The Hanging of Thomas Williams - August 1837

From 1837 to 1901 Queen Victoria presided over the world’s biggest empire – and during her 64-year reign approximately 1,100 judicial hangings were carried out in Great Britain and Ireland. I am endeavouring to obtain some more details of the case. The only one I can find to date is from the Preston Chronicle (Preston, England), Saturday, August 5, 1837. Under the title WILLIAMS THE MURDERER it stated

"Mr Justice Coltman departed from York on Friday afternoon, for Durham: his Lordship left Thomas Williams convicted of murder in Sheffield, for execution. The unfortunate man will suffer the extreme penalty of the law on Saturday the 5th of August"

A full report appeared in the local press

For some reason the execution must have been postponed for a week but on 12th August 1837 a report of the execution stated that

“Let me warn you all of the demon drink!” proclaimed Thomas Williams, 29, as he stood on the scaffold outside York Prison on Saturday, August 12th, 1837. The crowd, said to be “disappointingly small,” who had come to watch him hang, made no discernible response.
Williams killed a workmate, Thomas Froggart, in a ferocious attack at the little factory in Silver Street, Sheffield, where they were both employed as basket makers. Williams, who certainly had a drink problem, had been fired by the factory-owner, and believed Froggart was after his work. He stabbed Froggart with a sharpened billhook used to cut willows, then embedded it in his skull.
While another work colleague ran screaming into the street, Williams calmly walked off to the Windsor Castle pub, had a drink, and waited for the police.
Froggart took three weeks to die from his head wounds. Williams was convicted at York Assizes, and his execution was the first to be held in England during the reign of Queen Victoria. Another First for Sheffield!

Another report this time from The York Herald added additional detail

"On Saturday, the 12th instant, at noon, the last sentence of the law was executed on Thomas Williams, convicted at the Yorkshire Assizes of the wilful murder of Thomas Froggatt, of Sheffield. The testimony of guilt was clear and convincing, the unhappy culprit having been brought to an ignominious and untimely end from a malicious principle of revenge which he had harboured in his breast.

He had a wife and five children, but we have not heard that they visited him since his trial. At an early hour in the morning he was removed from the condemned cell to the press room, where he engaged in prayer with the ordinary. He appeared fully impressed with the conviction that he was about to enter the presence of his eternal Judge; and said his deepest grief was, that his wife, who was innocent, would be the greatest sufferer. When he had again fervently engaged in prayer, he turned his face to the crowd, and in a distinct voice, and with a collected manner, said—

" Fellow-men, you are come to witness a spectacle of intemperance—an awful scene: I hope this will make a lasting impression upon every soul before me. A man in the prime of life, 30 years of age, cut off through this diabolical crime of intemperance. Is there a drunkard before me ? Yea, I see many. Let him go home, and be so no more. Is there a liar ? Let him speak truth for the future, and turn to God with full purpose of heart. I have to inform you that I am leaving a grateful partner behind me ; one that is walking in the commandments of the Lord, and one that delights in her God."

The fatal bolt was drawn. He struggled very little, and after hanging the usual time, his body was buried within the precincts of the prison.


Richard Clark

The York Herald

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This page was last updated on 21/12/11 12:03