Tyburn was a village in the county of Middlesex close to the current location of Marble Arch and the southern end of Edgware Road in present-day London. It took its name from the Tyburn Brook, a tributary of the River Westbourne. The name Tyburn, from Teo Bourne means 'boundary stream', but Tyburn Brook should not be confused with the better known River Tyburn, which is the next tributary of the River Thames to the east of the Westbourne.
For many centuries, the name Tyburn was synonymous with capital punishment, it having been the principal place for execution of London criminals and convicted traitors, including many religious martyrs. It was also known as 'God's Tribunal', in the 18th century.
The village was one of two manors of the parish of Marylebone, which was itself named after the stream, St Marylebone being a contraction of St Mary's church by the bourne. Tyburn was recorded in the Domesday Book and stood approximately at the west end of what is now Oxford Street at the junction of two Roman roads. The predecessors of Oxford Street (called Tyburn Road in the mid 1700s) and Edgware Road were roads leading to the village, later joined by Park Lane (originally Tyburn Lane).
In the 1230s and 1240s the village of Tyburn was held by Gilbert de Sandford, the son of John de Sandford, who had been the chamberlain to Eleanor of Aquitaine. In 1236 the city of London contracted with Sir Gilbert to draw water from Tyburn Springs, which he held, to serve as the source of the first piped water supply for the city. The water was supplied in lead pipes that ran from where Bond Street Station stands today, one-half mile (0.80 kilometres) east of Hyde Park, down to the hamlet of Charing (Charing Cross), along Fleet Street and over the Fleet Bridge, climbing Ludgate Hill (by gravitational pressure) to a public conduit at Cheapside. Water was supplied free to all comers.
Tyburn had significance from ancient times and was marked by a monument known as Oswulf's Stone, which gave its name to the Ossulstone Hundred of Middlesex. The stone was covered over in 1851 when Marble Arch was moved to the area, but it was shortly afterwards unearthed and propped up against the Arch. It has not been seen since 1869.
For much of its history, public executions took place at Tyburn, with prisoners processed from Newgate Prison in the City, via St Giles in the Fields and Oxford Street. After the late 18th century, when public executions were no longer carried out at Tyburn, they were carried out at Newgate Prison itself and at Horsemonger Lane Gaol in Southwark.
The first recorded execution took place at a site next to the stream in 1196. William Fitz Osbert, populist leader who played a major role in an 1196 popular revolt in London, was cornered in the church of St Mary-le-Bow. He was dragged naked behind a horse to Tyburn, where he was hanged.
In 1537, Henry VIII used Tyburn to execute the ringleaders of the Pilgrimage of Grace, including Sir Nicholas Tempest, one of the northern leaders of the Pilgrimage and the King's own Bowbearer of the Forest of Bowland.
In 1571, the Tyburn Tree was erected at the junction of today's Edgware Road, Bayswater Road and Oxford Street, near where Marble Arch is currently situated. The "Tree" or "Triple Tree" was a novel form of gallows, consisting of a horizontal wooden triangle supported by three legs (an arrangement known as a "three-legged mare" or "three-legged stool"). Several felons could thus be hanged at once, and so the gallows were used for mass executions, such as on 23 June 1649 when 24 prisoners--23 men and one woman--were hanged simultaneously, having been conveyed there in eight carts.
The Tree stood in the middle of the roadway, providing a major landmark in west London and presenting a very obvious symbol of the law to travellers. After executions, the bodies would be buried nearby or in later times removed for dissection by anatomists. The crowd would sometimes fight over a body with surgeons, for fear that dismemberment could prevent the resurrection of the body on Judgement Day (see Jack Sheppard, Dick Turpin or William Spiggot).
