7th November 1783. The Tyburn Tree.
Tyburn ‘The place of Elms’ the gallows site is now marked by three brass triangles in the pavement at the junction of the Edgware and Bayswater Roads. Three places called ‘Elms’ were places of execution: Smithfield, St Giles and Tyburn (once Tiborne).
The first recorded execution at Tyburn is recorded in April 1196 of William FitzOsbert, known as Longbeard, who was drawn and hanged.
Previously William the Conqueror had abolished executions preferring maiming -The King’s Vengeance-stressing that the ‘trunk may remain alive as a sign of its crimes’, but his son Henry I reinstated the death penalty.
Up until 1427 only noteworthy victims are noted in Tyburn executions, but in that year we read in The Gregory Chronicle, [in contemporary language]: ‘Ande that same yeare a theffe that was i-callyd Wille Wawe was hanged at Tyborne’.(1)
By the late 18thc executions were to move to Newgate, three miles away with the last to be hanged at Tyburn Today in 1783 when John Austin was convicted of ‘cutting in a great manner’ and robbing one John Spicer.
The first execution at Newgate Prison, utilised the new device, replacing ‘the barbarous cart, ladder and medieval three cornered gibbet’. There was now a platform with trap door and the ‘Hangman’s Drop’, a method used with the execution of the 4th Earl Ferrers after his conviction for shooting his steward John Johnson.(2)
So disappeared the carnival atmosphere as prisoners were taken to Tyburn, which had provoked much disorder as the victim made his appointment with ‘The Lord of the Manor of Tyburn’, as the common hangman was called.
Also to disappear was the Triangular Tricorn scaffold which could hand 24 a time, and the gibbets, ‘hanging in chains’, which had contained the rotting remains of the executed, though many went to surgeons for anatomical dissection.
Tyburn’s demise saw the eventual end of the ‘Tyburn Ticket’ awarded to prosecutors who had achieved a capital conviction and which gave exemption from parochial duties, where the crime was committed.
These were handed down and as late as 1856 a Tyburn Ticket holder successfully applied for exemption from jury service.
Tyburn was mentioned by Shakespeare in 1571 in Love’s Labour’s Lost:
‘Thou mak’st the triumviry/the corner -cap of society/The shape of love’s Tyburn/that hangs up simplicity’.
(1) Recorded in the Gregory Chronicle, by William Gregory, a Skinner and Lord Mayor.
(2) The eponymous Derrick was a device for hanging and credited with hanging 3,000 at Tyburn.
past and present society 2009. S. Devereaux. Abolition of Tyburn Tree.