British Executions

William James Robinson

Age: 26

Sex: male

Crime: murder

Date Of Execution: 17 Apr 1917

Crime Location: Sussex Arms Public House, Upper St Martins Lane, London

Execution Place: Pentonville

Method: hanging

Executioner: John Ellis


William James Robinson and John Henry Gray were convicted of killing Alfred Williams 35, a Private in the Canadian Army.

William Robinson was convicted of murder and sentenced to death.

John Gray was convicted of manslaughter but his conviction was later quashed on the grounds that if it had been proved that he and William Robinson had acted in concert then they would have both been guilty of murder, and that if he had only 'comforted or assisted' after the crime then he was an accessory after the fact.

Alfred Williams was stabbed to death outside the Sussex Arms public house, Upper St Martins Lane, London on 26 November 1916.

William Robinson later confessed to the murder whilst in Pentonville awaiting execution.

William Robinson had served in the army but had been wounded.

Alfred Williams and three other comrades, all members of the Canadian Expeditionary Force arrived back in England from France on 26 November 1916 and later in the day, at the Canadian Expeditionary Force headquarters Alfred Williams drew between £25 and £30.

They then booked a hotel and then went to the Sussex Arms at the corner of Long Acre and St Martins Lane where they stayed for some time throughout the evening. Sometime later two of the comrades left but before doing so one of them handed over £26 in treasury notes to Alfred Williams.

Sometime later Alfred Williams was found stabbed in the roadway nearby. He had a cut behind his ear that had severed an artery and when William Robinson was arrested he was found to have had a knife in his possession that had been recently cleaned.

John Gray said that Alfred Williams had wanted to fight him and that he had just pushed him away and then said that he was going home and that immediately after Alfred Williams fell to the ground.

It was said that William Robinson and John Gray had been friends and that they had conspired together to rob Alfred Williams.

One of Alfred Williams's comrades, a private in the 20th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force said that they arrived in London on Sunday 26 November 1916 with Alfred Williams and two other comrades and went to the Millbank Pay Office at about 4pm that afternoon to each draw some money, noting that he himself drew £30 in £1 treasury notes.

He said that they all then went to the Shaftesbury Hotel and booked a room after which they had a meal at about 6pm and then went to a public house opposite the hotel where they had some refreshments and then went from there to the Sussex Arms public house, arriving at about 7pm where they had a drink. He noted that they were in the bar with the automatic piano.

He said that he and another soldier later left the public house with two girls but that before he left he handed Alfred Williams £26, taking it from his top right hand pocket and Alfred Williams putting it in his trouser pocket.

Another of Alfred Williams's comrades said that he had been in Alfred Williams's company when he had returned to London and that he too had gone to the Millbank Pay Office where he had drawn £25.

He said that they then went to the Shaftsbury Hotel and then later all went to the Sussex Arms public house, arriving at about 7pm, where they drank in the bar with the automatic piano. He said that two of their comrades later left with two girls, noting that the manageress at the pub passed a remark about their going out with the girls. He said that Alfred Williams then showed him the money that the other private had given him before leaving, saying that he took it from his right trouser pocket and showed it to him in the palm of his hand, noting that the manageress could see that. He said that there were other people in the bar when he had done that but that they were at the back of them.

He said that they remained in the public house until closing time which was about 9pm by which time he was the worse for liquor. He noted that whilst there that he hadn't got into conversation with anyone else although he said that Alfred Williams had talked around, but that most of the time they were talking to the manageress.

He said that he didn't notice the face of anyone who was there.

He said that after closing time that he and Alfred Williams came out of the public house together along with everyone else that had been in the bar, noting that the bar had been about half full.

He said that Alfred Williams then started up towards the Shaftsbury Hotel but that something happened, but said that it was so quick that he didn't remember anything of it, but said that the result was that Alfred Williams got hurt and that it seemed to be from a blow. He said that he only had a faint recollection of it, and didn't see by whom the blow was struck and couldn't say how many people were around or whether the blow had been struck by a man or a woman.

He said that Alfred Williams then went down on the footway but that he didn't recall what happened to himself although he recalled hearing a whistle being blown but didn't remember anything more until he woke up at the hotel the following morning.

He said that his memory was uncertain because of the amount of drink he had had.

