13 January 2014

Incarcerated in Wandsworth Prison - July 23 to August 15, 1941


History of Wandsworth Prison

Wandsworth Prison opened its doors in 1851 as The Surrey House of Correction. It was constructed using a modified "Panopticon" design with a central hub from which four wings radiated. Initially 700 prisoners were housed at Wandsworth each in an individual cell with toilet facilities. Eventually the toilet facilities were removed to make room for more prisoners.
Wandworth Prison
Wandsworth Prison, London - Google Maps Satellite View
In 1878, after the close of Horsemonger Lane Gaol, the gallows were transferred to Wandsworth Prison. Initially executions took place within a purposely built execution shed on the prison grounds. In 1911, a new execution facility was built between E & F wings next to the condemned cell. Finally, in 1937, a new execution suite was constructed in E Wing spanning three floors. The top floor contained the beam from which the chains hung. The middle floor contained the execution room with the trapdoors and the lever. The ground floor cell opened out to the yard for easy removal of the body.

Wandsworth Execution Room
Wandsworth Execution Room - From Capital Punishment UK

In 1965, Britain abolished the death penalty and eventually, in 1994, the gallows at Wandsworth were dismantled and sent to the Galleries of Justice in Nottingham. They gallows last been used in 1961 but had been tested every 6 months as they could have been required for someone accused of treason or piracy with violence. In 1998, hanging for even those offences was abolished.

In 2006, E Wing , which contained the former execution room and the condemned cells, was completely gutted and reconstructed. Nothing remains of those former times. Prior to the reconstruction of the wing, a TV crew from the series Off the Beaten Track managed to get a tour of the condemned suites and the former execution room. It is a fascinating video.

Wing of Wandsworth Prison
Wandsworth Prison wing - from Pinterest
Spies During the World Wars

During World War I, Robert Rosenthal was hanged at Wandsworth Prison for spying under the Treachery Act of 1914. The remainder of the spies were executed by firing squad at the Tower of London.

During World War II, 17 spies were condemened under the Treachery Act of 1940. Nine of these men were hanged at Wandsworth Prison, including Karel Richter. Seven were hanged at Pentonville Prison. Josef Jakobs was the lone spy to be executed by firing squad at the Tower of London.

Josef Jakobs-Prisoner
Josef was transferred to Wandsworth Prison from Latchmere House on July 23, 1941. He was housed within one of the condemned cells, separated from the rest of the prison population. A squad of military police guarded him around the clock as he was a military inmate. In fact, his cell was temporarily deemed to be a military prison. On August 4 and 5, Josef was tried by court-martial and found guilty. His sentence was death by firing squad. On August 6, two German spies who had also been found guilty of espionage, Karl Drucke and Werner Walti, were hanged at Wandsworth Prison.

On the morning of August 15, Josef was transferred to the Tower of London, along with his military police guards. Upon his departure, Josef approached the Governor of Wandsworth Prison, Major Grew, shook his hand and thanked him for the consideration given to him in prison. Still in pain from his broken ankle he managed to click his heels and salute before finding a place in history as the last person to be executed at the Tower. (McLaughlin)


References

Spies, Treason & the Wandsworth Gallows by Stewart McLaughlin
Capital Punishment UK - Wandsworth Prison by Richard Clark

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