The first victim of the "Tyburn Tree" was John Story, a Roman Catholic who was convicted and tried for treason. A plaque to the Catholic martyrs executed at Tyburn in the period 1535-1681 is located at 8 Hyde Park Place, the site of Tyburn convent. Among the more notable individuals suspended from the "Tree" in the following centuries were John Bradshaw, Henry Ireton and Oliver Cromwell, who were already dead but were disinterred and hanged at Tyburn in January 1661 on the orders of the Cavalier Parliament in an act of posthumous revenge for their part in the beheading of King Charles I.
The gallows seem to have been replaced several times, probably because of wear, but in general, the entire structure stood all the time in Tyburn. After some acts of vandalism, in October 1759 it was decided to replace the permanent structure with new moving gallows until the last execution in Tyburn, probably carried out in November 1783.
The executions were public spectacles and proved extremely popular, attracting crowds of thousands. The enterprising villagers of Tyburn erected large spectator stands so that as many as possible could see the hangings (for a fee). On one occasion, the stands collapsed, reportedly killing and injuring hundreds of people. This did not prove a deterrent, however, and the executions continued to be treated as public holidays, with London apprentices being given the day off for them. One such event was depicted by William Hogarth in his satirical print, The Idle 'Prentice Executed at Tyburn (1747).
Tyburn was commonly invoked in euphemisms for capital punishment--for instance, to "take a ride to Tyburn" (or simply "go west") was to go to one's hanging, "Lord of the Manor of Tyburn" was the public hangman, "dancing the Tyburn jig" was the act of being hanged, and so on. Convicts would be transported to the site in an open ox-cart from Newgate Prison. They were expected to put on a good show, wearing their finest clothes and going to their deaths with insouciance. The crowd would cheer a "good dying", but would jeer any displays of weakness on the part of the condemned.
On 19 April 1779, clergyman James Hackman was hanged there following his 7 April murder of courtesan and socialite Martha Ray, the mistress of John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich. The Tyburn gallows were last used on 3 November 1783, when John Austin, a highwayman, was hanged; for the next eighty-five years hangings were staged outside Newgate prison. Then, in 1868, due to public disorder during these public executions, it was decided to execute the convicts inside the prison.
The site of the gallows is now marked by three young oak trees that were planted in 2014 on an island in the middle of Edgware Road at its junction with Bayswater Road. Between the trees is a roundel with the inscription "The site of Tyburn Tree". It is also commemorated by the Tyburn Convent, a Catholic convent dedicated to the memory of martyrs executed there and in other locations for the Catholic faith.
Although most historical records and modern science agree that the Tyburn gallows were situated where Oxford Street meets Edgware Road and Bayswater Road, in the January 1850 issue of Notes and Queries, the book collector and musicologist Edward Francis Rimbault published a list of faults he had found in Peter Cunningham's 1849 Handbook of London, in which he claimed that the correct site of the gallows is where 49 Connaught Square later was built, stating that "in the lease granted by the Bishop of London, this is particularly mentioned".
Tyburn was primarily known for its gallows, which functioned as the main execution site for London-area prisoners from the 16th through to the 18th centuries. For those people found guilty of capital crimes who could not get a pardon, which accounted for approximately 40%, a probable destiny was to be hanged at Tyburn. Other contemporary methods of punishment that may have been used as alternatives to Tyburn included execution, followed by being hung in chains, where the crime was committed; or burning at the stake; and being drawn and quartered, of which the latter two were common in cases of treason.
The last days of the condemned were marked by religious events. On the Sunday before every execution, a sermon was preached in Newgate's chapel, which those unaffiliated with the execution could pay to attend. Furthermore, the night before the execution, around midnight, the sexton of St Sepulchre's church, adjacent to Newgate, recited verses outside the wall of the condemned. The following morning, the convicts heard prayers and those who wished to receive the sacrament.
On the day of execution, the condemned were transported to the Tyburn gallows from Newgate in a horse-drawn open cart. The distance between Newgate and Tyburn was approximately three miles (4.8 kilometres), but due to streets often being crowded with onlookers, the journey could last up to three hours. A usual stop of the cart was at the Bowl Inn in St Giles, where the condemned were allowed to drink strong liquors or wine.
