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Business card for Public Executioner

Public Executioner

James Berry, 1852-1913, was on the Home Office list of executioners from 1884-1891, and carried out 131 hangings. He was the first British executioner to write his memoirs: My Experiences as an Executioner and had a waxwork in Madame Tussauds.

Q Who would he have handed his business card to?


A In the early days of his career, whenever a murderer was condemned to death, hangman James Berry would offer his services to the county sheriff, enclosing a printed statement of his terms and conditions. These left no room for misunderstanding. Travelling expenses covered second-class return railway fare from his native Bradford and cab fare between railway station and gaol, plus hotel expenses. Once established, Berry considered it no longer necessary to apply for work in England as he was so well known, but whenever an execution in Ireland was announced he sent one of his simple address cards, as illustrated in Valerie’s query.

Berry considered his calling “an honest trade to provide a living for my family”. He retired young in 1892, aged forty, and after his lecture engagements petered out he took various jobs including innkeeper and salesman. He died in 1913, having devoted his latter years to evangelistic and temperance work. Berry’s biography, My experiences as an executioner, was published by Percy Lund & Co of Bradford in 1892.

John Roberts



This regular feature invites answers by email to members’ questions on an item of ephemera.