Ruth Ellis R.I.P.


England decrees that she must die
for being broken one time too many.
In the streets of London and throughout our land
heartbeats falter, straining beneath
the lost battle for clemency.

Safely removed from the well-intended protests,
the clamouring anger, the supplicating prayer,
she dresses neatly to greet her end.
She knows what skirt to wear,
how little make-up she needs
if she is to face her maker,
how to hold her breakfast cutlery,
and how to turn away a sedative at her final hour.
Her ingenuous politeness
as she thanks her rostered warder for her care,
leaves an respectful aftertaste in the woman’s mouth:
she will not forget Ruth Ellis.

She thinks she is ready,
and she waits in her seat with practiced calm.
She wants to die and yet,
when the hangman enters her stony cell
she springs to her feet in consternation,
knocking over a chair in nervous haste.
the executioner speaks soothingly, tells her to sit,
and as he binds her wrists,
she returns to that calm centre.
While good people of England want her to live
she only longs to die,
and only she knows her hopes for the future;
whether she expects to stand again by her dead lover’s side,
even at the risk of more beatings,
or if she thinks her God may forgive her,
or if she just wants to rest eternal
beneath the passive earth
in unfamiliar and welcome peace.

The noose fits snug round her neck
Her heart ticks to zero
as the trapdoor expiditiously opens.
Her body drops and sways.
All pain has ceased.

Ruth Ellis:
you killed a sadistic man.
Some dismissed you as a peroxide tart,
but you were a lifelong victim of man’s cruelty,
felled by a masculine government
and failed by mankind.

In the end you were a brave martyr.

I bow to you.
You are long past caring and you never had a plan, but,
Ruth Ellis, you
were the only woman to be hanged
in this country, in my lifetime.
While I was learning to crawl
you were closing the book
on this country’s shocking history of female executions,
and you have touched me deeply.

Thanks go to  Alan for challenging me to write a poem about Ruth Ellis’s final hour. I’m grateful to him for giving me a reason to read up on her history, and for suggesting such an excellent subject for a poem. I hope I have done justice to Ruth Ellis, who, in 1955, was the last woman to be hanged  in England.

©Jane Paterson Basil

29 thoughts on “Ruth Ellis R.I.P.

    1. I’m so glad Alan gave me this challenge. Every so often I am reminded that with all of the horror we see in this world, many things have improved in my lifetime. It’s a pity that the British Government is trying to lead us back into the dark ages…

      Liked by 1 person

        1. I know. I’m so sad about that. I may have told you – when Obama was elected I was in London, and as soon as I read the headlines I picked my phone up and tried to ring my mum. i was so excited I forgot she had died a few years before. She would have been thrilled that you had a black President. She’ll be turning in her grave now. She was very aware that we needed a good President in the US. I remember how concerned she was when Regan got into power.

          Liked by 1 person

        1. She was always the first person I went to with anything. In a broad sense, she was the most intelligent person I knew, and the most compassionate. The world was a better place with her in it, but she never knew that.

          Liked by 1 person

  1. A sad and lovely tribute, Jane. Ruth Ellis’s is a tragic story. I remember watching Dance with a Stranger years ago, with Miranda Richardson playing Eliis. A story of magnetic, distructive attraction – she knew how poisonous he was, yet she couldn’t extract herself from the situation. I’d like to think the authorities would be more lenient today – understand she was driven to do what she did by abuse.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. According to all I have read, she would probably have been considered insane, but I don’t think she was. I’ve seen psychosis, and that’s how I define insanity. She couldn’t take any more, and we’re all apt to act rashly with no thought for the consequences, when pushed to the limit. I imagine her case if it came up now. We need massive prison reform, and genuine rehabilitation. The ideal would be for her to recieve a combination of pattern changing counselling, to pull her out of the cycle of abuse, and assitance with her future carreer. But making Britain into a happier, safer country would mean having to raise taxes on the super-rich, and we can’t have that.Sorry, this is out of order. It’s about Ruth Ellis, not the current political situation She’s really got to me.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. This one was important to me.
      Although we no longer have hanging, we still need to massively reform the criminal – and the prison – system, but it’s not going to happen as long as we have a right-wing government.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Jane, I loved your poem and agreed with your hatred of punishing the abused. I hate it as much for men as women, well I would, but my biggest dislike in this world is the deliberate taking of another human life when one’s own is not threatened. It is the only justification I have for anyone killing anyone.I was president of our school debating society and managed to get an abolition of the death penalty motion approved against great odds in 1959. But I liked that remark about right-wing governments. I’ve been a Tory all my life, even if I wasn’t enfranchised until I was well into my thirties due to my global commitments. I don’t blame governments for not taking correct moral and ethical decisions, just the cohorts of bureaucrats who advise them from the safety of plush armchairs and total lack of responsibility. My one horror of left-wing administrations is the incredible amount I have suffered in my life at the hands of people who have asumed I am the sort of Tory I can understand you greatly dislike. That’s not my sort. I think the reason I believe in people being able to be disgustingly rich is my love of philanthropists and all they have done to make the world as habitable as it is. Also I hate class conscious divisions, I love and like and help those good people with whom I want to be friends and as many of them are socialists as conservatives in England. Dear me I think I stood on a soap box! 🙂 But don’t worry I’m no facist. It isn’t in me. Stick to your own principles and do what you believe is right. I’m sure you try very hard . Ciao. Anton

