Oxford History:  Executions at Oxford Castle 1788–1888

On 21 July 1888 Jackson's Oxford Journal published the following complete list of the executions that had taken place in Oxford in the previous hundred years: a total of 44 men. Prior to 1836 people were hanged for crimes such as burglary, horse stealing, highway robbery, arson, and sheep stealing, but in Oxford after that date only murderers were “launched into eternity” (as the newspaper often described the punishment). Under the Murder Act of 1752, a person convicted of murder was to be hanged within 28 hours.

The Anatomy School at Oxford

Medical undergraduates at Oxford had to witness at least two dissections before being entitled to a BA degree, and then had to perform at least two dissections themselves before they could practise. The first School of Anatomy in Oxford was in the Bodleian Libary, between 1613 and 1619. In 1636 a Charter of Charles I permitted the Oxford Reader in Anatomy to demand the body of anyone executed within 21 miles of Oxford. From 1683 these dissections took place in the basement of the Old Ashmolean Museum (now the Museum of the History of Science) in Broad Street. The Christ Church Anatomy School was built in 1766.

Executions at Oxford

All the cases were reported in Jackson's Oxford Journal and below are brief details of their trials as given in that newspaper.

Robert Hitchcock
Hanged on 9 March 1778 for murder
Robert Hitchcock (aged about 40) was “a Farmer of considerable Property, at Coombe, near Woodstock”. Thirteen witnesses swore that they saw him beat, bruise, and kick his aged father Edward Hitchcock on the road between Bloxham and Combe on 23 July 1777. He dragged his father home, where he died the next morning. Mr Bartholomew of Woodstock who examined his body was certain that he had died as a consequence of the bruises he had received on his head, breast, loins, and most parts of his body. Mr Justice Nares ordered that the execution of Robert Hitchcock should take place on the following Monday, and his body was to be dissected and anatomized: it was duly handed over to the Anatomy School at Christ Church. William Jackson published the story of the murder, trial, and execution and sold it for sixpence. Mrs Hitchcock wasted no time and married John Broad, a wheeler of Old Woodstock, on 23 April 1778, only six weeks after her first husband's execution.

William Hyde
Hanged on 21 March 1779 for burglary
On 3 March 1779 William Hyde or Hide was tried at the Assizes for the County before Mr Baron Perryn and Mr Justice Buller “for breaking into the Dwelling-House of Richard Beans, of Old Cutslow, and stealing from thence a Pair of Silver Buckles”. He was hanged at Oxford Castle on 21 March.

Richard Wells
Hanged on 30 August 1780 for horse stealing
A native of Bampton: “At the Place of Execution he acknowledged his Guilt, and requested the Spectators to take Warning by his ignominious Death; yet shewed very little Terror at his approaching Fate, but seemed rather in a Hurry to get rid of the World: For, after the Cord was fixed, he almost instantly gave a Signal for the Executioner to turn him off; and now finding the Man so quick as he expected, called to him to know what he could be about; adding, for God's Sake turn me off.

Thomas Hadden
Robbing mail. Hanged himself in his cell on 16 July 1782
On 22 November 1781 Thomas Hadden, alias Hatton, had stolen two bags of letters at the door of the King's Arms Inn at Deddington from the Mail that ran between Oxford and Banbury. He was committed at Warwick and appeared before the Assizes at Abingdon on 8 July 1782 and Mr Justice Baller sentenced him to be hanged. He hanged himself in his cell in Oxford Castle on 16 July.

Daniel Cato
Hanged on 16 July 1782 for murder
Cato, who was a chimney sweep of Hook Norton, murdered his eleven-year-old apprentice, Thomas Prosser or Rosser: “the Prisoner appeared to have exercised every Species of Barbarity upon this poor helpless Victim of his Cruelty, whose Body, from Head to Foot, exhibited Testimonies of the most brutal Violence”.
“At the Place of Execution he appeared to be much agitated, and exceedingly reluctant to meet his Fate; persisting however to the last in a Declaration, that he had no Design of murdering the Boy; at the same Time desiring that both young and old would take Warning from him, and avoid Passion, and begging the Prayers of the Multitude, as he said he was not able to pray for himself.” His body was delivered to the Anatomy School at Christ Church for dissection.

