THE days of murderers paying the ultimate price of death for killing someone might be long gone.

But the history of Glasgow’s hanging past will never be erased.

In this new Evening Times series, we will reveal the stories of the men who were hanged at HMP Barlinnie prison and the crimes which took them on that path.

Although only 10 men were given the death penalty at the notorious East End prison, many more hangings took place across the city centuries before.

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If you look closely across the city, you might even spot a few nods to Glasgow’s hanging past including the prominent McLennan Arch, above, which features at the Saltmarket entrance of the Glasgow Green.

“Jocelyn Gate. This area, formerly known as Jocelyn Square, was the site of both the famous Glasgow Fair and, until 1865 of public executions,” reads an inscription on the flagstone of the impressive arch.

That memorial is a nod to the hangings which took place at the entrance to the Glasgow Green, facing what is now the city’s High Court building.

The first executions at the spot were in 1814, and over the years 67 men and four women were hanged there.

The story goes that the men and women who went to the gallows were hanged with their backs to the court and facing the Nelson Monument in Glasgow Green.

When Dr Edward Pritchard became the last person to be hanged in Jocelyn Square in 1865, it was such a sensation that the execution turned into one of the year’s greatest tourist attractions.

The respectable doctor, who had a practice in Sauchiehall Street, was convicted of poisoning his wife and mother-in-law.

People travelled to the square, and filled the surrounding streets drinking and celebrating the doctor’s demise.

Those who owned rooms overlooking the hanging site hired them out at three guineas a time so spectators could have a grandstand view and street vendors did a roaring trade.

It was, in the words of one 19th century writer, the ‘last great hanging’ in Glasgow.

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Duke Street Prison

City hangings then took place in a more modest setting at the now defunct Duke Street Prison which was demolished in 1958 to make way for housing.

The prison was situated close to the High Street end of Duke Street and a total of 12 hangings took place there between 1902 and 1928.

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City councillors at Duke Street Pirson looking at trap door.

Among those who had the noose around their neck was Susan Newell who was the last woman to be hanged in Scotland.

The Glasgow subway worker was found guilty of strangling newspaper boy Jean Johnston who was just 13 when she killed him.

She was executed on October 10, 1923 at Duke Street Prison and officially the last hanging of a woman had taken place in the city 70 years prior.

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Barlinnie

Fast forward to 1946, where the first hanging took place at HMP Barlinnie. HMP Barlinnie replaced the gallows at Duke Street Prison where George Reynolds was the last man to be hanged in 1928.

A total of 10 judicial executions by hanging took place at the prison until 1960. This was before the death penalty was eventually abolished in the UK in 1969.

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All the executions took place at 8am and the public were only informed of the hanging when the prison guards placed a notice on the gates of Barlinnie, above.

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The public executioners during that time were Thomas Pierrepoint, Albert Pierrepoint and Harry Allen, above. The men gained worldwide notoriety as public executioners. They travelled all over the world to carry out executions and made 10 visits to Glasgow between them for the Barlinnie hangings.

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Frank McKue, above, also played an important role in the executions as death watch officer at Barlinnie.

He previously told The Evening Times in an interview: “To sit with a guy who is going to be hanged in the morning is quite an experience.

“You’re saying cheerio to someone who you know won’t ever be coming back. That sort of thing didn’t bother me, though – I never lost any sleep over it.”

Once an execution had taken place, the remains of all executed prisoners were the property of the state. They were buried in unmarked graves within the walls of the prison.

During renovations at the prison in 1997, Barlinnie’s gallows cell, which was built into D-hall, was finally demolished and the remains of all the executed prisoners were exhumed for reburial elsewhere on the grounds.

Frank revisited Barlinnie just before the old execution chamber was dismantled.

He went with Glasgow-based film-maker David Graham Scott, and the result was a brief documentary, Hanging With Frank.

In one scene, Frank stands on the trapdoor and places the hangman’s hood over his head. It is a chilling sight.

“That was absolutely horrendous,” he said.

“Once that hood was on, you were dead. You can’t breathe. You’re gasping for air, and the next thing you know, the hangman has put the noose on. He pulls the lever and you’re away.”

Through our own archives at the Mitchell Library in Glasgow, we will retell the stories of those prisoners who paid the ultimate price for the crime of murder.

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Patrick Carraher

In the coming weeks, we will share the stories of Govanhill gang member John Lyon, the ‘fiend of the Gorbals’ Patrick Carraher, Carntyne cop killer John Caldwell, self-sacrificing Paul Christopher Harris, not so law-abiding police officer James Robertson, dancefloor killer James Smith, wife killer Patrick Gallagher Deveney, Lanarkshire murder hut killer George Francis Shaw, the infamous Peter Manuel and Queen’s Park killer Tony Miller.

Our reporters at the time covered the cases from the moment the crime was committed to the hanging of the killer on the gallows.

It might be a gory history, but the disposal of capital punishment as a sentence was very much a part of Glasgow’s crime story.

  • See tomorrow's Evening Times for the first part of this series on the story of Govanhill gang member John Lyon.