one of the Warder's socks. The other house that was broken into was that of Salvation Army Captain Thomas Woods who lived at Cromwell St, Oldham from which Jackson stole a tweed coat and one pound sixteen shillings. He also took the keys to the Salvation Army barracks where he stayed for some time because in the building was found the empty bottle of porter and some partially smoked cigars. Pieces of cotton were also found similar to the lining of the linen jacket stolen from Park Rd. Also found were a heavy hammer and three different types of screwdrivers which were thought to have been used to gain access to the houses. Captain Woods' house had previously been broken into and it was now believed that Jackson had also been the culprit on that occasion.
Considering the awful crime that Jackson had committed this second break in at Woods' home was extremely audacious. He had broken in the house by taking the glass out of a widow, then he ransacked the house upstairs and downstairs, smoked some cigars and left the following note on the table: "Goodbye Captain. Though lost to sight to memory dear. - Yours truly, Shakespeare." Also on the other side of the paper were sums which added up to one pound sixteen shillings, the total he stole from the house, plus the words "Goodbye, yours, truly". As mentioned in the previous days' newspapers, Jackson was "wanted" for several other break-ins. These homes were all occupied by Salvation Army members. It seems he had been very success in duping those people with whom he had lodged. His MO was to engage Salvation Army members in conversation in order to found out as much as he could about the homes and the habits of the local captains. Soon after these homes were raided and Jackson disappeared.
At this point Jackson had now amassed the sum of two pounds and had changed his clothing completely, so this made his detection even more difficult. Manchester detectives accompanied by Warders from Strangeways who knew Jackson well were sent to all neighbouring ports. Police all over the country were informed of Jackson's crime , but unfortunately Manchester Police did not have a photograph of him and could only send out the following description: "John Jackson alias Edward Graham, a plumber by trade and said to be born in Nottingham. He is 29 years of age, 5 feet 6 inches in height, of fresh complexion, brown hair, brown eyes. He has a small lump inside the forefinger of the left hand."
Jackson was said to look much older than his age. Before his recent imprisonment he had a very thick moustache which had been removed once convicted, and it was believed that he might grow a full beard in order to disguise himself. When the County Police had Jackson in custody in March they made all the usual enquiries about him. They only discovered that he had been "wanted" by other police forces and there had been no evidence of him having been in prison before. It was hoped that Jackson would soon be detected as a result of future crime he would commit in order to obtain food and money. Members of the Salvation Army were warned to be very vigilant.
Again on the 25th May, the Manchester Guardian had a report of the previous days events in the search for Jackson. It was reported that a pawnbroker in Lees had told Oldham Police that a man had pawned a jacket in his shop. It turned out to be the one that had been stolen by Jackson from Park Road in Oldham. The pawnbroker was able to describe the clothing worn by the man and it was obvious that it matched the descriptions of other clothing stolen in the same raid. The new description was communicated to the Manchester Police and from there to the rest of the country. The whole resources of the Manchester Police Detectives Department were being utilised in the hunt for Jackson, but technically the murder had been committed within the jurisdiction of the County Force as the gaol was by Act of Parliament constituted a portion of the county. The county force were also looking for Jackson.
It was reported that the Prison Governor, Major Preston, had once again stated that no previous knowledge of Jackson other than he was "wanted on suspicion" by several police forces was known. Had the authorities known as much information as they now had about Jackson, he would not have been allowed to carry out the work in which he was employed when the murder was committed. As it was the Governor stated that no blame could be attached to the prison authorities for employing him on such work.
On the 26th May the newspaper reported that there was reason to hope that Jackson had been captured. All the previous day police in Lancashire and Yorkshire had been following leads, but unfortunately conflicting telegrams were being sent to the Manchester Police. One message stated that Jackson had been sighted in Durham while others claimed sightings in Stockport, Stalybridge and Marsden. The latter stating that he was seen heading off in the direction of the Yorkshire Moors. Yet another stated that he was on his way to London. It was thought that the Marsden sighting was probably the most accurate. At 9.00pm the previous evening a telegram from Dewsbury police stated that they had arrested a man answering Jackson's description. CDI Caminada and a prison warder from Strangeways, who had been making enquires in Wakefield, were informed of this and made their way to Dewsbury immediately. Reporting news from outside the major towns and cities was fraught with difficulties. The Dewsbury telegraphic office closed at 9.00pm so the newspaper had know way of knowing if Jackson had indeed been captured.
