British Executions

John Joyce

Age: 36

Sex: male

Crime: murder

Date Of Execution: 20 Aug 1901

Crime Location: 9 Court, Price Street, Birmingham

Execution Place: Birmingham

Method: hanging

Executioner: James Billington


John Joyce was convicted of the murder of John Nugent 61 and sentenced to death.

He stabbed him in Price Street, Birmingham on Monday, 10 June 1901.

John Nugent lived in a court near to where John Joyce lived and two years earlier they had had an argument and had been at loggerheads ever since.

On 10 June John Joyce went to John Nugent's home where he picked up a lighted paraffin lamp and threw it at John Nugent's feet. John Nugent begged him to go away saying he didn't want any trouble and went out into the court but John Joyce followed him and said, 'Take that', and stabbed him in the heart with a large knife.

John Joyce had been an ex-soldier. He was also known as Toby Joyce and at the time of the murder had been staying in a common lodging house at the top of Price Street.

The Nugent family had lived in 9 Court, 6 House, Price Street. John Nugent had been a bamboo worker.

There had been enmity between John Joyce and John Nugent's family for upwards of two years and various fights between them took place, resulting in police court proceedings.

It was noted that the person that John Joyce had the chief grudge against was John Nugent's son, who was weak minded, and who had uttered threats against John Joyce on the day of the murder and two days previously, and it was heard that it was in search of John Nugent's son that John Joyce had gone to 9 Court for.

For two years before the murder there had been some altercations between members of John Joyce's family and members of John Nugent’s family, in particular, with John Nugent's partially insane son, and on 28 May 1901 two companions of John Joyce were charged by the insane son with wounding and were remanded in custody which led to a quarrel between John Joyce and John Nugent's son the following day after which the son charged John Joyce who was then also remanded in custody.

On 7 June 1901 both cases came on and John Nugent and John Nugent's son both gave evidence against John Joyce and his two companions, however, as it appeared that John Nugent had at one time carried a bayonet to protect himself against John Joyce, the magistrate dismissed both charges.

It was heard that John Joyce then complained of assaults made upon him at different times by John Nugent and his two sons and there were mutual recriminations.

It was said that on Saturday 8 June 1901 that John Joyce was heard to utter various threats against John Nugent's family after which on the evening of Monday 10 June 1901 that he went to their house and ended up stabbing John Nugent.

It was heard that although there had been previous quarrels that the murder itself was unprovoked on the part of John Nugent, whereas John Joyce himself had gone to the house with a knife concealed up his sleeve and immediately on entering the house he had commenced his abuse of John Nugent and thrown a paraffin lamp at him. It was heard then, that after a few words, John Nugent had attempted to leave in order to get the police and that John Joyce had pushed aside his wife who was trying to soothe him and that he then followed John Nugent out and stabbed him in the heart with the knife that he had brought with him.

It was said that John Joyce had been drunk, but that he had known what he was doing.

The woman that saw most of what happened had lived at 9 Court, 8 House, Price Street. She said that on the Monday, 10 June 1901, that she saw John Joyce come into the court and go to No 5 House. She said that the woman that lived there had been out but that her lodger was at home and that she heard John Joyce say to him, 'I beg pardon, I have made a mistake, I have come to the wrong house'. She said that he then came out and went down the yard and stood in the street by the corner of Price Street and Lancaster Street.

She said that she thought that he was on for some mischief  and watched him, noting that before he went into No 5 House that she saw that he had a knife in his hand, noting that that was why she thought that he meant to do some mischief. She added that she saw that he had had some beer. She said that she saw him put the knife into his breast pocket or clothes before he went into No 5 House.

She said that he was about the corner of Price street until about 9.45pm when she saw him come back into the yard and said that she followed him. She said that he went into John Nugent's house and that he stood by the door.

She said that John Nugent was inside sitting on a sofa and that John Joyce said to him, 'You old bastard'. She said that John Joyce then picked up a lighted lamp that was on the table and threw it at John Nugent, striking the floor at his feet. She noted that it was a metal lamp and that only the chimney broke.

She said that John Nugent said, 'Toby go out', I don't want any row here tonight.

The neighbour noted that when the lamp was broken that she screamed and that John Nugent's wife then came from next door and stood in front of John Joyce and asked him what he wanted. She said that John Nugent then walked behind them towards the street but that John Joyce then pushed John Nugent's wife aside and followed John Nugent out.

She said that John Nugent said nothing to John Joyce other than to tell him to get away and to be a good chap and wait for his son if he wanted him.

She said that when they were out in the yard by No 2 House that John Joyce went to John Nugent who put up his hand and said, 'Go away Toby, I don't want any bother with you'. She said that John Joyce then drew the knife from his sleeve and said, 'Take that you old cow' and stabbed John Nugent  with it.

She said that John Nugent then walked out into Price Street and went down into Lancaster Street.

She said that she and John Nugent's wife followed him, noting that John Joyce still had the knife in his hand. She said that John Nugent's wife was shouting and that John Joyce said, 'If you don't get away from me, if you were not a woman I would do the same to you'.