The manager of the Sussex Arms said that on the Sunday 26 November 1916 that he was in the bar periodically for the whole evening and that he remembered seeing four Canadian soldiers come in at about 7pm, one of whom was Alfred Williams. He said that of the four Alfred Williams and another Canadian soldier had been in the pub until closing time which was 9pm on Sundays.

He also named a couple of other people that he recalled as being in the saloon bar including two women, one of whom was sat by the flap entrance to the bar and the other who practically sat behind the till on a seat by the stairs with either two other women or a man and a woman.

He added that he also saw William Robinson and John Gray there, saying that they came in between 8.45pm and 8.50pm together and that William Robinson sat by the automatic piano.

He said that Alfred Williams and his friend had been sitting close to the fireplace with their backs to the automatic piano and that he didn't see them talking to William Robinson or John Gray at any time although he said that he did recall seeing John Gray talk to the woman that was sat behind the till a few minutes after he entered although said that he couldn't say how long they were talking.

He said that the public house was very busy that night and that the bar was practically full, filled with soldiers, civilians and women. He noted that there wasn't an angry word said in the house and that there was nothing to attract his attention to any of the customers until closing time.

He said that at closing time when the people left that William Robinson and John Gray went out of the Upper St Martin's Lane exit as did Alfred Williams and his friend.

The woman that had been sitting by the counter flap in the Sussex Arms had lived in Sidmouth Street in St Pancras and said that she had been in the saloon bar on the night of 26 November 1916 alone. She said that she saw two Canadian soldiers in the bar, one of whom she later identified as Alfred Williams and his friend.

She said that she also recalled seeing William Robinson and John Gray, saying that they walked into the bar around 8.50pm together and that she knew both of them by sight.

She said that she saw William Robinson go to speak to the two Canadian soldiers but said that they turned their backs. she said that she also saw John Gray speak to two women.

She said that the Canadians were just by the automatic piano.

She said that she didn't get into conversation with anyone in the bar, but though she did speak to one woman, noting that there were a lot of people in the bar.

She said that when time was called that everyone in the bar went out by the St Martins Lane entrance, Alfred Williams and his friend going out together, noting that she didn't think that they were drunk, describing them as jolly.

She said that William Robinson and John Gray went out together just after the soldiers but couldn't say whether the woman that John Gray had spoken to was with them.

She said that William Robinson and John Gray went out immediately after Alfred Williams and his friend and that she saw William Robinson catch hold of Alfred Williams's arm at the door and that she followed out a short while after.

She said that when she got outside that she saw Alfred Williams and his friend standing outside Parker's, a big saddlery place next door with William Robinson and John Gray., noting that she didn't see anyone else with them and didn't see the woman that John Gray had spoken to earlier.

She said that they were talking for about three minutes but didn't hear any row or quarrel. She said that she was standing by the letter box just outside the Sussex Arms alone but noted that there were a lot more soldiers there but that she was watching the four men, William Robinson, John Gray, Alfred Williams and his friend.

She said that after they had been talking that they all walked along the road towards the Shaftsbury Hotel along the pavement with William Robinson nearest the houses and Alfred Williams next to him with his friend by him and John Gray on the outside.

She said that she then crossed the road towards Aldrige's and met a friend, a New Zealander, in the middle of the road, facing Aldridge's door.

She said that the four men were then outside Pottington's the wig shop at what she thought was No 12, at which time they were standing still and talking alone, the two soldiers facing the Shaftesbury Hotel and William Robinson and John Gray facing the Sussex Arms at which time John Gray was still nearest the kerb and William Robinson nearest the houses.

She said that she then saw William Robinson lift up his left hand and strike Alfred Williams and that as Alfred Williams went to the floor that she heard the shattering of glass. She said that she saw William Robinson strike up high on the right side.

She said that as Alfred Williams staggered and fell that she heard the clatter of glass and said to her friend, 'What's that?' and that a man and his wife from Aldridge's then rushed past.

She said that before William Robinson struck Alfred Williams that she saw that he had his hand in Alfred Williams's left hand jacket pocket, noting that Alfred Williams wasn't wearing an overcoat. She said that when he took his hand from Alfred Williams's pocket that he then immediately struck Alfred Williams. However, she said that she couldn't see whether William Robinson had had anything in his hand at the time.

