Posted in Crime and Punishment, Tudor

Places of execution in Tudor London and their positive affect on Britain today…

For centuries Speakers corner in Hyde park has been the place where Londoners have stood on boxes and practised their right of free speech. Today some speakers talk complete nonsense to make the crowd laugh, others tell smutty jokes and some shout their political or religious views to the London crowd who boo or applaud.

I remember walking through this area as a child and being fascinated by its strange atmosphere and the strong feelings of the speakers and listeners.

It was on this site close to Marble Arch where the infamous Tyburn hanging tree once stood and it was at the foot of these gallows that the tradition of free speech began.

It was at Tyburn that condemned prisoners gave their last speech on the gallows before their death making the area an ideal place for public debate and discussion. From this hanging tree culture speakers corner evolved into what it is today and the right of free speech was born.

Sometimes called Tyburn Gallows the ‘tree’ was made of wood beams and triangular in shape so that more than one hanging could take place at a time. Each beam could hang eight felons so that twenty-four could swing on the ropes at once. There could be up to 12 hangings a year. The condemned were first taken to local pubs and often arrived at the gallows drunk and disorderly.
The first hanging here was in 1108 and the very last was in 1759. After this date the gallows were moved inside Newgate prison. The local people were very angry about the dismantling of the tree as hanging days had always been public holidays for the labouring classes which sometimes drew crowds of over 200,000 people.

If the condemned were fortunate a family member would tug on their feet to end their lives quickly. Otherwise once the noose was around their necks and the cart which they were standing on was removed they strangled painfully to death. It is said that Guy Fawkes threw himself with great force onto his noose so that he would be dead before he was drawn and quartered.

Working class traitors were always hung drawn and quartered at Smithfield. Murderers, thieves and those who committed ‘petty treason,the killing of a spouse or master, were also hung at Smithfield. Both Catholic and Protestant heretics, depending on the faith of the ruling monarch, were burnt in the same place.

Gentlemen were beheaded on Tower Green and those of the highest status were beheaded within the Tower itself to prevent public unrest or wild celebration. The tower cannons would signal to the city when a person of high status entered the Tower as a prisoner and crowds would gather along the shore to see who it was.
Those found guilty of piracy were paraded across London Bridge, past the Tower and to the execution docks in Wapping. The streets would be lined with spectators some of them in boats many of whom regarded an execution as a good day out with the family.  They would bring picnics and often buy souvenirs to remember a good hanging.

The condemned men in true London style were then taken to a pub called the Turks Inn, which is now a cafe, for their last quart of ale. Then the prisoners would be taken to the dock. The hanging was done with a  cruel short rope so that the victim was strangled and ‘danced’ as their legs were untied. The bodies were left until three tides washed over them. Some were hung in cages along the estuary to be a warning to others.

I have heard sundry men oft times dispute 

Of trees, that in one year will twice bear fruit.
But if a man note Tyburn, ‘will appear,
That that’s a tree that bears twelve times a year.





I love Tudor history and my bookshelves seem to groan a bit more every year...

3 thoughts on “Places of execution in Tudor London and their positive affect on Britain today…

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