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The Execution of William Worsley

The Bedfordshire Mercury of 31st March 1868 detailed the execution of William Worsley thus: 

EXECUTION OF THE CONVICT WORSLEY 

CONFESSION OF THE MURDERER 

TUESDAY MORNING, March 31st 1868 

When it was at first announced that the execution of Worsley was fixed for Tuesday morning, at eight o'clock, the inhabitants of Bedford expressed their gratitude for the new arrangement, which was felt would have the effect of preventing many country people from attending, and would materially lesson [sic] the crowd which otherwise would have gathered together. But long before eight o'clock many persons had taken up what they termed "good" positions near the Prison, and there were observed not a few of those individuals - men and women - who make it their business to attend executions, and sell copies of the "last dying speech and confession", printed beforehand. There were a large number of persons from Luton, from which town and prisoner came, and near which the murder took place, they having arrived here the overnight for the purpose of witnessing the awful spectacle. The crowd increased gradually from seven o'clock, although it could be seen that the number would be far below what it had been on former occasions. It is a creditable fact that the head masters of the Harpur Schools, as well as the head mistress of the girls' school, instructed their scholars to attend the school at half past seven o'clock instead of nine o'clock, the usual hour - to remain there until two hours or more after the execution had taken place, and thus prevent them from beholding such a fearful sight. Chief-constable Stennett and his men, with numerous special constables, were present among the crowd, to preserve order as far as possible. There were many complaints uttered by persons in front of the Gaol that the drop was entirely hidden from view by means of a drapery of black cloth, as it was evident that very little of Calcraft's operations would be seen.

At a few minutes before eight o'clock the number of persons present - men, women and young children - numbered not more than 4,000 and they behaved themselves in an orderly manner for the most part. Several preachers addressed those assembled upon the sad occasion, and uttered words of warning - apparently unheeded by the majority of those standing on the spot.

During the night the Governor and other officials paid unremitting attentions to the convict; who was of course somewhat excited in his manner. Being anxious not to keep the matter secret any longer, he dictated a statement to the Governor in which he confessed his guilt. Between twelve and one o'clock he dictated a letter to his friends which was taken down in writing by the Governor, and he expressed a wish that the same should be made known to the public at large. The following is a copy: -

"Dear Brothers and Sisters, - I have made a true statement to the Chaplain and Governor, who has taken it down in writing, - how this sad affair has happened, and what made me to do it, and it is my wish that what I have said may be made known to you, in the hope that it may be satisfactory to you. I never meant to leave this world before I made it known as soon as I found there were no hopes left for me. I hope you will forgive me for what I have done. I am quite satisfied with the judge who tried me - also with my counsellor, as far as he had information given to him. I have only now to thank you all sincerely and he public at large for what you and they have done for me, and hope that the Lord will reward you and them for it".

"I must now bid you all farewell, and pray that this may be a warning to all of you. Give my kind love to my wife, and I hope she will make herself as comfortable as she can about me, and hope she will pray earnestly to the Almighty for guidance and strength during the remainder of her days. I pray now day and night for the merciful God to forgive me, and I hope that I shall make my peace with Him".

"No more from your unfortunate brother"

"WILLIAM WORSLEY".

We may state that every word in this letter was dictated by the prisoner, and he expressly wished that the public might be made acquainted with it, and that they would draw a lesson from his unhappy fate.

The Chaplain was with him to a later hour and prayed most fervently with him. About two o'clock the Governor left the cell, and soon afterwards the culprit fell asleep.

About four o'clock Mr. Roberts again visited the condemned cell, but finding the convict asleep, left him. About five o'clock the prisoner woke, but was very drowsy for some time afterwards, and did not rise until about six o'clock, at which hour the Chaplain arrived, and remained for some time with him in prayer. The convict frequently said he hoped God would have mercy upon him. About half-past six the Governor entered the cell and read over to him his statement and letter, the former of which the prisoner signed. The Chaplain continued with him the whole of the time, using all his endeavours to comfort him under such trying circumstances. The Under-Sheriff (Mr. T. J. Hooper) arrived at the Gaol at an early hour, and shortly before the time fixed for the execution formally demanded the body of the convict, which was handed over to the executioner.

At about ten minutes to eight the wretched man was conducted from his cell on the upper storey to the vestibule of the chapel adjacent, and there submitted to the operation of pinioning by Calcraft with the most perfect quietude, and was immediately brought downstairs to the main corridor, where the procession was formed, and it proceeded to the scaffold in the following order: - Two Warders, the Chaplain, the Culprit supported on the right by the Governor of the Prison (at Worsley's request), and on the left by Calcraft. The procession was closed by the warders of the Prison.

As the procession slowly moved up the staircase in the porter's lodge leading to the scaffold, the Chaplain read the usual burial service. At the top of the staircase the culprit and the Chaplain knelt down and engaged in prayer, after which the unhappy man shook hands with the Chaplain, Governor, Calcraft, and all the warders saying, "God bless you all". He then ascended the drop, bowed to the crowd, saying something entirely inaudible. As Calcraft was placing the white cap over his face, the culprit addressed some observation to him, to which the latter replied "Pray on". The executioner immediately drew the bolt, the drop instantaneously fell, and after a few moments' struggle, all was over. The body fell so as to be entirely hid from the public gaze.

At nine o'clock the body was cut down and buried in a grave in the prison yard in close proximity to that of Joseph Castle, the last culprit executed at this prison.

LIST OF PRISONERS EXECUTED AT THE BEDFORD COUNTY PRISON SINCE 1801 

  • William Pepper - 1801 - Sheep stealing
  • John Brown - 1801 - Burglary & horsestealing
  • William Merrill - 1808 - Housebreaking
  • William Bonfield - 1816 - Stealing bank notes
  • Edmund Chamberlain - 1816 - Murder
  • Thomas Fleming - 1817 - Rape
  • George Snowden - 1821 - Burglary
  • James Walker - 1827 - Horsestealing
  • John Lincoln - 1828 - Burglary
  • Matthew Lilley and William Lilley - 1829 - Shooting at a gamekeeper
  • James Addington - 1832 - Arson
  • Thomas Crawley - 1833 - Murder
  • Sarah Dazley - 1843 - Murder
  • Joseph Castle - 1860 - Murder
  • William Worsley - 1868 - Murder.

William Worsley was the last man to be executed in public in Bedfordshire. The last public execution in the country was carried out a few weeks later, on 26th May, when William Calcraft hanged Fenian [Irish Republican] bomber Michael Barrett at Newgate Prison in London