Giles Freeman
Hanged on 30 March 1784 for highway robbery
Freeman was committed to the Castle Gaol on 9 December 1783 by the Revd Dr Bray, Rector of Exeter College. The issues of Jackson's Oxford Journal around the time of his execution on 30 March 1784 are not available online.

John Price
Hanged on 7 March 1785 for robbery
Price was committed to the Castle on 2 January 1785 by Thomas Blackall, Esq., “charged on the Oath of Thomas Knight, with having, on Friday Night last assaulted and robbed him on the Turnpike Road near the Three Pigeons between Tetsworth and Wheatley in this County, and at the same time attempting to Murder him by cutting his Throat; of which Wound the said Thomas Knight now lies dangerously ill at Great Milton.—It seems they had walked together from Tetsworth, and Price, under Pretence of cutting himself a Stick to walk withal, had borrowed the Knife of his Companion, with which he afterwards attempted to Murder him”. He was sentenced on 4 March 1785, “and his Body afterwards to be hung in Chains on Milton Common, near the Place where the Fact was committed”.
Accompanied by two clergyman and the Keeper, he was taken by coach from the Castle at 8am. “The Gibbet, and his Iron Suit had been sent off early the same Morning in a Waggon; but owing to the Hardness of the Ground, Things were not quite prepared at the Arrival of the Criminal. This Interval was spent in Prayer; after which Price stepped from the Coach into the Waggon, and from thence ascended the Ladder, from whence, after the Rope had been fixed, he almost instantly threw himself off; having previously confessed the Fact, as well as the Justice of his Sentence—A prodigious Concourse of People were assembled upon the Occasion, by some estimated at near Twenty Thousand; and from among this Crown the Pickpockets found means to carry off a few Watches, some Money, and other things.”

Miles Ward
Hanged on 27 March 1786 for a robbery which took place at Magdalen College (not 1780 as given in the above list)
Ward, who had “long made a Trade of stealing Horses in Worcestershire, Warwickshire, and the lower Counties” had with his accomplices entered the college between 1am and 2am on 25 February 1786 via a ladder into the wood yard at the foot of Magdalen Bridge, and having entered the chapel with a false key stole two pairs of candlesticks (one of which was sliver), and a large silver offertory plate. He was executed at the Castle Gaol at the same time as the following group of three people: “Ward behaved himself in a Manner very suitable to his Situation; he prayed fervently, and shed Tears abundantly, yet with a becoming Firmness.”

John Grace
John Cox & Richard Cox
Hanged on 27 March 1786 for sheep stealing (not 1780 as given in the above list)
Only the briefest of reports, implying that there were two separate and unrelated incidents of sheep-stealing: “On Wednesday Evening their Lordships arrived at Oxford, and opened their Commission for this County, and on Thursday [9 March 1786] proceeded to Business; when John Grace, for Sheep-stealing, was capitally convicted, and received Sentence of Death; as did John Cox and Richard Cox, for a like offence.” They were duly executed at the Castle Gaol at the same time as Miles Ward above: “Grace and the eldest Cox shewed also a proper Sense of the near Approach of Death; but the younger of the Coxes seemed either hardened or stupified [sic] in his last Moments.”

