HR Strange But True!
June 01, 2006

Britain's National Archives recently released documents showing some of the reasons the country's prison commission rejected applicants for the position of hangman in 1938, Reuters reports.

The documents detail the prison commission's standards for the position of executioner, which the British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) claims was one of the hardest jobs to land in the world at the time.

The BBC notes that the process the prison commission used to select executioners has been a mystery until the release of the documents.

The documents show that the commission wanted hangmen who were discreet, trustworthy, and of sound mind, the BBC notes. Some of the reasons the commission cited in rejecting applicants include:

  • Loose morals. Arthur Clifford Gill, a butcher, was rejected after he was accused of being "a man of loose morals."
  • Too Chatty. "He lets his tongue run away from him when in drink and as I know him he is not to be trusted with any business concerning the above duties," an assistant executioner told the commission about one applicant.
  • Too morbid. "He appears to have a somewhat morbid interest in the work, aroused through having a friend who carried out many executions in Arabia," a police officer said about one prospective hangman.

If the prison commission selected an applicant, he had to abide by a code of conduct, the records show. The code said, in part, "An executioner should avoid attracting public attention in going to or from the prison; he should clearly understand that his conduct and general behavior must be respectable and discreet, not only at the place and time of execution, but before and subsequently; in particular he must not give to any person particulars on the subject of his duty for publication."

The records also include information on Thomas Pierrepoint, who executed more than 300 men and women in his 37 years as executioner. In 1938, the prison commission debated whether the elderly Pierrepoint was fit for duty. In the end, the commission decided to keep Pierrepoint, Reuters notes.

Britain abandoned the death penalty for murder in 1965.

Sources: BBC and Reuters

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