Tyburn was a former village in the county of Middlesex which now forms part of London's City of Westminster. It took its name from the Tyburn or Ty Bourne stream, a tributary of the River Thames which is now completely covered over between its source and its outfall into the Thames at Vauxhall.

The village was one of two manors of the parish of St 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 and Park Lane were roads leading to the village, then called Tyburn Road and Tyburn Lane respectively.

Tyburn had significance from ancient times and was marked by a monument known as Oswulf's Stone, which gave its name to the Ossulston Hundred of Middlesex. The stone was covered over in 1822 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.

The village was notorious for centuries as the site of the Tyburn gallows, London's principal location for public executions by hanging. (According to an 1850 publication [1], the site was at No. 49. Connaught Square.) Executions took place at Tyburn from the 12th to the 18th century, after which they were carried out at Newgate Prison in the City of London. The first execution recorded at Tyburn took place in 1196 at a site next to the stream, but in 1571 the "Tyburn Tree" was erected near the modern Marble Arch. The "Tree" or "Triple Tree" was a novel form of gallows, constituting 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 was occasionally used for mass executions, such as that on June 23, 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 "Tyburn Tree."

The first victim of the "Tyburn Tree" was Dr John Story, a Catholic who refused to recognize Elizabeth I. 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; they were disinterred and hanged at Tyburn in January 1661 on the orders of Charles II in an act of posthumous revenge for their part in the beheading of his father.

Hogarth's Idle 'Prentice (1747)

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" 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.

The Tyburn gallows were last used on 3 November 1783, when John Austin, a highwayman, was hanged. The site of the gallows is now marked by three brass triangles mounted on the pavement at the corner of Edgware Road and Bayswater Road. It is also commemorated by the Tyburn Convent, a Catholic convent dedicated to the memory of martyrs executed during there and in other locations for the Catholic faith.

Among those executed at Tyburn were:

Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March (November 29, 1330) - accused of assuming royal power etc, hanged without trial

Michael An Gof and Thomas Flamank (24 June 1497) - leaders of the Cornish Rebellion of 1497

Perkin Warbeck (November 23, 1499) - treason and pretender to the throne of Henry VII, passing himself off as Richard IV, the younger of the two Princes in the Tower

Elizabeth Barton, "The Holy Maid of Kent" (April 20, 1534) - she was a nun who unwisely prophesied that King Henry VIII would die within six months if he married Anne Boleyn; she was hanged for treason

John Houghton, prior of the Charterhouse (May 4, 1535) - refusing to swear the oath condoning King Henry VIII the divorce of Katherine of Aragon

Thomas Culpeper (December 10, 1541) - courtier, as a result of an affair with Henry VIII's fifth wife, Queen Catherine Howard

Edmund Campion (December 1, 1581) - Catholic martyr

Saint Robert Southwell (February 21, 1595) - Catholic martyr, famous poet, accused of treason

St John Southworth (June 28, 1654) - hanged for being a Catholic priest

Robert "Lucky" Hubert (September 28, 1666) - hanged after (falsely) confessing to starting the Great Fire of London

Claude Duval (January 21, 1670) - gentleman highwayman

Jack Sheppard ("Gentleman Jack") (November 16, 1724) - notorious thief

Jonathan Wild, Sheppard's opponent, (May 24) 1725) - organized crime lord

Five of the men who had been arrested at Mother Clap's molly house (May 9, 1726)

Laurence Shirley, 4th Earl Ferrers (May 5, 1760) - the only peer to have been hanged for murder

Rev. James Hackman (April 19, 1779) - murder of Martha Ray, mistress of John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich

John Austin (November 3, 1783) - last person executed at Tyburn


Hogarth's painting of 1747 showing prisoners being transported by ox-carts to be hanged at "Tyburn Tree." The huge stands, which housed hundreds of people who watched the hangings as a form of callous entertainment, are also shown.

1) Samuel Rogers watched people on the way to be executed at Tyburn after the Gordon Riots in 1780.

I recollect seeing a whole cartload of young girls, in dresses of various colours, on the way to be executed at Tyburn. They had all been condemned for having been concerned in (that is, perhaps, for having been spectators of) the burning of some houses during Lord George Gordon's riots. It was quite horrible.

(2) Elizabeth Fry was one of the few people who campaigned against the death penalty in the 19th century. In March 1817 she saw Elizabeth Fricker just before she was executed. Afterwards she wrote about the meeting in her journal.

Her hands were cold, and covered with something like the perspiration preceding death, and in a universal tremor. There were also six men to be hanged, one of whom has a wife near confinement, also condemned, and seven young children. A strait waistcoat could not keep him within bounds: he had just bitten the turnkey; I saw the man come out with his hand bleeding, as I passed the cell.
The first permanent gallows was set up at Tyburn in 1571. Londoners were also executed at Smithfield and Tower Hill. However, by the 18th century Tyburn Tree, a triangular gallows, became the main place for public executions in London until it was replaced by Newgate in 1783. The gallows at Tyburn stood near the present-day Marble Arch, at the north-east edge of Hyde Park.