Thomas White
Hanged on 6 August 1787 for robbing Blenheim Palace
On 8 July 1787 White, who was late footman to the Duchess of Marlborough and “charged with feloniously robbing his Grace the Duke of Marlborough of a considerable Quantity of Silver Plate, was brought to our Castle, by Habeas Corpus, from his Majesty's Goal [sic] of Newgate, to take his Trial at our ensuing Assize.” His haul the previous October comprised 21 silver plates, one large silver salver, five large and two small silver forks, two silver dessert spoons, and one napkin. During the four-hour trial the Duke's Butler Thomas Mountney testified that the plates which had been delivered into his custody at the public office in Bow Street were the Duke's property. Samuel Phillips, a Jewish silversmith of Ludgate Hill, London deposed that White had sold the goods to him for 17/6, and told him that he had secreted himself in a bedroom at Blenheim Palace, and after bringing the plate out under the trees in the park repacked it, putting leaves between each of the plates so that they made no noise. He then took a coach on the side of the road opening to Campsfield, putting his haul in the boot. The next day he spent the night at the Bear Inn in Oxford, but when he heard that the loss of the plate had been discovered and that a reward of £50 was offered for apprehending the offender, he took a night coach from the King's Head in Oxford to the Castle & Falcon in Aldergate Street, and was apprehended at the house of Mr Lee (the brother-in-law of Phillips) at Shoreditch, where officers from Bow Street were waiting for him.

Charles Walter Wyatt
Hanged on 6 August 1787 for stealing bank notes
On 14 April 1787 “Charles Walter Wyatt was brought to our Castle, by Habeas Corpus, from New Prison, Clerkenwell, London, charged with feloniously, and contrary to the Statute, detaining Letters which came into his Possession, by Virtue of his Employment in the Post-Office at Witney, in this County; which Letters contained divers Bills of Exchange, &c.” He was found guilty and sentenced to death by Mr Baron Perryn on 20 July 1787.

Thomas White and Charles Walter Wyatt above were hanged together on the same day, 6 August 1787, and because it was the first time a new reformed mode of execution was employed, Jackson's Oxford Journal gave great detail about the “ceremony”.

Charles Smith
Hanged on 24 March 1788 for horse stealing
On Wednesday last [23 January 1788] Charles Smith, supposed to be a notorious Horse-stealer, was apprehended by Mr. John Smith of tis City, the Offender with the Horse having passed through just before, whose Person was very accurately described in a printed Hand-bill.—And Yesterday the said Charles Smith was committed to our Castle, charged on the Oath of Thomas Crow, Servant of Peter Holford, Esq. of Wall's Wootten in Warwickshire, with having stolen a Bay Horse, the Property of the said Peter Holford, Esquire.”
“On Monday last [28 February 1788] another Detainer was lodged against Charles Smith, the Horse Stealer, under Confinement in our Castle; he being charged upon the Oaths of James Sanders and Thomas Haycock, on a violent Suspicion of stealing, out of a Ground in the Hamlet of Knowles, in Warwickshire, on Sunday Evening the Ninth of December last, a Black Mare, the Property of Samuel Sanders, of that Place.”
He was capitally convicted at the Assizes on 5 March 1788 and sentenced to death.
“Last Monday [24 March 1788] Charles Smith, convicted at our late Assizes for Horse-stealing, was executed here, pursuant to his Sentence.—He was brought to the Gallows in solemn Procession, attended by the rest of the Prisoners, about Half past Eight in the Morning, and, by his own Desire, having nothing to say to the Spectators, the Instant the Executioner had fixed the Cord, the Drop took place, and he was launched into Eternity.—His Deportment at the Place of Execution was decent, yet manly; he appeared perfectly serene and composed, tho' rendered exceedingly weak from Illness; and whilst under Confinement rather lamented the Disgrace and Affliction brought upon his Wife and Children, than his own Sufferings.—Being a Roman Catholick, he had been previously attended by a Priest of that Persuasion, though not in his last Moments.—During the preceding Night, which was wholly spent in Devotion, he was accompanied by his Brother; and what was rather extraordinary, his Health seemed to be considerably restored within the last three or four Days of his Life.—Upon the Morning of Execution, finding himself thirsty, he requested a Draught of Purl, which was granted; when he cheerfully took Leave of his Attendants, and did not seem at all alarmed upon the awful Summons to his ignominious Fate.

