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Prison cell of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be executed in the UK, recreated for exhibition

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 30/10/2018 Robert Dex
Ruth Ellis sitting on a bed © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited

The prison cell that was home to Ruth Ellis - the last woman to be executed in this country - has been recreated for a new art show.

Artist Christina Reihill consulted the original prison diary recording her final days to build the installation.

Ellis was hanged at Holloway Prison in 1955 after being found guilty of murdering her abusive lover David Blakely after shooting him five times at point blank range outside a Hampstead pub.

The case, which was filmed in 1985 as Dance With A Stranger with Miranda Richardson and Rupert Everett as the doomed lovers, is often cited as helping turn public opinion against the death penalty.

There was a huge outcry at the plight of Ellis, a former nightclub hostess and prostitute, who had earlier suffered a miscarriage after being attacked by Blakely.

Tens of thousands of people signed a petition begging for a reprieve and US crime novelist Raymond Chandler - the creator of private eye Philip Marlowe - wrote a letter to the Evening Standard decrying the “medieval savagery” of the courts.

The show, at the Bermondsey Project Space, is inspired by letters she wrote from her cell as well as prison reports that were regularly updated tracking her state of mind up until her execution.

Ms Reihill said she was attracted by Ellis’s personality and her determination to “live her own life”.

She said: “I love her honesty, she said having killed him ‘He deserved it’, she didn’t hide from it.”

The installation also includes a poem written by Ms Reihill from the viewpoint of Ellis addressing Blakey and a video interview explaining her fascination with the killer.

She said she believes Ellis wanted to die and fell back on her hostess persona while in the cell waiting for her sentence to be carried out.

She said: “She was welcoming people almost as if it was for afternoon tea and asking them how they were when she was hours away from being hanged so for me she was in a deluded state of mind to cope with such a terrifying fate.

“The reality is for most people the idea of being in a condemned cell would be horror but for a lot of prisoners that contained space offers an amelioration of not being able to deal with a bigger reality and she got three meals a day, she had people treating her with respect, calling her Mrs Ellis”.

Glad I Did It is at Bermondsey Project Space at 183-185 Bermondsey Street from November 14 to December 1.

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