Having arrived at Tyburn, the condemned found themselves in front of a crowded and noisy square; the wealthy paid to sit on the stands erected for the occasion, in order to have an unobstructed view. Before the execution, the condemned were allowed to say a few words--the authorities expected that most of the condemned, before their death, before commending their own souls to God, would admit their guilt. It is reported that the majority of the condemned did so. A noose was then placed around their neck and the cart pulled away, leaving them hanging. Death was not immediate; the fight against strangulation could last for three-quarters of an hour.
Instances of pickpocketing have been reported in the crowds of executions, a mockery of the deterrent effect of capital punishment, which at the time was considered proper punishment for theft.
Sites of public executions were significant gathering places and executions themselves often functioned as public entertainment, in contrast with their intended deterrent effect. Scholars have described the executions at Tyburn as "carnivalesque occasion[s] in which the normative message intended by the authorities is reappropriated and inverted by an irreverent crowd" that found them a source of "entertainment as well as conflict." This analysis is supported by the presence of shouting street traders and food vendors and the erection of seating for wealthier onlookers. Additionally, a popular belief held that the hand of an executed criminal could cure cancers, and it was not uncommon to see mothers brushing their child's cheek with the hand of the condemned. The gallows at Tyburn were sources of cadavers for surgeons and anatomists.
|William Fitz Osbert||1196||Citizen of London executed for his role in a popular uprising of the poor in the spring of 1196.|
1st Earl of March
|29 November 1330||Accused of assuming royal power; hanged without trial.|
|Sir Thomas John Browne, MP, Sheriff of Kent||20 July 1460||Convicted of treason and immediately hanged. Had been knighted by Henry IV and served as Chancellor of the Exchequer between 1440 and 1450 and as Justice of the peace in Surrey from 1454 until his death.|
|Sir Humphrey Stafford of Grafton||8 July 1486||Accused of siding with Richard III; hanged without trial on orders of Henry VII.|
|Michael An Gof and Thomas Flamank||27 June 1497||Leaders of the 1st Cornish Rebellion of 1497.|
|Perkin Warbeck||23 November 1499||Treason; pretender to the throne of Henry VII of England by passing himself off as Richard IV, the younger of the two Princes in the Tower. Leader of the 2nd Cornish Rebellion of 1497.|
"The Holy Maid of Kent"
|20 April 1534||Treason; a nun who unwisely prophesied that King Henry VIII would die within six months if he married Anne Boleyn.|
|John Houghton||4 May 1535||Prior of the Charterhouse who refused to swear the oath condoning King Henry VIII's divorce of Catherine of Aragon.|
|Thomas FitzGerald, 10th Earl of Kildare||3 February 1537||Rebel who renounced his allegiance to Henry VIII. On 3 February 1537, the Earl, after being imprisoned for sixteen months, along with five of his uncles, were all executed as traitors at Tyburn, by being hanged, drawn and quartered. The Irish Government, not satisfied with the arrest of the Earl, had written to Cromwell and it was determined that the five uncles (James, Oliver, Richard, John and Walter) should be arrested also. |
The sole male representative to the Kildare Geraldines was then smuggled to safety by his tutor at the age of twelve. Gerald FitzGerald, 11th Earl of Kildare (1525-1585), also known as the "Wizard Earl".