She said that she then saw William Robinson and John Gray running up the road with Alfred Williams's friend between them stating that it appeared as though he was being dragged along by them.

She said that she and the manager of Aldridge's then went across the street to were Alfred Williams was lying, noting that he was about 2 or 3 yards from a street lamp.

She said that nobody else was there and that she had an hand electric torch in her pocket and that she turned it on and saw that Alfred Williams was bleeding from the right side of his neck and that the blood was pouting out like a tap.

She said that a woman then tried to staunch the bleeding with a handkerchief and that she took some wadding from her chest and gave it to a special constable for the same purpose.

She said that she had been in the Sussex Arms from 8.30pm until closing time and that she had had two Guinness’s.

A sergeant in the special constabulary said that he had been on duty in uniform at about 9pm on Sunday 26 November 1916 in Upper St Martins Lane when his attention was attracted by a snashing of glass to his left near the houses. He said that when he turned round he saw a man in uniform advancing on a civilian, coming south, noting that the civilian had a woman to either side of him and had his back to him. He said that when the soldier reached him he saw the civilian push the soldier back causing him to fall back immediately, noting that he didn't see the soldier at any time endeavour to take off his coat. He said that after he saw the soldier fall that the civilian and the two women then move off in a northerly direction and that he then overtook them about 4 or 5 yards further down, noting that he had kept him in view all the time and then asked him, 'What did you push him for?' to which the civilian replied, 'He shouldn't have molested her' or words to that effect. He noted that whilst he was with the civilian that one of the women obstructed him the whole time saying, 'He's done nothing'.  The sergeant noted that the civilian was John Gray but that he was unable to identify the woman.

He said that after dealing with John Gray that he went back to where Alfred Williams was lying, noting that he had passed him there as he went to overtake John Gray, and found that he was being attended by a woman with a torch and some other people who were trying to stop the bleeding.

He noted that when he saw Alfred Williams that he didn't see any broken glass in the neighbourhood of his head.

William Robinson was later arrested in High Holborn on 28 November 1916 after he was spotted by a detective. When he was told that he answered the description of the man wanted for causing the death of Alfred Williams on Sunday evening in Upper St Martins Lane he said, I know nothing about it. I was not in St Martins Lane on Sunday evening. Do I look as if I could kill a man?'. however, on the way to the police station he said, I will admit I went into the Sussex at 5 minutes to 9 on Sunday evening and had a drink with a pal whose name I don't know, but I know nothing about killing a soldier'.

When he was searched at Bow Street police station the police found a knife on him with two blades which both had the appearance of having been recently cleaned.

When he was put up for identification he was immediately picked out by the women that had been in the Sussex Arms sat behind the till on the night of the murder.

William Robinson was noted as being partly crippled in the right knee and to have walked lame.

On 29 November 1916 the police arrested John Gray at his home at 4 Orange Street in Leicester Square. when he was told the nature of the charge he said, 'I was there but I don't know who did it'. After he was told that he was to be taken to Bow Street police station he said, 'The soldier wanted to fight me and I just pushed him away. The soldier said 'I am going to see this lady home', meaning the girl I was with, and directly afterwards he fell to the ground. I saw Robinson there but did not see the blow struck. Shortly afterwards two specials came up and one took my arm when the lady said, 'He never done it' and I was released. I afterwards went to a cafe in Shaftsbury Avenue with her and had some tea'.

When he was searched he was found to have had a knife with one blade on him.

William Robinson denied having stabbed Alfred Williams but was convicted of murder at the Central Criminal Court on Wednesday 7 March 1917 and sentenced to death.

John Gray was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 3 years but his conviction was later quashed on the grounds that if he had been party to the murder that he would have been guilty of murder as William Robinson was or not guilty of anything.

William Robinson was executed at Pentonville  on Tuesday 17 April 1917.

Alfred Williams had been a native of Toronto.

see National Archives - ASSI 13/47, CRIM 1/165/2

see A Second Companion To Murder by E Spencer Shew 1962

see Manchester Evening News - Monday 02 April 1917

see Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail - Wednesday 07 March 1917

see Manchester Evening News - Tuesday 17 April 1917

see Liverpool Echo - Wednesday 07 March 1917