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so glad you brought this subject up. It breaks down a small barrier between us. I thought about you when I wrote that comment, and about how you would react to it. I know you’re a Tory, and you’ve taught me a lot in a short space of time. I never expected to tell you this, but I first became aware of you when you clicked ‘like’ on a poem I wrote about the failure of the NHS. I clicked to your blog, read the short post about David Cameron, and immediately backed away – how’s that for working class prejudice? When you offered to try to get my memoir published I returned to your blog, and couldn’t find the post, so I thought I’d mixed you up with someone else. If I had found it I would probably have turned down your kind offer. Note: I said “probably”, showing that I’m not as highly principled as I pretend to be. However, it didn’t take me long to see that you live by your Christian principles. You may have realised that I’m not a Christian as such, but I have a great deal of respect for his teachings – at least I have never been guilty of that weird prejudice
      You have succeeded where my mother failed. She was a humanist who had compassion and respect for everybody, and she tried to wean me away from my prejudices. You have finally taught me that every Tory isn’t a bad Tory. I’m sure you have met a lot of Tories of the kind that I object to, just as I have met a lot of socialists who have no principles and no genuine compassion. They make it difficult to close the gap between us, and I haven’t helped in that direction either. I am humbled, and happy to be gently admonished. You did it beautifully, and I thank you. I consider you a true friend for taking the trouble. I sincerely hope you will keep that soapbox close at hand. It’s intelligently constructed by gentle hands.


  3. What a lovely comment. It must be my turn to tell you why I knew I was onto a winner by following you. It was when you wrote that poem about having a cup of coffee with someone and finding you could tell them about yourself in greater detail than you would ever have done in different circumstances. Jane, when I read that I was reading about myself. There is no gap between us. I know when I come across a nice person and I am very seldom disillusioned. Who you support or how does not matter a jot to me. Prejudice is not something I do, I was brought up with so much of it , rich, poor, racial, sexual, a mother who was an alcoholic mega celebrity and a father who was one of the country’s leading journalists. I may have had a silver spoon in my mouth at birth, but I never polished it. The only thing that kept my sister and I sane(she’s 15 months older) was defending each other as we rode the tsunami of every type of unpleasant wave of bitchiness, backbiting, lying and spurious fawning that you could imagine. At a very young age, as you know, I was very ill and always have been and so have never been able to turn away people in need of help; as I am myself. That is my only real virtue and the vicissitudes that have accompanied my choppy journey over the oceans and many seas that have tried to drown me has brought me to where and who I am. It is making friends with people like you that helps me continue on my way. I actually physically love God, I know that sounds over the top, but I do. And I’m so glad because it never allows me to think that some day my journey will end anywhere than on a calm and peaceful shore. Take care and thanks again. Anton

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have read about your powerful feelings on prejudice.
      I consider myself fortunate to have run into you, and would be proud to meet you on that shore, but I believe I have a lot of catching up to do first.


  4. That was really lovely, I only remembered she was the last woman to die in that terrible way, she entered the history of this Country. I saw a film of her a long time ago and was shocked to learn the truth about her, what happened to her Son? Jane,thank you for all of that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Anna. That was all I knew about her until I was challenged to write a poem about her – and I’m glad I was.
      I don’t know what happened to Ruth’s son.. I hope he held his head high and knew there was no shame in his history.

      Liked by 1 person

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