The neighbour said that she followed John Joyce about as far as Canal Street and that she then went back to help John Nugent to get to the hospital.

As they were walking down Bailey Street towards the General Hospital the police arrived to help.

When he went into the box at his trial to give evidence on his own behalf, John Joyce alleged that the knife had been John Nugent's and that he had wrested it from him and got cut in doing so and that John Nugent had then rushed upon the knife.

It was also noted at the trial that John Joyce had been a violent character and had a list of previous convictions.

At the trial John Joyce said (in note form):

'I am not guilty of charge. Am about 37. Have been in Army in India and Burmah close on 9 years. 7 years in India. Knocked down with sun and cases of fever. That and these cuts on head affect my head when I get drink. Came home from army 24 December 1892. I work in town chiefly on public works and on farms. I have known Nugents for some time. I have had altercations with them, chiefly the insane one. Remember two years ago I had just come into town. I met the insane son, he offered me beer. (Narrates how the son got into a quarrel in public house and how he drew the son away and went with him to his house. The insane son deliberately struck him on head with three pokers and father with chopper and he was five weeks in infirmary). I wished to prosecute but was refused. I have since always felt effects. Drink makes it worse.

On 8 June I had been locked up on remand 9 days. I was dismissed. I was perfectly satisfied. Nugents did not take decision. Saturday I met the two brothers and avoided them. Saturday night I was standing at bottom of Price Street. Two brothers came and father, they had pokers and hammer. They threatened me. I offered to fight them fair on Sunday morning. I was always ready to fight it out. Monday I did go up yard. I have no recollection of going into the other woman's house. I was under drink. I went to a number of public houses. Went back about 9.45.

I went up to house with the intention of seeing the insane son to see why he carried these things about with him. As soon as I got by door, I asked old man whether the son was in. Old man said come in. As soon as I got in he deliberately picked lamp up to throw at me. I rushed out of house. He followed me and his wife got in front of me. He had a knife in his hand. I took it off him. In scuffle to take knife off him I got my finger a little cut. He was still rushing at me and the knife must have got into him. I did not at 7.45 take knife out of pocket. I have no such pocket. I had not knife up my sleeve. It is not my knife. The one I gave to boy must have been one I took off Nugent. I never needed such a knife. I had no enmity against old man. I had occasions but as he was an old man I had no enmity.

I was 5 or 10 minutes with him, he was threatening me.

I could not get away.

I did not on the occasions 2 years ago destroy all the furniture on the house. It was destroyed a few days after, by themselves quarrelling.

If anything broken it was by me defending myself against son and father. I dare say some old things were marked in scuffle.

Since then I have tried to avoid him. Up to 28 May I had nothing more to do with Nugents.

I have had several altercations with the insane son in these 2 years. We have had a couple of quarrels. He will waylay you, not fight you. I gave him in charge.

I knew my two companions were up at Police Court for assaulting the son. I did not speak to the son. He came up to me and said, 'I've got so and so and am going against them wouldn't you'. I said to him in substance that I would not do it if it were I. That he was aggressor of them set on me with pokers and such things. I was advised to go away. Their friend was one. He did say if a knife was used it was right to put them away. The friend struck me in eye. I began fighting with him. They ran up yard for pokers and when I saw them coming I ran away.

That night or next night the insane son attacked me.

That was proved at Police Court.

The insane son gave evidence against me. I was not angry with him.

On Saturday 8 June they were not satisfied, they came to me and said they meant to do me in. I did not say I would do them in. What the woman says is untrue.

Sunday before the woman came up to me abusing me. I answered her and gave her instances of the misbehaviour of her family.

That aggravated her.

What the other man says is also untrue.

When I went to house old man was sitting in chair.

The woman was lower down in yard. She may have been by house. Old man threw it at me. I was standing by door. It fell down between us at his feet. When he threw lamp he came right round by me. I knocked it out of his hand as he began to throw it at me.

Wife and others held me and would not let me get away. Woman did it.

Old man's wife and the two other women. I saw the knife in old man's hand when he got out of house. I saw knife on table in house by lamp. I never said that before.

Old man on several occasions told me he meant to do me in.

I have told the man that I saw the knife on table.

I was always prepared to fight fair. I considered myself a match for any of the three. I had no intention to injure anyone. I struck no blow deliberately at the old man. I did not intend to injure him at all.

I had only come into town on previous Tuesday.

I was sleeping at common lodging house at top of Price Street.

My friends live in that road.

I was brought up in that road'.

John Joyce was convicted at the Birmingham Summer Assizes but recommended to mercy provided that statements he had made regarding his service in India and having received sunstroke were correct.

However, the judge expressed the opinion that the law should take its course.

Prior to his execution, the police report to the Home Secretary on the matter of whether or not a reprieve should be given stated that the questions were provocation, premeditation and drunkenness.