From Newgate Prison the condemned prisoners were conveyed in open carts along Holban, St Giles and Tyburn Road (now Oxford Street) to the Tyburn Tree. The procession would stop several times, including at the Old Bailey in Newgate Street and the Bowl Inn in St Giles. At these places the condemned prisoner would be offered wine.

Five children under fourteen were executed before 1800. However, of the 103 children sentenced to death for theft at the Old Bailey between 1801 and 1836, all were reprieved. Of the 1,232 people hanged at Tyburn between 1703 and 1792, only 92 were women. It has been estimated that 90% of all those executed were young men aged under 21.

Most Mondays a crowd of around 10,000 people attended the executions at Tyburn. When the case had received a lot of publicity, numbers could reach 50,000. When Arthur Thistlewood and the Cato Street conspirators was executed at Newgate in 1820, an estimated 100,000 watched the proceedings.
Burning at the stake in public was used in Britain to punish heresy and in some cases witchcraft, committed by either sex, but latterly for women convicted of High Treason or Petty Treason. Men who were convicted of high treason were hanged, drawn and quartered but this was not deemed acceptable for women as it would have involved nudity. High Treason included such offences as counterfeiting money and "coining" (the clipping of coins for pieces of silver and gold which were melted down to produce counterfeit coins), possession of coining equipment and colouring base metal coins (to pass them off as of higher value). Oddly, men who committed these same crimes suffered just ordinary hanging having been first drawn to the place of execution on a hurdle. Petty Treason was the murder by a woman of her husband or her mistress, as they were considered her superiors in law.

It is not known when burning was first used in Britain, but there is a recorded burning for heresy in 1222, when a deacon of the church was burnt at Oxford for embracing the Jewish faith so he could marry a Jew.

In 1401, the king authorised a Statute of Heresy which gave the clergy power to arrest and try those suspected of heresy. The first to suffer under the new act was one William Sautre, a priest, who was executed at (Kings) Lynn in 1402. This statute was repealed in 1553, but burning was re-introduced by Henry VIII. His daughter, Mary Tudor ("Bloody Mary"), was also very keen on this method and 274 burnings of both sexes for heresy were recorded during her 5 year reign (reign of terror) in the mid 16th century. In most cases their only "crime" was following the Protestant faith. The normal place of execution in London being at West Smithfield (now called just Smithfield). An engraving of the period shows that these unfortunates were stood in empty tar barrels at the stake and then had faggots heaped round them. It was not the practice to strangle heretics before they were burnt so they died slow and horrible deaths - being literally burned alive.

18th century burnings at Tyburn.

Between 1702 and 1734, 10 women were burned at London’s Tyburn. Two of these were for the Petty Treason murder of their husbands, and 8 for High Treason, comprising two for possession of coining equipment, 4 for counterfeiting and two for coining itself. Barbara Spencer was burned for counterfeiting on Wednesday, the 5th of July 1721 at Tyburn. Barbara was a rebellious young woman who wanted easy money and coining seemed to offer this. As she was guilty of treason, she was drawn to Tyburn tied to a hurdle (similar to a piece of wattle fencing) behind a horse. (Male traitors were also drawn to the gallows in this way before being hanged and quartered). At the stake, she was strangled prior to the fagots being lit. Catherine Hayes was burned at Tyburn on Monday, the 9th of May 1726 for Petty Treason (a woman murdering her husband was seen as a minor version of treason). She had persuaded her two lovers to kill her husband with an axe, a crime for which the two men were sentenced to hang. She too was dragged on a hurdle to Tyburn and when she had finished praying, was fastened to the stake by an iron chain round her body. A rope halter was put round her neck (running through a hole in the stake) and the faggots (bundles of dry brushwood) piled round her. When Richard Arnet, the executioner, lit the fire he found the flames too fierce to allow him to pull the strangling rope so the poor women was burned alive - a horrible death that took a considerable time. Her execution is vividly described in the Newgate Calendar. She was reduced to ashes within an hour, so we are told.

The execution of Catherine Hayes, 1726.

Elizabeth Wright was burned for coining on the 19th of December 1733, although her 26 year old daughter and accomplice were reprieved. Wednesday, the 2nd of October 1734 saw a triple burning, at Tyburn, of Mary Haycock, Elizabeth Tracey and Catherine Bougle for counterfeiting and possession of coining equipment. This is London’s only recorded multiple burning in the 18th century.

Burning was not a common punishment by this time, at least 32 women suffered this fate between 1735 and 1789. They were:

Margaret Onion
Murdered husband

Mary Fawson
Murdered husband

Ann Mudd
Murdered husband

Mary Bird
Murdered husband

Mary Groke (age 16)
Murdered mistress

Ann Goodson
Murdered husband

Suzanne Broom (or Brown)
Murdered husband

Elizabeth Moreton (or Owen)
Murdered husband

Mary Johnson
Murdered husband

Amy Hutchinson
Murdered husband

Elizabeth Packard
Murdered husband

Ann Whale (age 21)
Murdered husband

Ann Williams
Over Gloucs*
Murdered husband

Susannah Bruford (age 19)
Wells (Somerset)
Murdered husband

Mary Ellah
Murdered husband

Margaret Bedingfield
Murdered husband

Mary Heald
Murdered husband

Mary Saunders
Murdered mistress

Mary Norwood (age 33)
Ilchester (Somerset)
Murdered husband

Ann Sowerby
Murdered husband

Susannah Lott
Murdered husband

Mary Hilton (or Hulton)
Murdered husband

Elizabeth Herring
Murdered husband

Margaret Ryan
Murdered husband

Elizabeth Bordingham
Murdered husband

Ann Cruttenden (age 80)
Murdered husband

Isabella Condon
Coining (High Treason)