A report of the Inquest into Webb's death was also published. Evidence was given to the effect that the prison authorities had no knowledge of any previous convictions against Jackson. It was stated that this was the third day running that Jackson had carried out work in the Matron's apartment. Each day with a different Warder supervising him. Great detail was gone into about the type of work and how long was spent by Jackson in the apartment. Questions were also asked about the physical suitability of Webb to supervise Jackson and it was reported that he was much stronger than the prisoner. The Inquest was also told that Jackson was the only plumber in the prison. After a long day of hearing evidence the Coroner contemplated adjourning the Inquest or asking the Jury for a verdict. In his opinion he felt that the evidence so far pointed the fact that Webb had been hit by a single bow to the head. All other evidence was circumstantial, no one had seen the murder take place, but that it was for the Jury to say whether they could escape from returning a verdict of wilful murder against someone. It would also be for them to say who that someone was. The Jury found that Jackson was responsible for the murder of Webb. They also asked for the following to be read out: "This Jury considers it highly desirable that a substantial reward should be offered by the Home Secretary, on behalf of the Government, for the apprehension of the man Jackson alias Graham, against whom a verdict of wilful murder has been returned..."
The following reports were published on 28th May and showed the lack of ability to print up to date news. Investigations surrounding the murderer of Webb continued throughout Saturday but without success. During the day information was received that men answering to the description of Jackson were taken into custody at Wolverhampton and Bradford. It was however soon discovered that they were not the fugitive so anxiously sought. Late on Friday night another man was arrested in Dewsbury. Inquiries showed that the man taken into custody was a tramp from Bradford, who satisfactorily established his identity. The paper also reported that the funeral of Warder Ralph D Webb took place at Salford Borough Cemetery on Saturday.
On 3Oth May the paper published that the efforts by the Police to apprehend Jackson had been futile. More than a week had passed since the crime was committed and it was probable that Jackson, who had shown himself to be a bold desperate criminal, had made good opportunity of the time to put him beyond the reach of his pursuers. The efforts of the Police had not been relaxed, though through necessity their movements were being kept secret. It was felt by many that a reward should be offered by the Home Office, but there had been no movement from the Government on this. There was a possibility that a sum of money for a reward could be raised privately. Several further arrests had been made of individuals in various parts of the country. It was reported that sightings of Jackson had been made in Stockport, Farnworth, Doncaster, Thirsk and other towns. A lot of these reports were thought by the Police to be the results of exited imaginations and were totally unfounded.
Other newspapers were beginning to get hot under the collar and the Manchester Guardian quoted directly from the Standard: "The success with which the Strangeways Murder has up to the present date manage to elude capture is not a circumstance on which anyone has reason to congratulate himself. It is, to say the least of it, not very agreeable reflection that at this moment a desperate criminal is at large who, knowing that he has forfeited his life, would not hesitate to commit any crime by which the chance of making good his escape might be secured. The example is likely to prove even more mischievous. With all the country in commotion, with 'clues' here and 'clues' there, with a man being arrested at one place of suspicion of being like the convict and another detained 24 hours who was in no respect like the person that was wanted, the situation is by no means assuring. Every day is rendering the hunted criminal less and less like the personal description that has been circulated of him, and if only he manages to get a decent disguise nothing is more easy than for him to pass as an ordinary traveller among the crowds which are constantly entering and leaving railway trains. A week has already elapsed since his disappearance. By this time the chances are that he is in the wilds of London. In a couple of weeks more his hair and beard will have grown, and as an expert burglar such as this ruffian has proved himself to be need never to want for money, there is an extreme probability that unless he is speedily laid by the heels or his 'pals' are tempted to betray him by the hope of a reward the Strangeways murderer will become one of the many cases of unpunished crime."
More details about the true identity of John Jackson and his crimes were published on May 31st. The Bradford Police were positively convinced that his name was Charles Wood Firth and had used the aliases Charles Firth Williamson and Charles William Firth. It was also revealed that he had escaped from Wakefield Prison in August 1883 but was recaptured. He was also wanted for forgery in Dewsbury as well as for a large number of robberies and burglaries in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Bradford Police has also managed to obtain an excellent photograph of the wanted man. Copies of the photograph were made an immediately posted in Bradford town together with an exact description: Age about 33 years, height 5ft 5 1/2 ins, fresh complexion, grey eyes, dark brown hair, cut mark on nose, scar on left side of neck, mole on left side of back, lump and scar on left side of forefinger of left hand.