Thomas Smith (alias Thomas Davis, alias Oxford Tom)
Hanged on 23 March 1790 for horse-stealing
Oxford Tom stole a mare at Culham, the property of Mr Peck of Rye Farm, near Abingdon. Smith gave information that allowed Mr Juggins of Wheatley to recover his stolen mare from a smuggler in Sussex

Charles Evans Shury
john Castle

Hanged on 19 July 1790 for murder
“On Saturday last [22 May 1790] Richard Kilby, a Private in the Berkshire Militia, upon his own voluntary Confession, charged Charles Evans Shury, of Abingdon, in that County, with Giles Covington and John Castle, both of the same Place, with being his Accomplices in the inhuman Murder of David Charteres [sic, for Charteris], of Toot Balden, on the Evening of Abingdon Michaelmas Fair, 1787, near Nuneham Wood in this County; when they robbed the poor honest inoffensive Man of Forty Guineas.—Kilby also confessed being concerned with Shury, Covington, and Castle, in robbing the Dove-House of Mr. Aldsworth, of Norcott, near Abingdon; and likewise with stealing Mr. Peck's Mare, in Company with John Castle and Oxford Tom; the latter of whom was convicted of that Offence at our late Assizes, and afterwards executed. Shury is already apprehended, and it is expected that he will be immediately brought to Oxford.”
“On Saturday last [29 May 1790] Charles Evans Shury was brought to our Castle under a strong Guard, charged with the Murder of David Chateres [sic], in 1787, as mentioned in our last.—On Monday [31 May] Richard Kilby, an Accomplice, was also brought to our Castle for the same Offence; as was John Castle, another Accomplice, on Tuesday.—Giles Covington is not yet apprehended.
There is a very long report of the trial of Shury and Castle in Jackson's Oxford Journal of 17 July 1790. The Judge directed that their bodies be delivered to the surgeons to be dissected and anatomized.

Giles Freeman Covington, mentioned as an accomplice of Charles Evans Shury, does not appear on list published in the newspaper, even though he was eventually hanged on 7 March 1791. He was anatomized at Christ Church, and his skeleton was displayed at the University of Oxford until recent years.

James Williams
Hanged on 3 August 1790 for horse-stealing
He was convicted and received sentence of death for robbing Mr Juggins of Wheatley.
“About Eight o'Clock last Monday morning James Williams for Horse-stealing was executed here pursuant to his Sentence; whose Behaviour in his last Moments did not appear to be marked with a proper Degree of Penitence; and he persisted in denying his Guilt to the last.”

John Kelly (alias James Davis)
Hanged on 22 March 1791 for highway robbery
On 5 March 1791 Kelly, with two boys each aged 15, was found guilty of highway robbery and sentenced to be hanged, “but the Lads, on Account of their tender Age, under his Lordship's Directions were acquitted”.
“Last Monday John Kelly, alias James Davis, was executed here, pursuant to his Sentence, for a Highway Robbery near Bloxham in this County.—He appeared to be exceedingly feeble when brought upon the Platform, where he made no publick Declaration either as to his Guilt or Innocence; but we find that, to the last, he has uniformly denied the Fact for which he suffered, although his Guilt was clearly and satisfactorily proved upon his Trial, and the three Youths he had inveigled as Accomplices all acknowledge the Crime.”

Joseph Tapp
Hanged on 17 March 1792 for highway robbery
Joseph Tapp was committed to the Castle on 21 November 1791 together with Thomas Dale, by the Revd Dr Harrison, “charged with having assaulted and robbed John Griffin, on the 13th Day of October last, upon the King's Highway, in the Township of Neithrop in this County.”
But he was convicted at the Assize of 7 March 1792 of robbing James Miller on the highway at Neithrop, and sentenced to death.
He was executed upon the Tower at the entrance to the Castle, having been brought upon the platform at 9am, “where his Deportment was becoming his unhappy Situation.—He acknowledged the Justice of his Sentence, and appeared truly penitent.”