Rebecca Downing
Murdered mistress

Mary Bailey
Murdered husband

Phoebe Harris
Base coin (High Treason)

Margaret Sullivan
Coining (High Treason)

Catherine Murphy
Coining (High Treason)

*Over is a village about a mile from Gloucester, where the county gallows stood.
Elizabeth Webber (or Webster) was probably burned at York in December 1739 for the murder of her husband but her execution cannot be confirmed. Alice Davis was most probably burnt for coining on the 31st of March 1758 and Margaret Larney for the same offence on the 2nd of October. With special thanks to Dave Mossop for providing this information.

At the September Sessions of the Old Bailey on the 8th of September 1773, Elizabeth Herring was indicted for “feloniously, traitorously, and of her malice aforethought, making an assault upon Robert Herring, her husband, and with a certain case knife giving him a mortal wound on the right side of the throat, of the length of one inch, and the depth of two inches, of which wound he instantly died, on August the 5th of that year.” She was convicted of Petty Treason (note the word “traitorously” in the indictment) and the Recorder passed the following sentence upon her, "you Elizabeth Herring are to be led from hence to the Gaol from whence you came; and on Monday next you are to be drawn on a hurdle to the place of execution; where you are to be burnt with fire until you are dead." The sentence was carried out at Tyburn in front of some 20,000 spectators on Monday, the 13th of September 1773.

The last woman to be burnt for petty treason, i.e. the murder of her husband in Britain, was Mary Bailey on Monday, the 8th of March 1784 at Winchester, thereafter hanging was substituted for this crime. Her co-accused, John Quinn, was hanged first.

The last 3 women to be burnt for coining offences were executed outside London’s Newgate prison , these being Phoebe Harris (Wednesday, the 21st of June 1786), Margaret Sullivan (Wednesday, the 25th of June 178 and Catherine Murphy (also known as Christian Bowman), who was put to death on Wednesday, the 18th of March 1789.
Margaret Sullivan and her co-accused, Jeremiah Grace, came to trial at the 7th of May Sessions of the Old Bailey in 1788. They were indicted as follows, “for that they, on the 29th of April, a piece of base coin resembling the current silver coin of this kingdom, called a shilling, falsely and deceitfully, feloniously and traitorously did colour with materials, producing the colour of silver.” For this crime of High Treason, Jeremiah was sentenced to be hanged and Margaret to be burnt.

Catherine Murphy’s execution was really was only a modified form of hanging. She was led from the Debtor's Door of Newgate past the nearby gallows from which 8 men, including her husband, were already hanging - 3 of them being her co-defendants, to the stake. Here she mounted a small platform in front of it and an iron band was put round her body. The noose, dangling from an iron bracket projecting from the top of the stake, was tightened around her neck. When the preparations were complete, William Brunskill, the hangman, removed the platform leaving her suspended and only after 30 minutes were the faggots placed around her and lit.

Phoebe Harris' execution was like Catherine's. Just after 8.00 a.m. on the morning of the 21st of June 1786, 6 men were hanged on the New Drop gallows in the normal way. After their execution, Phoebe was led from the Debtor's Door of Newgate to a stake that had been erected half way between the gallows and Newgate Street. She mounted a small, removable set of steps and a noose was placed around her neck. She was allowed a few moments to pray before the steps were removed and was thus hanged in the normal way. Once she was hanging, the executioner put a chain around her body and fastened it to the stake with iron nails. Two cart loads of faggots were piled around the stake and after she had been suspended for half an hour, they were lit. The rope burnt through and her body dropped, remaining attached to the stake by the chain. It took over two hours to be completely consumed by the fire. Phoebe was described as "a well made little woman of something more than 30 years of age, with a pale complexion and not disagreeable features." She was said to be terrified and trembling as she was led from the Debtor's Door to the stake. A huge crowd of people had turned out to watch this gruesome spectacle.

On the 10th of May 1790, Sir Benjamin Hammett raised the issue of burning women in the House of Commons. He told fellow MP’s that it had been his painful office and duty in the previous year to attend the burning of a female, in the office of Sheriff of London at the time, and he therefore moved to bring in a Bill to alter the law. He pointed out that the Sheriff who refused to execute a sentence of burning alive was liable to prosecution, but thanked Heaven that there was not a man in England who would carry such a sentence literally into execution.

For some 50 years at least, the hangman was allowed to strangle the woman condemned to the stake, before flames were applied. The Act was passed
(30 George III. C. 4 and Parliament substituted ordinary hanging for coining offences on the 5th of June 1790.


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