The Dewsbury Correspondent of the Manchester Guardian stated that the West Riding Police believed Jackson to be Charles Williamson Firth, son of Mr J F Firth, a Master Plumber from Birstall, who left the area some time ago after forging a cheque at Gomersal. It was also thought that Firth alias Jackson had committed a robbery from Birstall bank, of which his father was caretaker, and stealing one hundred and fifty pounds. He had been convicted of horse stealing and was sent the the Wakefield House of Correction. He escaped from this place in a very similar manner to the one he used at Strangeways. He was whitewashing a corridor, for some reason he was left unsupervised, he then went upstairs and managed to steal a suit of clothes. He broke through a skylight and dropped down into the street. It was later ascertained that he visited his home in Birstall and then went to Hull and other places where he was employed as a navvy for about two months.
On June 1st the Daily Chronicle reported that although prison staff took precautions to identify new inmates it appeared that there were not adequate. The latest accounts of the search for Jackson revealed that he had been a notorious offender and not a person who only had a single conviction, as was thought by the Strangeways authorities, whose real identity was Charles Wood Firth. They did not have the benefit of having a photograph of Firth which was in the hands of the Yorkshire authorities. If his true history had been known no warder in his right mind would have trusted himself alone on a daily basis with such a criminal. They certainly would have not let him have a heavy hammer. Evidently the system of circulating descriptions and photographs of his class needed to be improved. A man's life had been lost because of the complete unconsciousness of the Strangeways staff that they had a hardened criminal in their charge. The goal itself did not appear at present, so far as its outer walls were concerned, to offer any serious difficulties to a convict determined to escape.
By 2nd June the Guardian writers were really getting hot under the collar. In spite of the publicity given to the portrait of Jackson or Firth and the new verbal description of him, he still managed to escape capture. he had of course been "seen" in different parts of the country, but amongst the arrests so far made, none had been the fugitive. His capture was becoming more difficult as time went by and the longer he stayed free the greater the chances were that would he would not be caught for some considerable time. A most circumstantial account of "Jackson's" visit to St Helens was given by Mr W R Andrew: "Several months since, perhaps four or five, but I cannot remember exactly, we were wanting a painter and plumber to look after our premises, and amongst the applicants was a man who gave the name of Graham, and who said was a painter and a plumber. The man answered exactly in appearance to the police description of Jackson, both in height and complexion. Although he was not engaged, he appeared and repeated his application several successive mornings, and this had the effect of impressing his appearance on my mind. The man disappeared: but on Tuesday, having an important engagement in Wigan, I left these works a few minutes before 10 o'clock intending to catch the 10.02 train . I hurried along Cotham Street and was going sharply along the bottom end of Claughton Street when I met Graham face to face. I recognised him and he recognised me, but instead of speaking he stepped sharply into the road, and partly walking, partly running, he went off at a rapid rate in the direction of Baldwin Street. He was wearing an old cap and a shabby black suit, as though he had got his outfit from Shudehill Market. Jackson had his left hand, on the forefinger of which, according to the description, there is a lump, in his trousers pocket, and he did not withdraw it while I saw him." Asked why he did not report this to the police Mr Andrew said that he had been in a great hurry to catch his train, and it did not strike him for a few seconds as to who the man really was.
The fact that Jackson endeavoured to make the acquaintance of Salvation Army Officers recalls the circumstance of a robbery that took place in February, round about the same time the man described by Mr Andrews applied for work. on the 10th of that month Captain Emma Burton and Lieutenant Charlotte Marshall of the Salvation Army, came to St Helens, and went to reside at 81 Peter Street. On the 14th of the same month they left their home at about ten minutes to eight, and went to the barracks in Lowe Street, a short distance away, where the ordinary service was held. They had made sure that before they left, they had locked all their doors and fastened the windows, but on their return they were astonished to find that that the back door and window were wide open and a lamp had been lit. The house had been ransacked and a total of about 37 shillings had been stolen. The newspaper reported that the St Helens police were: "making diligent enquiries into these supposed visits to St Helens by Jackson."
Were it not for the audacity of the man the following story would seem improbable, but bearing in mind what has already been published, it does seem possible that this sighting is accurate. In spite of the vigilance of the police Firth visited his home in Birstall, near Bradford on Wednesday. He went into a shop and bought a bottle of aerated water and a newspaper and afterwards asked a lady as to the whereabouts of a friend who was away from home. The lady recognised him. He at first denied his identity but latter admitted it. She urged him to leave for his parents' sake, and after inquiring as to their health disappeared. The Bradford police were thought to have gained valuable information as his probable hiding place, but as yet had not succeeded in laying hands on him. They were confident that he had adopted a completely new disguise, possibly as a woman.
