The Tyburn Tree



I didnít start going to London until I was about 35 and now I go every year - usually once in summer and once in winter when itís all lit up for Christmas.


Here I am in December 2013. The coach dropped us off for two hours before running us to the hotel in the docklands. I walked across to look for the original site of the infamous Tyburn Tree. Someone had told me it was near three red telephone boxes just off the top of Hyde Park so I went looking. I spotted them across the busy road and approached them. And there it was : a stone in the pavement marking the site of the famous deathly gallows. As I took a photo a red bus stopped at the traffic lights. I could see people looking at me as wondering why I was taking a photo of the pavement. If only they knew.


The tiny spot, passed by thousands of unsuspecting people, marks an extremely grisly part of English history. The Tyburn Tree (a set of 18 feet high gallows) was were felons were hanged from the neck until there was no life left in them. About 90% of all executions were men under the age of 21. They were so big 24 people could be hanged in one go. Every Monday for a few hundred years felons were brought were brought the three miles from Newgate prison to be killed. The most famous person was Oliver Cromwell. He was already dead but hung from the neck on the orders of Parliament because he had beheaded King Charles I.


Executions were public spectacles and very popular attracting crowds of up to 100,000. Rich people rented high rooms to get an unobstructed view. Large spectator stands were built and it was a day out for the kids. Once the huge gallows collapsed and injured/killed some people.


As lots of traffic sped by and shoppers headed to nearby Oxford Street it was difficult to envisage what scene had occurred here. Convicts would be transported to where I stood in an open ox-cart from Newgate Prison, often sat on their own coffins. They were expected to put on a good show, wearing their best clothes and going to their deaths with cheerfulness. The condemned stood on wagon, a horse was whipped, moved off and the moved away leaving a slow death by asphyxiation. The hangman was entitled to their clothes so a good suit meant heíd make the death a swift one. After the death the hangman would settle himself in a pub in Fleet Street and sell the rope for 6d an inch. Deaths were slow and it was not rare for people to gasp for air for 45 minutes. Nooses were used then, just knots.


I stood on the round stone and wondered terrifying dramas unfolded here years ago. Where else can you go in the country where so much death had happened in such a small space? Someone had cast a cigarette end down on the spot.


Even though the last hanging was a long time ago (November 1783) there should still be plaque on the wall here. It would make passers-by pause and consider a maelstrom of deathly events occurred by this spot.