This post has been a long while in coming due to me not being able to get the photos to work. I actually did this walk during Febuary half term.
Anyway Newgate Prison stood on the site of what is now the Old Bailey Criminal Justice Courts, near St Pauls. This was London’s main prison right up until it’s closure in 1902. Tyburn, at the junction of Oxford Street and Edgware Road, right by Marble Arch, is the site where until 1793 was where London’s most famous gallows stood. Originally a simple gallows it was expanded in 1511 into the Tyburn tree, a giant structure 18 feet high comprising of three posts and capable of hanging 24 people at once.
The condemned would be taken by wagon from Newgate to Tyburn and this is the route that my walk took. They would have a noose tied around their necks and their hands bound so they were in the praying position when they got to Tyburn. I stated at St Paul’s station and walked along Newgate. I found the Old Bailey fairly easily and a plaque marking the site of Newgate gaol. From Old Bailey I walked across to St Sepulchre’s church, which has an interesting history of it’s own so expect another post on that. Here the condemned were given a nosegay of flowers, I just contented myself with taking some pictures of the pretty ones outside.
Then they continued along Snow Hill, across the river Fleet and down High Holborn. It is at this point I got a little confused and almost walked in the wrong direction as now the road layout has changed a bit this is no longer the most direct route and I got a bit lost. A quick glance at the A to Z I brought with me and I was all set to go again. Back on the right track I went down to Holborn Circus where I took a slight detour down Fleet Street, and then back up to St Giles where I made the next stop of the journey.
In the narrow streets of St Giles they stopped for a last drink, on the house of course, known as a cup of charity, though a few people jokingly offered to buy a round on the way back. I would have stopped in The Intrepid Fox, see my upcoming post on UKgoth.info for the history of that pub, but as they weren’t open yet I made do with The Angel, a small pub right next to St Giles church (founded 1101). Here I caused great amusement when I was asked if I was journalist after sitting there making a load of notes on my walk and then photographing my pint. Oh and yes if this really was my last drink I would have had something better than a pint of cider, but I had to pay for this one ok.
After this it was back on the wagon, never to drink again (hence the saying) and down Oxford Street to Tyburn. I have been told this part of the journey took several hours with authors trying to get permisson to publish already written works as last confessions. Now this is the part that amazes me, I had to fight through goodness knows how many tourists to get there, and I wans’t going particuarly fast and it still took me a little over half an hour to cover that distance. Imagine being dragged behind a waggon for what is probably just over a mile for hours!
Finally they made it to Tyburn where the blindfolded and hooded prisoners were strung up. They were stood on the back of a wagon annd the horses were whipped into running, leaving them hanging to die in agony by strangultion. Eventually hangings at Tyburn were banned sometime between 1759 and 1783 when the residents of Mayfair complained that the didn’t want the rabble who attended public hangings in such a presdigous area. Not because they had any objects to the hangings taking place. After this point executions were conducted at Newgate.
Some random facts for you; the executioner was allowed to keep the clothes of their victims so many wore rags, some wore more quality garments hoping they would take mercy on them and pull on their legs so they would die quicker. The best seats for viewing were right by the tree where spaces were allocated by so called pew openers. One Mammy Douglas caused outcry when she upped her prices from 2/- to 2/6 for the hanging of Dr Florence Henesy in 1758. When the doctor was reprived at the last minute there was a riot as the outraged public tried to replace him with Mammy Douglas. In 1447 five men, who had already been strung up, recieved a reprive, however the hangman insisted on stripping them and keeping their garments anyway forcing them to walk home naked. Some even occaisionally recovered after being believed dead. Even Samuel Peypes visited Tyburn in 1664 and recorded the following in his diary;
got for a shilling to stand upon the wheel of a cart, in great pain, above an hour before the execution was done.
Another post will be following on the people hanged at Tyburn and Newgate