Meanwhile the Cheshire Police were also keeping a keen look out for the murderer. At Winsford there was great excitement about reports of Jackson being caught there. A man bearing a suspicious resemblance to the murderer was detained and examined, but in the absence of a lump on his forefinger, he was released. There were also reports that he was spotted in Northwich. A man was detained overnight who could identify himself to the satisfaction of the police. He was to go before the Magistrates in the morning. On release of the portraits of the murderer the previous day, Mr Hatton a man from Stalybridge came forward to say that he had seen Jackson on the Manchester to Hull train last Saturday. He had claimed to be a ship's captain going to rejoin his ship at Hull. Hatton stated that the man was very scruffy and did not seem to have much knowledge of ships.
Over the next couple of days the newspaper reported Jackson still had not been captured and they republished stories about Jackson's life of crime in Yorkshire from other newspapers. On 5th June they published that Jackson had been sighted in London and the South. A telegram from Maidstone stated that all Kentish stations on the London, Chatham and Dover Line and the South Eastern Railways were being watched and passengers carefully scrutinised.
In Worsely the previous Saturday, a suspicious man with a lump on his left hand had been arrested. The man gave a good account of himself but as the resemblance to the murderer Jackson was so strong, he was not given his freedom until he had been examined by PC Crowther. Crowther was the officer that had arrested Jackson in the attempted robbery at Eccles. Over the next few days "sightings " of Jackson were made all over the country, eventually on June 12th the Guardian published the following gleeful report. The by-line read: FROM OUR OWN REPORTER, BRADFORD, MONDAY.
Jackson had been caught in the act of breaking into the house of Marshall Booth, a stonemason, about one mile outside of Bradford. He was detained after a great struggle with the inmates of the house and he was then handed over to the Police. Booth had met Jackson in a pub on Bradford Moor about a week earlier and as he liked him he allowed the man he knew as Harrison to stay at his home for four nights. Jackson had claimed to be from Garnett Street and that he had been on a "spree" and did not want to return home until the "shivers" (probably the DTs.. delirium tremors) had passed. Booth and his friends often joked with their new-found friend that he resembled the notorious murderer, Jackson always laughed at this and managed to steer the conversations in other directions.
By Sunday Booth had got fed up of his guest and told him that he would have to leave. It was thought that Jackson had returned to Garnett Street. Booth had made sure that all his doors and windows were fast and went to bed about 11 o'clock. At about one o'clock in the morning Booth was awakened by a noise in his house. He investigated and found Jackson downstairs, he called out to one of his lodgers, a man called Pearson. They followed him out of the house and chased him to a nearby pub yard. A violent struggle took place for 45 minutes. At the end of this Booth left Jackson in the charge of Pearson, whilst he went to contact the landlord of the pub. When he returned Jackson was attempting to throttle Pearson, without further ado Booth kicked him in the head and finished the struggle. Jackson was then arrested and in due course dealt with by the Magistrate.
But what was the truth behind the reports of Jackson's escapades while he was on the run? After his arrest, Jackson stated that when he when left Strangeways it was by Cheetham Hill Road, past Red Bank and so until he reached Oldham Road. He borrowed an old hat and a cap from a landlord of a pub. He went to Oldham where he committed two robberies. He was asked if he knew that he had killed Warder Webb. Jackson replied that he did not know until the following morning that Webb had died. The prisoner was asked how he escaped from the prison. He stated that he had gone through the roof and that after spending some time in Oldham he made his way to Halifax, where he shaved off his moustache. He then went to Leeds and later returned to Halifax. A week last Saturday he went to Bradford and lodged at Bradford Moor. Jackson was then questioned about the robberies for which he was wanted in Bradford, and being showed the goods taken from a house in Horton he stated: "Yes I stole them from a house in Horton, near the Board School. Much of this stuff that has appeared in the papers, is however, false about robberies I never committed. I do not mind confessing to what I have done, but it is too hard to put it all on me. They said I read the newspaper about the murder for ever so long, and described how I was chased, which is all untrue."
Jackson also denied being the person who entered the house in Hustler Street, Bradford. Asked how he had managed since his escaped, the prisoner stated that he had borrowed some money from a man he knew in Leeds and he also used the one pound and sixteen shillings that he stole from Oldham. He purchased a new pair of trousers in Leeds, he had not been into Bradford except for once when he went to Manchester Road.
So it appears that Jackson was not as cunning as the press made him out to be...just lucky.
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Last update: 8th March 2015