The Tyburn Tree
The Tyburn Tree was the name used for the gallows used for mass executions in London.
The approximate site for the gallows is marked by a plaque in the middle of a traffic island on the corner of Bayswater Road and Oxford Street.
A river called the Westbourne started in West Hampstead.
Being fed by five streams it made its way south through Kilburn, Maida Vale, Marylebone and Paddington, finishing up into the Thames.
It was damned up in 1730 and became the serpentine. This river was joined by a Brook at Bayswater road. Its name was originally called Tuoburna- said to mean boundary stream. This was used to describe the tributary of the Westbourne, The Tyburn Brook.
The area became known as Tyburnia.
Oxford Street was The Tyburn Road and Park Lane was called Tyburn Lane.
This was the principle place of Public Executions from 1388 until 1783.
Smithfields was also one of the most important locations for public executions.
After 1783 public executions took place outside Newgate Prison and Tower Hill.
Pirates were hanged in chains and gibbets ( Gallows type structures ) were on the marshes of both sides of the river.
Portable gallows were used to hang offenders near or outside the scene of their crimes.
13 boys were hanged in May 1517 when portable gallows were set up successively in Leadenhall, Newgate and Aldgate.
in 1571 the first permanent gallows were set up in Tyburn.
It was triangular in shape, probably for strength and could face three roads.
Being about 18 feet high with cross beams being able to hang 8 people at once, 8 or 9 feet across. Twenty four people could be executed on the gallows at once.
Execution places in London
Apart from Tyburn there were several regular places for execution in London.
To the east were Tower Hill and Execution Dock
From the North a traveller would see executions at Smithfield and Newgate Prison and if coming to London from the south executions could be seen at Kennington Common. At earlier dates travellers could see heads and quarters on London Bridge.
About 50 Offences carried the death penalty in the 17th century. In 1819 this rose to more than 200.
These crimes included arson, burglary, bankrupts hiding their assets, forgery, highway robbery, piracy, sodomy, pick pocketing with the value above 1 shilling, stealing above the value of 40 shillings, cutting down trees , destroying a pond containing fish and many more.
The Road to the Tyburn Tree
The first to be executed here was John Story in 1571.
The condemned would be taken by cart from Newgate prison under armed guards.
They would stop off at the ale houses on the way to Tyburn. Some would be drunk by the time of their execution. Being dressed in their best clothes or just a white gown to express they were innocent. Their coffins would also be on the cart with them.
Women would blow kisses to the condemned. some would throw flowers others would throw dead cats or dung.
When they arrived at Tyburn a pigeon would be released to fly back to Newgate prison to inform them the prisoners had arrived.
The hangman would stop the cart under one of the cross beams and place a noose around the neck of the condemned. He would then whip the horse and the person would swing kicking. The friends of the condemned would pull on the legs and beat on the chest of the hanging person in order to assist in the persons quick demise.
Men that committed treason were hung, drawn and quartered which involved the following;
Being hung then cut down still alive.
Emasculated:- which involved the private parts being cut off.
Drawn:- which involved the removal of the bowels, usually through a horizontal incision across the stomach. This all happened when the person was still alive.
Quartered:- The body being chopped into four pieces and displayed in prominent places across England.
some also had their hearts cut out while still alive.
Women that committed treason were instead burned at the stake.
The executioner would tie the woman to a stake with a ring around her neck. The executioner would strangle the victim so she would die from strangulation and not from being burnt alive. Sadly that didn’t happen all the time as the executioner on several occasions would find his hands being burnt from the radiated heat from the flames. This meant he had to let go of the implement around the victim’s neck. Consequently the victim was burnt alive.
The Hangman would claim the victims clothes once they were hanged. Some of the victims stripped off and threw their clothes into the crowds to prevent the hangman from getting them.
The bodies would be buried nearby or sent away for dissection as the surgeons were allowed a certain amount of bodies every year.
In 1661 the bodies of Oliver Cromwell , Ireton and Bradshaw were exhumed from Westminster Abbey by King Charles 11 for signing the death warrant on Charles 1.
They were hung on the Tyburn Tree from sunrise to sunset.
They were hung in chains, then beheaded, then buried in a deep pit at the foot of the gallows. Cromwell’s head was par boiled and tarred and then displayed on a pole outside Westminster hall until 1685.
When the famous Jack Shepherd was executed at Tyburn, instead of the public being for the hanging they were against it. Giving support to the villainous character he was.
John (Jack) Shepherd was born in Spitalfields in 1702.
He met a prostitute known as Edgeworth Bess in a Tavern in Drury Lane. She persuaded him to give up his job as a carpenter and become a house burglar. Johnathon Wild who was known at the time for employing crooks to steal for him admired Jack and wanted Jack to be part of his gang but Jack didn’t want anything to do with Wild.
Jack broke into St Giles roundhouse and released Bess after she was thrown in there for stealing a gold ring.
This was one of the first of Jacks Gaol breaks.
He was in Clerkenwell prison when he filed off his leg irons, broke a hole in the wall and escaped by tying his bed sheets together to lower himself down into a yard and scaled a 20 feet wall.
Jack escaped from gaol four times.
On the last occasion after stealing from a pawnbrokers, he was chained to the floor and weighed down. His hands also being cuffed in irons. All totalling 300 lbs.
The public paid the gaolers to see Jack in the prison as Jacks execution was to be soon at Tyburn.
The crowd cheered him
Instead of dead cats and dung being thrown at the cart on the way to Tyburn flowers were thrown and the crowd cheered him.
Over two hundred thousand people saw Jacks journey to the Tyburn Tree and his death.
He was hung at Tyburn on 16th November 1724. His body was rushed to a Public house in Long Acre were a surgeon was waiting to revive him but it was too late. The crowds had thought his body was being taken there for dissection thus prevented the body being taken from Tyburn quickly.
Jack was 23 years old.
Jacks body was buried in the Churchyard of St Martins in the Fields near Strand.
The Demise of the Tyburn Tree gallows.
In order that many people could see the executions and deter people from committing crimes the execution days were classed as public holidays. Thousands of people would be there selling their goods, getting drunk and causing a riot after the execution. This also attracted crimes like pick pocketing and other forms of stealing. This went against the reason for the execution display in the first place.
These riots caused the demise of executions being carried out on the Tyburn Tree.
As a result of this the gallows were demolished in 1783 and executions were carried out in at Newgate instead.
The New Drop
Newgate was where the new set of gallows was built called the New Drop.
It consisted of a platform with two flaps level to the ground,beneath this was a drop of 10 feet, up to 20 people could be hung at one time.The noose was placed around their necks and the flaps would drop away under their feet.
The Tyburn Convent.
To the west of the Tyburn Tree plaque there is the Tyburn Convent.
Here they honour more than 105 Catholic Martyrs who were executed at Tyburn during the reformation.
The Convent is open for tours to the public.