Hertfordshire's own Pierrepoint

By Terry Askew

Terry Askew

Robert Baxter was born in Hertfordshire in 1878, but little is known of his private life except that at the commencement of his ‘career’, in 1915, he lived at Port Vale, in Hertford.

During the following 20 years he assisted in 53 executions and was principal in a further 44.

His first role was on 15th July 1915, at Wandsworth, when he assisted Thomas Pierrepoint in the execution of a Robert Rosenthal who was a German spy. This situation was unique during WW1, in that all other convicted German spies were executed by firing squad at the Tower of London. On this occasion, however, accommodation at the Tower was fully occupied.

In August 1916 Baxter assisted John Ellis in the execution of the tragic Sir Roger Casement, for the crime of treason. Ellis was well known for having been principal at the execution of Dr.Crippen some six year earlier.

His first as Chief Executioner was that of Jean-Paul Vaquier, a French man, in August of 1924. Four years later in May of 1928 he executed Frederick Guy Browne who, with his accomplice, carried out the notorious murder of Police Constable Gutteridge on the road between Ongar and Romford. Pc Gutteridge had the misfortune to flag down the two criminals who he suspected of driving a stolen car, which he paid for with his life.

Robert Baxter was highly regarded by the authorities for the way he carried out his duties “quickly and silently”. However, something occurred in December 1928, which cast a shadow. This was the execution of Trevor Edwards at Swansea prison. The assistant had not cleared the trapdoor before Baxter pulled the lever, causing his assistant to fall into the pit with the prisoner. Fortunately, the assistant was not injured, but an official inquiry had to be held, during which it was established that Baxter was blind in his left eye. Nevertheless, Baxter was absolved of all blame in the matter, and continued his ‘career’ for a further seven years.

Robert Orridge Baxter died in 1961, in Hertford, aged 83.

This page was added on 25/02/2015.

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  • His son, also Robert Baxter, known as Bob worked at County Hall, he cycled there daily from his home at 116 North Road Hertford. His wife, Florence, known as Puss was my Godmother – my mother asked her as Puss and Bob decided not to have children because of the stigma of his father’s work. Both were very kind people.

    By Withheld (23/02/2024)
  • Re: Are there any books on the life of Robert Baxter?

    A photograph of Robert Baxter and information on his career as a hangman are featured in the book The Executioner’s Bible by Steve Fielding, published by John Blake in 2008.

    By Steve Fielding (12/12/2022)
  • Also hanged sidney fox in Maidstone prison 1930 who killed his mother via strangulation and then started a fire in the hotel room in margate where she was murdered presumably to hide his crime and to claim the life insurance he had taken out on her.
    This was the last execution to be carried out in Maidstone prison and the execution chamber was freshly white washed by an inmate (william cheeseman) in return for a cup of cocoa some days earlier.

    By Terry oakes (09/10/2022)
  • Are there any books on the life of Robert Baxter?

    By Brian Rawling (10/03/2018)