This Day in History: The Last Woman to be Hanged in England is Convicted (1955)

This day in history the last woman to be hanged in Britain was convicted. Ruth Ellis was a Nightclub owner and was a well-known figure. She was convicted of murdering her boyfriend David Blakely. On this day a judge and jury found her guilty of the pre-meditated murder of Blakely.

After her conviction, Ellis was taken to prison and was later executed by hanging. She was the last women to be executed in Great Britain or Northern Ireland.

Ruth Ellis was born into a working class family in, Wales, in 1926. She left school as a young teenager and was something of a rebel. Ellis never conformed to the expectations of a young woman of her time. Ellis had a child and worked a variety of jobs. She was a very good-looking and charismatic woman and she eventually becoming a nightclub hostess. In 1950, she married dentist George Ellis and the couple had a second child. However, Ellis was not suited to a conventional married life and the marriage was soon over. Her behaviour was considered scandalous for the time. She then became a nightclub hostess in a series of night clubs. Here she met David Blakely a glamorous figure he was a playboy and sometimes a race-car driver. The couple had a volatile relationship. Ellis became pregnant with his child but after a violent row she lost the baby. It was alleged that Blakely punched her in the stomach.

Old Bailey where Ellis was convicted and sentenced

She later became obsessed with Blakely when he failed to come see her as promised. It seemed that the shock of losing the child had destabilised her. On April 10th, in 1955, she shot Blakely to death outside a pub, he had been drinking in Hampstead, North London. He died immediately.

At her trial in June 1955, Ellis stated “It was obvious that when I shot him I intended to kill him.”

This statement was to persuade the jury and judge that she had intended to kill her boyfriend. She had a clear motive.

It reportedly took the jury less than half an hour to find Ellis guilty and she received the death penalty. The jury had probably found her guilty because she had led an unconventional lifestyle and she had behaved in an ‘immoral’ fashion by having a child out of wedlock and being a nightclub hostess. Despite public protest and petitions Ellis was hanged at Holloway Prison. It was the last such execution in Britain. The hanging caused such an outcry that there was a public backlash against capital punishment.

In 1965, the death penalty for murder was outlawed  in England, Scotland and Wales. Northern Ireland followed shortly after and it prohibited capital punishment in 1972.

In 2003 a court refused to reduce the sentence imposed on Ellis to the charge of manslaughter.