Robert Jenkinson
Hanged on 31 July 1792 for horse stealing
“Last Monday, about Eight in the Morning, Robert Jenkinson under Sentence of Death for stealing a Chesnut [sic] Gelding the property of Mr. William Phillips, of Tetsworth, in this County, was executed upon the Platform over the Entrance to our Castle. He had been fervent in Prayer previous to his being brought out, but was totally silent at the Place of Execution; and at the Moment Jack Ketch had fixed the Halter the Drop took place, and he was launched into Eternity.... We find that he was a notorious Offender, having been once transported, and likewise tried at divers Times for other Offences, previous to that for which he suffered; insomuch that he was perfectly recognized by the Court on being put to the Bar.”

James Carpenter
Hanged on 26 March 1798 for burglary
The burglary was committed in the house of Benjamin Parsons of Dorchester-on-Thames.
“He ascended the Platform, erected over the Front Gateway of the Castle, about half past eight o'clock in the forenoon.—The unfortunate young man manifested the most sincere contrition, and quitted the world with a pious resignation and truly christian fortitude.

Jesse Wiggins
Hanged on 24 March 1801 for sheep stealing
He was capitally convicted at the Town Hall Assizes for sheep stealing with Thomas Taylor and Richard Faulkner, but the latter two were reprieved.

Thomas Davis
Hanged on 25 March 1805 for uttering a forged note
Davis was sentenced at the Assizes on 6 March 1805 for “feloniously uttering a Bank of England Note, knowing the same to be forged”, with the intent to defraud Mrs Elizabeth Cecil of Chipping Norton. He was a Dissenter, and a Minister attended him at the Castle Gaol, where he “manifested the most sincere contrition, acknowledging that he deserved to die for the injury which he had done his country, and expressing a strong desire that his death might deter others from following his sad example. He met his death with uncommon resignation; and when he ascended the platform, he particularly requested the Minister who attended him, to declare to the numerous spectators, for the warning f others, 'that evil company, sabbath breaking, and gaming, had first led him from the paths of virtue, and exposed him to the commission of that crime which brought him to such an untimely end; and he earnestly entreated that they would join him in praying that he might obtain forgiveness of Almighty God.” He was executed on a platform on top of the entrance tower of the Castle Gaol on 25 March 1805 and buried in a grave, dug by his fellow prisoners, in the consecrated ground belonging to the Chapel of St George within the walls of the Castle.

James Bannister
Hanged on 10 July 1815 for murdering his wife
Bannister pleaded guilty at the Assizes in July 1815 tor the wilful murder of his wife: “the Learned Judge earnestly endeavoured to persuade him to rescind his plea and put himself upon the trial, but he obstinately refused, saying he had made his peace with God and was prepared to die; whereupon he was sentenced to be hanged on Monday next, and his body afterwards to be dissected and anatomized.”

William Archer
Hanged on 26 March 1817 for arson
Archer was found guilty at the Assizes on 8 March 1817 of setting fire to two ricks at Great Bourton, the property of Mrs Ann Buckett. He only admitted the offence on the morning of the execution, “alleging that he was prompted to the commission of the act by a spirit of resentment which he had unfortunately too long indulged against the family of the Bucketts, in consequence of repeated trespasses they were in the habit of committing on his grounds. In making this acknowledgment of his guilt, he declared that Haycock (who was condemned with him, but afterwards reprieved) had no share in it, and he added, that he freely forgave the Bucketts and all who appeared against him.”

John Bradley
Hanged on 2 August 1818 for highway robbery
Bradley violently assaulted and wounded Thos. Hankinson, a sergeant of the 33rd regiment, on the King's highway between Bicester and Middleton on 25 April 1818, and robbed him of six one-pound notes and 15s. in silver. The soldier apprehended Bradley the next morning at Bicester. Bradley was already under sentence of death when he was committed to the County Gaol at Oxford Castle on 20 July 1818, and he was executed at 8.15am on 2 August together with Richard Wiggins below.

