Mary Ann Britland
(1847-1886) of Ashton-under-Lyne was the first woman to be executed by hanging at Strangeways Prison
by James Berry on the 9 August 1886
Mary Ann Hague was born 1847 in Bolton Lancashire
she married Thomas Britland in Ashton under Lyne
in 1866, They lived in a rented house: 133 Turner Lane, Ashton-under-Lyne with their two daughters.
In the February of 1886, she is said to have had some mice infest her home; to eliminate these, she went to the nearby chemists' and bought some packets of "Harrison's Vermin Killer". As this contained both Strychnine
, she was required to sign the poison register.
Mary's first victim was to be her eldest daughter, nineteen-year-old Elizabeth Hannah, in March 1886. Elizabeth's death was attributed to natural causes by the doctor who was called to attend the teenager. Mary then claimed Elizabeth's £10 on her life insurance policy. Her next victim was her husband, Thomas, aged 44. His death was diagnosed as epilepsy, and once again Mary claimed on the insurance. Mary had been having an affair with her neighbour, Thomas Dixon, and after her own husband's death, she was invited round to stay at the Dixon's house just across the street at number 128 by Thomas' unsuspecting 29-year-old wife, Mary. Little did Mary Dixon know that she was to become the third and last victim of this serial killer.
Trial and sentencing
The 3 deaths, all with their near identical and somewhat unusual symptoms, raised suspicion; Mary Ann Britland was finally interviewed by the police in connection with Mary Dixon's death and her body was examined by a pathologist. It was found to contain a lethal quantity of the two poisons and Mary Ann was immediately arrested along with unsuspecting Thomas Dixon. Mary Ann was charged with the murder of the three victims but Thomas was found to have played no part in the murder of his wife. Mary Ann came to trial on Thursday, the 22nd, of July 1886 before Mr. Justice Cave at Manchester Assizes
. Her defence was that there was an absence of motive, it was argued that the small sum of money from the insurance payouts were in no way compensation for the loss of her husband and daughter.
It took the jury some time to convict her, although in the end they did. After she was sentenced, she declared to the court: "I am quite innocent, I am not guilty at all."
She was in a state of collapse on her last morning and had to be heavily assisted to the gallows and held up on the trapdoors by two male warders while James Berry prepared her for execution.