On the matter of provocation it was heard that John Joyce's father had shared to a certain extent in the quarrels, and had at one time carried a bayonet to protect himself, however John Joyce had declared that the enmity was only towards John Nugent's weak minded son. However, it was noted that on the day of the murder that there had been no provocation on the part of John Nugent. It was said that John Joyce had gone into John Nugent's house, abused him and thrown the lamp at him after which John Nugent's wife put both her hands on John Joyce and offered him something to eat but he pushed her aside and followed John Nugent down the court and stabbed him in the heart. It was noted that that version of events was corroborated by several people who, as the judge pointed out, decisively contradicted John Joyce's story as to being assaulted by John Nugent.

On the matter of premeditation, it was stated that there was little doubt that John Joyce had gone to the house with a knife up his sleeve, which whilst might have been intended for the weak minded son, was evidence of his murderous intent. It was noted that one witness had seen him outside an empty house put his hand into his jacket and pull the knife out, look at it, and then put it back, that being before he went to the next door neighbours by mistake.

It was noted that one witness said, 'He got the knife out of his sleeve and shoved it into the old man somewhere in front'. John Nugent's wife had said, 'I saw knife up sleeve. Prisoner had knife in his hand like that, saying take that you old ----'. She also denied positively that the knife that John Joyce gave away when he fled was John Nugent's as did John Nugent's other son. John Nugent's wife had also said, 'I had been cautioned that he would do that night'.

It was also heard that another woman said, 'Prisoner had knife up his sleeve' and that she said that on the Tuesday John Joyce had said to her, 'You know Nugents. God blind me, I'll do him in'.

On the matter of drunkenness, it was heard that the woman that saw John Joyce go to the house said, 'He had beer and could not walk steadily. I cannot say whether he had had more or less to drink. He could hardly put one leg before another'. She added that after the stabbing, 'Prisoner staggered a little as if he had beer, he continued to walk hurriedly away'.

Another woman said, 'Prisoner was standing looking and was drunk'.

Another woman said, 'Prisoner was very drunk indeed'.

However, it was noted that on the other hand that the police inspector said, 'When charged, no doubt he had had drink, but undoubtedly he knew what he had done. He is a man that it is most difficult to know whether drunk or sober'. When the inspector was cross-examined, he said, 'I did not consider him drunk, but under the influence of drink'.

As such, the police report concluded that as the case stood that it was a bad murder and that there seemed to be no grounds for interference, although noted that inquiry was still being made with the War Office in regard to John Joyce's sunstroke.

Previous charges against John Joyce were listed as:

  1. 29 May 1901: Wounding - Discharged IE.
  2. 14 December 1900 (Kidderminster): Defraud Railway - 20/- & costs or 1 month.
  3. 13 October 1900: Drunk & refusing to quit - 10/- & costs or 14 days.
  4. 8 December 1900: Drunk & assault PC - 1 month.
  5. 19 December 1900: Obscene language - 10/- & costs or 14 days.
  6. 18 February 1899: Drunk, disorderly & assaulting police - 1 month.
  7. 1 September 1898 (Nottingham): Shopbreaking - 4 months.
  8. 22 June 1898: Wilful damage & assault - 6 weeks.
  9. 17 March 1898: Assault & assault PC - 1 month.
  10. 10 February 1898 (Selly Oak): Obscene language - 1 month.
  11. 11 December 1897: Wilful damage & assault - 1 month.
  12. October Sessions 1897: Bodily harm - Not Guilty.
  13. 9 May 1897: Wilful damage & assault - 2 months.
  14. 21 April 1897: Drunk & disorderly - 5/- & costs or 7 days.
  15. 28 March 1897: Drunk & fighting - 10/- & costs or 14 days.
  16. 22 February 1897: Stealing overcoat - 40/- & costs or 1 month.
  17. 4 December 1896: Wilful damage & assault - 2 months.
  18. 20 September 1896: Drunk & assault - 10/- & costs or 14 days.
  19. 16 August 1896: Drunk & disorderly - 5/- & costs or 7 days.
  20. 13 June 1896: Assault - 1 month.
  21. 7 June 1896: Drunk - 5/- & costs or 7 days.
  22. 20 other times in custody for drunkenness etc.

A police inspector said that John Joyce was a drunken and violent rough who had for many years been of considerable trouble to the police of the city, stating that he had never followed any regular employment, and used to loaf about public houses and associate with persons of similar character to himself. The inspector said that John Joyce was known to occasionally earn a few coppers by holding horses and cleaning public house windows, noting that from the above list that he had over 40 previous charges against him for various offences.

He was executed at Winson Green jail in Birmingham by James Billington and William Billington on 20 August 1901.

9 Court, Price Street. has since been redeveloped and was where Mayfair House is today. However, several of the period gunsmiths works are still standing as is The Bull public house at the top of the street. Price Street was noted for having been in the Gun Quarter of Birmingham with many people in the area working in the gun trade and all the later facilities in Price Street were given to the manufacture of firearms with many people in the courts further down also producing gun parts in their homes.

see National Archives - ASSI 13/31, HO 144/571/A62802

see National Library of Scotland

see Nottingham Evening Post - Thursday 01 August 1901

see Falkirk Herald - Saturday 24 August 1901