Hereford Shire Hall

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Built between 1817 and 1820, Hereford’s Shire Hall stands on the site of the county jail and is one of the oldest working courts in the United Kingdom. Long before its construction the county jail once contained the counties worst criminals and is well known for two famous inmates Alfred Watkins and George Armstrong.

Watkins was in a stable marriage to a beautiful woman, however his jealousy one day snapped his mind. Watkins made several threats to neighbours and friends, and on 18th January 1863 at 10:00pm Mary Watkins was found lying in a pool of blood with a fractured skull, she was still alive but delirious. She was carried to the workhouse where she passed away. On hearing of her death Alfred confessed all, he couldn’t bear for her to live with anyone else so he had killed her, he claimed. In 1864 Alfred was executed outside the Shire Hall’s steps but with some controversy. He went to the scaffold with a secret. Who had murdered the two men that Mary was allegedly having an affair – and why wouldn’t he accept responsibility? Even upto the final minutes of his life he claimed he was innocent of their deaths. And then “walked firmly to the scaffold. He prayed fervently, shook hands with the officials, and died without a struggle. Having hung an hour, the body was cut down.”

In 1921 solictor George Armstrong was arrested for attempted murder of a professional rival by arsenic poisoning. He was later also charged and tried for the murder of his wife. Back in May 1919, his wife Kitty complained several times of damage to her nerves and on 22 February 1921 Kitty passed away, and this confused her doctor. However it was the suspected poisoning of a local solictor and his family that raised suspicions about George’s purchases of large amounts of arsenic. The police arrested him and he was held in Hereford Shire Hall for over six months while his case and subsequent appeals continued. George was sentenced to death and was hung at Gloucester Jail in May 1922. His alleged last words were “Kitty I’m coomin to ye!”

The Shire Hall has many of its original features – some believed to date to the previous building! The cells still retain an original heavy gate (often heard moving on its own accord) and also other features. The two courtrooms of the building have their original paneling and a number of original features still can be found.

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Address: St Peter’s Square, Hereford, HR1 2HY

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