Richard Wiggins
Hanged on 2 August 1818 for sheep stealing
Richard Wiggins lived on Waterperry Common, and stole four sheep, the property of William Piggins, a labouring man, out of a ground in of Stanton St John, selling the carcasses in joints to persons in the neighbourhood, and the skins to a fellmonger. On 15 July 1818 at the Assizes held at Oxford's old Town Hall, he was sentenced to death. He was executed at Oxford Castle at 8.15am on 2 August together with John Bradley above.

John Matthews
Hanged on 5 August 1822 for highway robbery
John Matthews, alias Jones, asked the waggoner Joseph Thomas, who was travelling to London from Oxford if he could have a ride from Dorchester Bridge, as he could not walk. Thomas said he would have room at Shillingford, so Matthews walked a mile. Six miles further on at Gansdown Hill, Matthews left the waggon and walked, and knocked Thomas senseless with an iron bar on Nettlebed Hill. Thomas was taken to the Bull pub at Nettlebed, and when he recovered consciousness he found that two pound notes of the Abingdon bank, a pocket book, and the way-bill of his waggon had been cut out out of the side-pocket of his waistcoat through his smock frock. He made a full confession to the Chaplain to the gaol, and was “launched into eternity” at 8.15am on 5 August 1822.

William James
Henry Pittaway
Hanged on 1 August 1824 for murder
On 15 June 1824 James Millin, one of the keepers to Lord Churchill, was shot by poachers in Hengrove Coppice in Wychwood Forest. William James (48) and Henry Pittaway (25) were committed to the county gaol in Oxford on 16 July, jointly charged on suspicion of murder, which they both denied until the end.
William James was born at Burford in 1776, the son of a labourer, and sent to the free school for seven years and then apprenticed to a slater & plasterer. He then went to live at Taynton, and he and his wife Mary had six children. He said it was hard to feed such a large family, and frequently went into Wychwood Forest “for the purpose of getting venison”.
Henry Pittaway, who lived at Swinbrook where he was born, had a wife and two children, and his chief employment was that of poacher.
Their bodies were delivered to Mr Wentworth, the surgeon of the gaol, by whom they were dissected and anatomized.

Richard Webbe or Webb
Hanged on 26 March 1827 for horse stealing
Webb was born in Mapledurham, but was residing at Cookham Deane near Maidenhead at the time of the theft with his wife and eight children and working as a higgler. He had formerly been a servant of the Pearman family, farmers of Mapledurham and about twenty years earlier had been whipped in the stocks for stealing from their farm. He thereafter hated the Pearmans and in 1827 stole a horse from them, which was later found in his possession in London. His wish to be buried at Cookham Deane was granted.

Thomas Shaler
Hanged on 23 March 1828 for highway robbery
Relevant edition of Jackson's Oxford Journal missing from scanned version

John Gibbs
Hanged on 19 March 1832 for arson
Gibbs was convicted of setting fire to some ricks valued at £200 belonging to Mr Wing of Steeple Aston at 11pm on 12 February 1832. He was executed at the front of the County Gaol before thousands of people at the same time as George Lay below.

George Lay
Hanged on 19 March 1832 for highway robbery
On 23 January 1832 George Lay (18) went out armed with a hedge stake, announcing that if he met any one of four named Culham farmers he would knock him on the head with it. He duly attacked Mr E. Pullen junior of Sutton Courtenay at Culham Moor and stole a canvas bag containing four sovereigns, two half sovereigns and other money, and a gold watch. A reward of £20 was offered for the apprehension of Lay, and he was caught in Oxford. On 16 February 1832 he was committed to Oxford Castle to take his trial at the next Oxfordshire Assizes, and was executed at the front of the County Gaol before thousands of people at the same time as John Gibbs above. He confessed that he had been concerned in numerous other robberies, “to which he had been instigated by his mother, a woman of notoriously bad character”.

