How a hangman haunted by his work was saved from suicide

How a hangman haunted by his work was saved from suicide

A HANGMAN turned to God after a chance encounter saved him from suicide.

James Berry is the infamous executioner from Heckmondwike who features on the Spen Valley Fame Trail.

He put 131 people to death over seven years from 1884, having devised a ‘drop’ method to make hanging more humane.

Local historian Mike Popplewell is charting the people and events celebrated by the fame trail.

There are 48 plaques supported by a leaflet and website created by the Spen Valley Civic Society.

Mr Berry is plaque number 19, near the Green on Westgate, in Heckmondwike town centre.

He quit as a hangman in March, 1892, having become so disillusioned that he wanted to throw himself under a train.

Mike, of Gomersal, said it was at this moment he had a chance encounter with a preacher.

He said Mr Berry was sitting on a bench on the platform at a railway station in Bradford contemplating suicide.

His job as an executioner caused him such despair that he was a depressed alcoholic.

A young man approached and told Mr Berry: “I was praying alone this morning and I felt God was telling me to come here to speak to someone.”

Mr Berry replied: “That wouldn’t be me. God wouldn’t be interested in me. I’m lost without any hope. The things I’ve done have put me beyond any help.”

But he was persuaded to see the man’s pastor and in doing so experienced a rebirth.

Mr Berry spent the rest of his life re-telling his encounter with God and his past life as a hangman.

Mike said: “The story of Heckmondwike hangman James Berry should be a cautionary tale for any advocate of a return of capital punishment.”

He added: “The Spen Valley Civic Society has done a great job in bringing people like Mr Berry to our attention.

“But, like many others, his plaque only tells part of a remarkable and interesting story.”

For more information visit

Share this post