|Sir Francis Bigod||2 June 1537||Leader of Bigod's Rebellion. Between June and August 1537, the rebellion's ringleaders and many participants were executed at Tyburn, Tower Hill and many other locations. They included Sir John Bigod, Sir Thomas Percy, Sir Henry Percy, Sir John Bulmer, Sir Stephan Hamilton, Sir Nicholas Tempast, Sir William Lumley, Sir Edward Neville, Sir Robert Constable, the abbots of Barlings, Sawley, Fountains and Jervaulx Abbeys, and the prior of Bridlington. In all, 216 were put to death in various places; lords and knights, half a dozen abbots, 38 monks, and 16 parish priests.|
|Thomas Fiennes, 9th Baron Dacre||29 June 1541||Lord Dacre was convicted of murder after being involved in the death of a gamekeeper whilst taking part in a poaching expedition on the lands of Sir Nicholas Pelham of Laughton.|
|Francis Dereham and Sir Thomas Culpeper||10 December 1541||Courtiers of King Henry VIII who were sexually involved with his fifth wife, Queen Catherine Howard. Culpeper and Dereham were both sentenced to be 'hanged, drawn and quartered' but Culpeper's sentence was commuted to beheading at Tyburn on account of his previously good relationship with Henry. (Beheading, reserved for nobility, was normally carried out at Tower Hill.) Dereham suffered the full sentence.|
|William Leech of Fulletby||8 May 1543||A ringleader of the rebellion called the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536, Leech escaped to Scotland. He murdered the Somerset Herald, Thomas Trahern, at Dunbar on 25 November 1542, causing an international incident, and was delivered for hanging in London.|
|Humphrey Arundell||27 January 1550||Leader of the Western Rebellion in 1549 – sometimes known as the Prayer Book Rebellion|
|Saint Edmund Campion||1 December 1581||Roman Catholic priests.|
|John Adams||8 October 1586|
|Brian O'Rourke||3 November 1591||Irish lord, harboured and aided the escape of Spanish Armada shipwreck survivors in the winter of 1588. Following a short rebellion he fled to Scotland in 1591, but became the first man extradited within Britain on allegations of crimes committed in Ireland and was sentenced to death for treason.|
|Robert Southwell||21 February 1595||Roman Catholic priest.|
|John Felton||29 November 1628||Lieutenant in the English army who murdered George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, a courtier, statesman, and favorite of King James I.|
|Philip Powel||30 June 1646||Roman Catholic priests.|
|Peter Wright||19 May 1651|
|John Southworth||28 June 1654|
|Oliver Cromwell||30 January 1661||Posthumous execution following exhumation of his body from Westminster Abbey.|
|Robert Hubert||28 September 1666||Falsely confessed to starting the Great Fire of London.|
|Claude Duval||21 January 1670||Highwayman.|
|Saint Oliver Plunkett||1 July 1681||Lord Primate of All Ireland, Lord Archbishop of Armagh and martyr.|
|Jane Voss||19 December 1684||Robbing on the highway, high treason, murder, and felony.|
|William Chaloner||23 March 1699||Notorious coiner and counterfeiter, convicted of high treason partly on evidence gathered by Isaac Newton.|
|Jack Hall||1707||A chimney-sweep, hanged for committing a burglary. There is a folk-song about him, which bears his name (and another song with the variant name of Sam Hall).|
|16 November 1724||Notorious thief and multiple escapee.|
|Jonathan Wild||24 May 1725||Organized crime lord.|
|Arthur Gray||11 May 1748||One of the leaders of the notorious Hawkhurst Gang, a criminal organisation involved in smuggling throughout southeast England from 1735 until 1749.|
"The Gentleman Highwayman"
|3 October 1750||Highwayman.|
|Laurence Shirley, 4th Earl Ferrers||1 May 1760||The last peer to be hanged for murder.|
|Elizabeth Brownrigg||13 September 1767||Murdered Mary Clifford, a domestic servant.|
"Sixteen String Jack"
|30 November 1774||Highwayman.|
|Rev. James Hackman||19 April 1779||Hanged for the murder of Martha Ray, mistress of John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich.|
|John Austin||3 November 1783||A highwayman, the last person to be executed at Tyburn.|
Hall. Hen. VIII an. 30, cited in A New Dictionary of the English Language, Charles Richardson (1836) William Pickering, London. Vol 1 P. 962, col 1