Tyburn: Londons Fatal Tree

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The original Tyburn trees used for hangings were a row of elms alongside an underground stream called Tyburn Brook. But it was the huge triangular Tyburn Tree, erected in and made of thick wooden crossbeams 3m 9ft long on 5.

Some historians give a more precise location as slightly to the north-west at Connaught Square. Mass executions took place on Mondays, when prisoners were transported from Newgate Prison to Tyburn in an open wagon, often in their finest clothes. Once at Tyburn, those due to die were put onto a specially built horse-drawn carriage that was moved under the Tyburn Tree. Nooses were placed around their necks and then the carriage driven away, leaving the condemned suspended until they died.

Hangings were witnessed by thousands of spectators who would pay to sit in open galleries erected especially for the occasion, as well as in rented upper-storey rooms in houses and pubs. After the corpses were cut down from the gallows, there was a rush to grab the bodies, as some believed their hair and body parts were effective in healing diseases. They were also sought after by surgeons for dissection. In , public executions were moved to Newgate Prison, as the crowds by the route to Tyburn started to disturb the increasingly fashionable areas close to Oxford Street. The mass hangings at Tyburn are commemorated by a stone plaque in the ground on one of the Marble Arch traffic islands.

Founded at the beginning of the 20th century, it contains a Shrine of the Martyrs in remembrance of more than Catholics who died at Tyburn during the Reformation. Transportation Collectables 5. Photographic Images 4. Memorabilia 2. Militaria 1. Advertising Collectables 1. Ethnographic Collectables 1. Historical Memorabilia 2. Format see all Format. All listings filter applied.

Buy it now. Condition see all Condition. New Used Not specified Please provide a valid price range. Item location see all Item location. Ireland Only. European Union. When the pinioning was completed, they were placed in open horse drawn carts sitting on their coffins surrounded by armed cavalry. The procession consisting of the City Marshall a court officer responsible for prisoners , the Ordinary Newgate's prison chaplain , the hangman and his assistants, and a troop of javelin men started out for Tyburn about two and a half miles away.

The procession made its slow and bumpy passage along Holborn, St. The narrow streets could be lined with crowds, especially if the criminals were notorious, and there would often be insults and more solid objects hurled at the prisoners and their escorts on the way. A stop was often made at St. Sepulchre's Church where the bell would be tolled and the minister would chant, "You that are condemned to die, repent with lamentable tears; ask mercy of the Lord for the salvation of your souls.

Stops were made at two public houses along the way, probably the Bowl Inn at St Giles and the Mason's Arms in Seymour Place, where the condemned would be allowed an alcoholic drink.

Once they left the second pub, it was a short journey to the gallows. On arrival at Tyburn around noon , some two to three hours after they had left Newgate, the prisoners were greeted by a large crowd, of anything up to , people, who had come to watch the spectacle. Amongst the crowd were hawkers selling food and souvenirs and people selling copies of broadsides purporting to contain the prisoners' last dying speeches and confessions of the condemned bear in mind this was before they had been executed!


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It has often been said that pickpockets were operating among the crowd, despite the fact that it was frequently some of their number who were being hanged. A seat with a good view was much sought after and very expensive — 2 shillings 10p was a lot of money then. The poor just milled round the gallows held back by the Javelin men. There was a house overlooking Tyburn, with iron balconies, from which the Sheriffs of the City of London and Under Sheriff of Middlesex plus their invited guests watched the executions.

The carts were each backed under one of the three beams of the gallows.

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The hangman uncoiled the free end of the rope from each prisoner and threw it up to one of his assistants positioned precariously on the beam above. They tied the rope to the beam leaving very little slack.


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The Ordinary would pray with the prisoners and when he had finished, the hangman pulled nightcaps over the faces of those who had brought them. As you can imagine, the preparations took quite some time where a large batch of prisoners were being hanged. When everything was ready, the horses were whipped away, pulling the prisoners off the carts and leaving them suspended.

The hangman, his assistants and sometimes the prisoners' relatives might pull on the prisoners' legs to hasten their end. It was not unknown for the occasional person to survive their hanging. One of the most famous cases is that of John Smith, hanged on Christmas Eve Having been turned off the back of the cart, he dangled for 15 minutes until the crowd began to shout "reprieve," whereupon he was cut down and taken to a nearby house where he soon recovered.

The Tyburn Tree

He was asked what it had felt like to be hanged and this is what he told his rescuers: "When I was turned off I was, for some time, sensible of very great pain occasioned by the weight of my body and felt my spirits in strange commotion, violently pressing upwards. Having forced their way to my head I saw a great blaze or glaring light that seemed to go out of my eyes in a flash and then I lost all sense of pain. After I was cut down, I began to come to myself and the blood and spirits forcing themselves into their former channels put me by a prickling or shooting into such intolerable pain that I could have wished those hanged who had cut me down.

He had been convicted of raping and murdering Sarah Griffin and was therefore to be anatomised after execution. He was revived and returned to Newgate later that day. The authorities decided to reprieve him and his sentence was commuted to transportation. After half an hour or so, the now lifeless bodies were cut down and claimed by friends and relatives or sent for dissection at Surgeons' Hall. Fights often broke out between the rival parties over possession of the bodies. Prior to the Murder Act of , surgeons were allowed 10 bodies per year, after that they got the bodies of all murderers as well.

Tyburn Tree and Speakers Corner, London

Wealthier criminals provided coffins for themselves, the poorer ones often could not afford these. It was not unusual for their friends and relatives to sell the bodies to dissectionists.

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The clothes of the executed belonged to the hangman and, therefore, some prisoners only wore their cheapest, oldest clothes whilst others dressed to look their best for their final performance. Where a woman was to be burned at the stake for High Treason mainly offences of clipping filing or forging coins or Petty Treason, her execution was normally carried out after the hangings.

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Both men and women convicted of treason were drawn on a sledge to their execution instead of riding in the carts with the others. The whole execution was a leisurely, and in many ways, theatrical process.


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Time seemed to matter very little unlike 20th century hangings and everyone went to enjoy the morbid entertainment. In some cases, the prisoners seemed to enter into the spirit of the occasion.