Above: Public executions once attracted huge crowds of ghoulish spectators.

The last one in England took place in 1868, some 45 years after 17-year-old Joseph Dale met such a fate.

Following on from the recent post about the Murder Stone lying beside the back road between Disley and Whaley Bridge, I’ve spent some time researching the facts behind case. And it’s made me question whether an innocent 17-year-old may have been wrongly executed for the murder of William Wood.

With the help of Mike, who has unearthed some contemporary newspaper reports into the capture, trial and execution of Joseph Dale. And R. S-S on the Whaley Bridge History Forum, who has let me copy from his extensive research. I’ve tried to make sense of the events that took place on that fateful day of Wednesday 16th July 1823.

There’s a lot of material; covering the murder, the inquest, the flight of the three culprits, the bungled police attempts to capture them, the arrest of two, the trial of just one, and his public hanging outside Chester Castle on 23rd April 1824.

So I thought it might be an idea to split the story over a number of episodes, ending with the question of whether the wrong man paid the ultimate price for a crime he may not have committed.

My apologies if this seems a bit too over-dramatic for those who like to binge in one sitting to get to the final conclusion. But I’d struggle to set everything down at one time. I’m also still waiting for transcriptions of some more of Mike’s newspaper clippings he recently discovered.

There are nine posts in the pipeline. And perhaps even more to come. My plan is to publish one episode per day. I’m hoping readers won’t find this frustrating.

By the end of it, it will be interesting to see how many share my view that a broken 17-year-old from a good local family may have died an innocent man on the gallows all those years ago.

A young man supported in court by a  number of character witnesses, including a recently-retired police constable, and described as “a very peaceable, quiet lad, always good tempered, and kind to his parents”. It’s very difficult to square that description with the brutal fatal injuries inflicted on William Wood.

I’ll add to the links below as they’re posted. As ever, all comments would be much appreciated. Either below, or on the Facebook Group.

Topic tags (click for similar posts): Crime & punishment | William Woods murder