Thomas Clay
Hanged on 5 March 1836 for murder
Thomas Clay, a notorious poacher who lived in Headington, was arrested for the murder of Thomas Cooper, gamekeeper to Major R. Weyland, Esq, MP of Woodeaton. Cooper had been shot in the back of the head and struck on the back of the skull when when on the ground. Footprints matching Clay's shoes led from the body to the house of Thomas's brother John Clay in Elsfield. Clay was working on the turnpike road when he was arrested by one of the city police called Bossom. He was found guilty of murder, but protested his innocence to the end.

Charles Morley
Hanged on 23 March 1840 for murder
Charles Morley (34)
Morley was already due to be transported to New South Wales for seven years for stealing a bag of carpenter's tools when in 1840 he was charged with stealing a large quantity of gold coins totalling over £250 from Fanny Phillips, an elderly and infirm widow of Woodcote in South Stoke with whom he lived, and then murdering her. He hid the money in the thatch, and told his wife down in Henley where the money was. He protested his innocence until the end, but was found guilty of murder. At 6.30 on the morning of his execution the outer or great gates of the gaol on New Road were thrown open for the admission of the public. He received the Sacrament in the chapel, the bell of St Peter-le-Bailey began to toll at 7.30, the Castle bell began to toll at 7.50, and he was executed at 8.01.

William Kalabergo
Hanged on 22 March 1852 for murder
Giovanni Maria Ferdinando Kalabergo (known as John) had been a watchmaker & jeweller in Banbury who also made barometers and thermometers for over 40 years when on the evening of Saturday 10 January 1852 he was shot in the back of the head while leading his horse & cart down Williamscot Hill. He was accompanied by his 22-year-old nephew, Gulielmo Giovanni Bazetti Kalabergo (known as William), who told spoke no English but told the Banbury Catholic priest in Italian that he and his uncle had been attacked by three men. William was found guilty of the murder, and the Judge condemned him to death, stipulating that his body should be buried in the precincts of the gaol.

Noah Austin
Hanged on 23 March 1863 for murder
On 9 November 1861 Noah Austin of Upper Heyford was bound over to keep the peace for a year after threatening to murder his father and sister. On 11 February 1863 Austin, now a butcher aged 26, purchased a six-shot revolver from the Banbury gunsmith Thomas Julians Watkins, and two days later on 13 February he murdered James Allen (52) of Upper Heyford Mill with two shots to the head, apparently because Allen had disapproved of Austin, who was the suitor of his only daughter. Austin confessed to the crime when in the condemned cell on 18 March. This was the first execution at the gaol for eleven years, and about 5,000 people, including children came to watch his execution, including one man who walked fifty miles from Evesham for the spectacle. The execution took place at 8am after the vending of refreshments had been hushed and the bell had tolled for ten minutes.

Edward Roberts
Hanged on 23 March 1872 for murder
Edward Roberts (36), a jobbing gardener, was charged with the wilful murder of Ann Merrick (33) at Witney on 20 July 1871. He had been lodging with the widow Esther Merrick and her daughter in Meeting House Lane, Witney for eighteen months. Ann spurned Edward's attentions, and when her mother was at church and she was cleaning the kitchen floor he hit her on the head with an axe in front of another lodger, John Godfrey. Roberts then took himself to the police station and asked to be locked up. Ann died almost a month later. Roberts was visited in the county gaol by the Wesleyan Minister from Witney, and his brothers and sisters visited him. Only about 50 people turned up to watch his execution, which took place “at the northern corner of the old burial ground which formerly belonged to what was then known as St George's parish, and immediately under the prison wall, which is about thirty feet high, and facing the Castle tower”. An inquest was held on his body, as required by an Act of Parliament (Statute 31 Vict., cap. 24, sec. 10). Roberts was then buried.

