Haunting image of Mansfield hangman’s workplace

Picture by Neil Pledger
Picture by Neil Pledger

A Mansfield artist who mixes old and modern photographs to reveal the town’s heritage has unveiled a haunting picture which shows the workplace of Britain’s ‘last surviving hangman.’

Neil Pledger’s latest image in his Footprint of Mansfield Past series, shows Leeming Street post office, where Syd Dernley, who enjoyed notoriety as an executioner until his death in 1994, was postmaster.

The Chad has published a number of Neil’s images, which he says are inspired by ‘the decaying footprint of a variety of derelict buildings, which has led to places of past industrial or historical significance being lost forever.’

Neil said: “Syd Dernley was fascinated with crime stories from a young age and this inspired him to apply for the role of assistant executioner through the home office. Appointed in 1949 he went on to assist in over 20 hangings before his role came to an end some five years later.

“During this time he maintained his ‘normal’ day job of welder at his local colliery, never allowing his hidden job to interfere with his life.”

In his memoirs, The Hangman’s Tale, Syd wrote: ‘It is not for Hangmen to wonder about guilt or innocence or the crime or the sort of man the condemned person is.’”

Syd Dernley was born on 29th December 1920 at 21 Grove Street, Mansfield Woodhouse, the son of William Dernley and Ethel Thompson.

A welder by trade, he was appointed assistant executioner by the Home Office in 1949, and participated in 20 hangings until he was replaced in 1954.

In 1950 he assisted in the hanging of Timothy Evans for the murder of his family, though Evans was pardoned posthumously in 1966 when it was discovered the inamous John Reginald Halliday Christie had in fact been the killer.

On 27th April 1954, he was removed from the Home Office list of Official List of Assistant Executioners having been convicted of publishing obscene material, and sent to prison for six months.

He died on 1st November 1994, in Mansfield, at the age of 73.

In one of his last interviews before his death he said; “It was not that I wanted to kill people, but it was the story of travel and adventure, of seeing notorious criminals and meeting famous detectives.”

Britain abolished the death penalty in 1969.

He kept a series of ‘souvenirs’ from his time as hangman, including a white linen hood, slightly smaller than a pillow case, a legstrap and armstrap, plus a replica noose made especially for him.

In his home he had a genuine spyhole from a condemned cell, and a wooden board on which the notices of executions were placed outside the gaol.

To view more of Neil’s work, visit artdk.co.uk, or search on Facebook.