Thereby hangs a tale ... TV's Richard unlocks prison's dark and grisly past
PART of Derby's Vernon Gate prison has been turned into a public exhibition on the gory topic of public hangings.
The attraction opened yesterday, 150 years to the day after Richard Thorley became the last person to be hanged at the building.
Thorley was sentenced to death after slitting the throat of young Eliza Morrow with a razor at her home in Agard Street after she had flirted with local soldiers.
The exhibition will now feature in ghost walks run by city historian and TV ghost-hunter Richard Felix and will open at weekends between 11am and 4pm, from this Saturday.
The parts of the building housing the exhibition are the same ones which prisoners would have passed through on their way to be hanged – the former armoury, a staircase and the room where they would step out on to a ledge to be executed.
Mr Felix said exhibits included a rope used by Derbyshire hangman Samuel Haywood and three "death heads" – casts of condemned prisoners.
Mr Felix said the heads were sometimes used for phrenology, a pseudoscience based on the idea that each part of the brain had a specific function such as "cautiousness" and "hope".
Mr Felix said the exhibition would also house newspaper reports written on the lives of those who were executed.
He said: "The history we have in the city is fantastic and this simply adds to it. What we are doing in Derby is something nobody else in the country is.
"We are going to be telling the story of the English hangman. It isn't the nicest of jobs but people love it."
Peter Milner, a trustee of the Vernon Gate Wall Trust which paid for and created the £4,000 "Hangman's Experience", said the opening was "brilliant news for Vernon Gate".
He said: "Everybody saw it (the prison) but nobody could actually get inside."
City councillor Phil Bailey, who attended the opening, said: "Richard is doing a fantastic job for Derby bringing the history of the city to the forefront. It will help our tourist industry and, therefore, the city."
To visit the latest ghoulish addition to Derby Ghost Walk, call 08000 277928 or visit www.derbygaol.com.