Leeds nostalgia: Armley Gaol then and now...

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Armley Gaol, as it is sill known to many, opened in 1847 and remains one of the most daunting buildings in Leeds, with its foreboding Gothic architecture.

The first image (above) dates from some time around 1908 - this is evidenced by the fact the green structure to the right was built around that time in what was then the recreation area and it was also marked on a map contemporary with the time. The architects were Perkins and Backhouse, it cost £43,000. This was for the land and the buildings. The more modern picture was taken at the back end of last year.

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The building consists of four wings radiating out from a central point, each of which has three landings of cells. It is no secret that people were regularly hanged to death at Armley and often these grim occasions drew vast crowds. Possibly one of the most notorious events was the hanging of murderetrs James Sargisson and Joseph Myers. The Leeds Mercury from the time reported that between 80,000 and 100,000 people came out to watch the pair hang. The pair resisted to the last and while Myers died almost instantly, Sargisson was said to have struggled on for several minutes after the drop.

It was customary to leave them hanging for an hour, before they were taken down and buried in the grounds. Myers had tried to cheat the hangman by cutting his own throat while in prison but he was saved by the surgeon.

Of course, some executions were botched - one such was that of John Henry Johnson in 1877. He was sentenced for murder but on the first attempt to hang him, the rope snapped, and on the second, it took him four minutes to die.

More information about Armley Gaol is available from Leeds in 50 Buildings by Paul Chrystal (Amberley Publishing).

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