Drama of Berwick's last hanging

Riotous behaviour broke out inside Berwick's 18th century gaol earlier this autumn.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 19th October 2017, 11:37 am
Updated Monday, 11th December 2017, 11:40 pm
Colin Fleetwood checks out the view from inside the condemned cell.
Colin Fleetwood checks out the view from inside the condemned cell.

Shouting and bawling could be heard from the street below, as a new drama production was recorded for the forthcoming Berwick Literary Festival.

Originally written for radio by local writer Colin Fleetwood, the drama interweaves a story based in present-day Berwick, focusing on the 1823 incarceration of Grace Griffin.

Berwick archivist Linda Bankier with volunteer scriptwriters Chris Fleetwood, Siobhan Bankier, Bob Jeffries, Norman Stewart, Peter Bistram, Stephen Block and Lesley Angell.

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Griffin was accused of murdering her husband, and was the last person to be hanged in Berwick in 1823 at Gallows Knowe.

Colin said: “I became interested in Grace’s story while carrying out research for a different project at the Record Office. The archives in Berwick are a special resource, and it is easy to get side-tracked.

“Linda Bankier, the town’s archivist, mentioned to me that she had produced a summary of the Grace Griffin trial. When I read it, I was hooked.”

Colin researched the case using original copies of the Berwick Advertiser from 1823 and a pamphlet of the sermon preached by the vicar of Holy Trinity and St Mary’s on the day after the execution.

Berwick archivist Linda Bankier with volunteer scriptwriters Chris Fleetwood, Siobhan Bankier, Bob Jeffries, Norman Stewart, Peter Bistram, Stephen Block and Lesley Angell.

The resulting drama, titled A Kind of Justice, questions whether Grace was guilty of the crime she was accused of, and raises issues which are just as relevant today as they were two centuries ago.

Colin obtained permission from the Trustees to record in the Gaol, which has been preserved in the condition that prisoners would have found it in the 19th century.

“It was fantastic to be able to record in the actual gaol cell where Grace was imprisoned,” he said. “Berwick Gaol is a real historical gem. The dialogue really came to life, and there were one or two spine chilling moments.”

Northumberland County Council manages the county’s archive and modern records service.

Coun Cath Homer, cabinet member for culture, arts, leisure and tourism, said: “This is a great example of a very creative use of the archives and records, and also of a Northumberland building with such a fascinating history. I am sure that the drama will be enjoyed when it is presented at the festival - where people will also be able to find out more about the use of the archives.”

A Kind of Justice will be presented in full at 10am on Friday in Berwick Parish Centre. The session will also include a presentation by Linda Bankier on use of the archives as an inspiration for drama, and is free of charge. Tickets are available online or from the Maltings Box Office. For more details go to www.berwickliteraryfestival.com