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The 1841 census has a William Marwood (55) living in Goulceby with his wife Mary (35) and two children – John (3) and Jane, just a month old. Marwood was a shoemaker, as was another William Marwood (20) and Jesse (30) who lived in Bolingbroke, and was also a shoemaker. The 1851 census gives Marwood’s date of birth as 1819 and he is living in Dexthorpe, near Spilsby. Dexthorpe is now classed as a deserted medieval village. In this census return, Marwood has described himself as a Master Cordwainer. The term comes from the use of Cordovan leather to make high quality shoes. 1861 found William and Jesse Marwood living at 182 Foundry Street in Horncastle. Jesse died in the summer of 1867 at the age of 61, but William did not remain a widower for very long. He married his second wife, Ellen, later that year.

In 1881, William and Ellen Marwood were still in Foundry Street, but the house has a different number, whether through new builds necessitating renumbering, or through actual moving house, it is not clear. He describes himself as a Professional Executioner and shoe dealer – surely a unique combination! Marwood has a blue plaque in town, but it is on a tiny building in Church Street.


It is pointless to speculate what made Marwood wish to become an executioner, but an infamous Lincolnshire murder in 1872 prompted him to offer his services to the governor of Lincoln Castle prison, where Boston-born William Horry was in the condemned cell, have been sentenced to death for killing his wife. After the abolition of public executions in 1868, prison governors and staff were required to witness hangings, which normally involved slow strangulation. Marwood had devised a method known as ‘The Long Drop’, where a calculation was made using the prisoner’s body weight to ensure that the neck was broken instantly.

The execution of Horry, on 1st April 1872, went perfectly, and in 1874 Marwood was appointed senior hangman. He was awarded a retainer of £20 a year – in modern money over £2400 – and earned the equivalent of £1200 for each execution. The Long Drop’ was certainly a more humane method of judicial killing – when it was correctly calculated calculated. Marwood’s successor, James Berry, got things badly wrong on one infamous occasion, when he was required to execute the Wisbech murderer, Robert Goodale in 1885 at Norwich. When the trap opened and Goodale disappeared from view, onlookers were horrified to see the rope spring back through the trap door as if it were made of elastic. When they opened the door leading to the space below the scaffold, Goodale’s head had completely been severed from his body.

William Marwood was hangman for nine years, and hanged 176 people, which gave him lifetime earnings from his trade (again in modern money) as £232,800! His second career undoubtedly enabled him to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle. The Lincolnshire Chronicle of 5th April 1881 reported that he and his family were enjoying the Spring sunshine in France.


Marwood certainly experienced a certain mixture of celebrity and notoriety in his home town. The famous Scottish music hall entertainer, Arthur Lloyd (pictured below left), recalls meeting him after giving a concert at Horncastle Corn Exchange:

its-naughty-but-its-nice-sung-by-arthur-lloyd-comic-song“During my stay in Horncastle I got to know that Marwood had been doing duty as a hangman some time before his neighbours knew of the circumstance. And it would have been a secret for some time longer, but that a Horncastle man happened to be present at an execution which took place at some distant town, and, on seeing the operator, recognised his fellow-townsman. The news spread like wildfire at Horncastle, and when Marwood arrived home he found himself the object of a few attentions which were more demonstrative than nice. And for some time after, when he started for, or came back from, an execution, he was followed about by people who showed no displeasure by hooting him, and by beating tin kettles, pots, and pans. This grew to be a veritable nuisance, so bad that Marwood was compelled to write to the Home Secretary claiming protection. After he had done this the head of Horncastle police was communicated with, and since that time Marwood has been permitted to depart from, and return to this town without molestation; in fact, he walks about the place without attracting any special attention. I noticed that his fellow townsmen greeted him in an unmarked but friendly manner, and he appeared to be on good terms with everybody. He keeps a shoemaker’s shop, and is comfortably off, owning several houses in Horncastle.”

Marwood’s ‘celebrity clients’ & bankrupt death