Harry Rowles
Hanged on 1 April 1878 for murder
Harry Rowles, who had grown up at Campsfield Farm, had been paying his addresses to Miss Mary Hannah Allen (known as Polly), the granddaughter of Mr Putt of Cassington. He had received a legacy of over £1000 under his mother's will, but she lost interest in him after he had squandered it and was seen walking with someone else. Rowles threatened to shoot her grandfather and her brother Gabriel if she did not write him a letter. While her grandfather was consulting a county magistrate in Eynsham about this, Rowles went to see Mary at her house and shot her dead. Although he suffered from delusions and epilepsy and the state of his mind was questioned at the trial and the jury recommended mercy, he was deemed to be of sound mind and was sentenced to death, and the Judge pronounced that he should be buried within the precincts of the prison after being hanged.

Charles Smith
Hanged on 9 May 1887 for murder
On 19 February 1887 Charles Smith, aged about 68, a travelling hawker and peg- and basket-maker who originated from Barford near Deddington, attacked his wife Lucy (a native of Tetsworth, whose maiden name was Austin) with a hammer on the Common at Open Brasenose where they were camping under a blanket supported by four sticks with their children Oceana (17) and Prince Albert (10). Lucy crawled out and died, and two witnesses alerted the police station in Magdalen Street, and Smith was brought up before the Warden of Merton and A. R. Tawney, Esq at County Hall. Lucy was buried in Cowley churchyard, while Charles Smith was found guilty of wilful murder, and he was ordered “to be hanged by the neck till he be dead, and his body to be afterwards buried within the precincts of the Prison in which he shall last have been confined after his conviction, and the said Charles Smith was ordered to be committed to the High Sheriff of the County of Oxford in execution of the said sentence.” He was duly transferred from Reading Gaol to the prison at the Castle on 23 April and hanged there on 9 May. He was buried in the part known as the Deputy-Governor's garden under the Castle Tower, and his initials C.S. were cut into the stonework of the wall.

The hanging of Charles Smith above was described in great detail in Jackson's Oxford Journal of 14 May 1887 because he was the first convict executed using a reformed method of execution

Joseph Walker
Hanged on 15 November 1887 for murder
On Friday 16 September 1887 Joseph Walker, a saddler in lower Market Street in Chipping Norton who was aged 46, sold some pigs to the landlord of the Chequers Inn and became intoxicated. It appears that when he got home he fell into a drunken sleep and his wife Henrietta rifled his pockets for money, and also went out and got drunk herself. In the evening she sent two little children who were staying with the family to bed under the charge of her stepson, Joseph Walker junior, who was aged about 15. He heard a scream, and when he came downstairs he found that his father had cut Henrietta's throat with a small but very sharp black-handled cheese knife. His son told Superintendent Cope of the Chipping Norton Borough Police that his father had killed his mother, and he was taken to the lock-up at the County Police Station, where he repeated asserted that he was glad he had made a good job of it. He was sent to Oxford by train and temporarily lodged in the Oxford Gaol. He was found guilty at the Assizes on 29 October and Mr Justice Hawkins ordered he should be hanged by his neck until he was dead and that his body should be buried within the precincts of the prison. Despite a petition with hundreds of names presented to the Home Secretary pleading for a commutation of the sentence, he was hanged on 15 November. Two or three people congregated in New Road at the time of the execution, and a special Holy Communions were held at St Paul's and St Frideswide's Churches at the time of the execution.

Robert Upton
Hanged on 17 July 1888 for murder
Upton was an illiterate labourer aged 61 who had been employed by Messrs Alfred Groves & Sons, builders of Milton-under-Wychwood, for thirty years. After working at Shipton Court he returned to his home in Milton-under-Wychwood at about 6pm on Wednesday 23 May 1888 and quarrelled with his wife Emma, striking her with an iron bar on her temple, killing her instantly. Neighbours who witnessed the deed called the police, and they arrested him as he tried to commit suicide with a razor. When asked if he wished to plead guilty or not guilty, he said “Yes, sir; I done the deed” and did not wish to have anyone to plead for him but would “go to the gallows like a prince”. The execution was badly executed and his head was pulled off, leading to an inquest. He was interred at the foot of the Castle Tower.

This list continues includes four executions between 1892 and 1921


© Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 11 September, 2023

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