…when you grow up? I’m pretty sure young Elizabeth Sugrue, growing up in Kerry in the west of Ireland in the 18th century, didn’t spend her days dreaming of becoming an executioner. Yet that is what happened. Still a young woman she found herself facing the gallows, along with others, in Roscommon Gaol. The hangman was indisposed and Sugrue saw an opportunity. “Spare me life yer honour, spare me life an’ I’ll hang thim all.” And so she did, and continued to do so for years. The story is told by Irish journalist Clodagh Finn here.

Roscommon Old Gaol

By contrast, little Albert Pierrepoint, growing up in Yorkshire, England, always wanted to be a hangman. He was born in 1905 and it was quite usual in those far off days for a son to follow in his father’s footsteps. Father Henry was a hangman by choice as was his brother Thomas, so young Albert was to the manor born. After some years as an assistant to Uncle Tom, Albert’s first solo was in October 1941. In a 25-year career he executed between 435 and 600 people including many war criminals and high profile murderers. Upon retirement he ran a pub in Lancashire. He died in 1992.

Hangman wasn’t a career suggested at my grammar school (though, in fairness, capital punishment had been abolished in the UK by then). Neither was anything else suggested other than banking or insurance, though the staff at school knew less about those industries than I did. Unable to get into the school’s First XI I guessed that professional footballer was out of the question, and lighthouse keeper didn’t quite work out. Accordingly I accidently spent 47 years as an accountant.