London’s Infamous Public Execution Sites

When you think of public executions in the city, your mind probably takes you straight to the Tower of London. It would be right of course, but there were many more sites where the condemned were sent to die, here are just a few.

Photo by Gail Frederick
Photo by Gail Frederick

Tower Hill and The Tower of London

Despite what you may have been led to believe very few heads actually rolled within the grounds of the Tower of London. The public executions all took place over on Tower Hill, the last public beheading taking place in 1747. The site saw people from all walks of life put to death, from dukes and knights to old Oliver Cromwell. There is a plaque in the memorial garden which gives the names of 125 individuals who met their death at the hands of the executioner. Only the extremely rich and powerful meat their end in the grounds of the Tower, these were the celebrities of the day such as Anne Boleyn, and Catherine Howard, the ill fated wives of Henry VIII.

Tyburn

Tyburn was probably the busiest execution site in the city. Public gallows were in operation here between 1196 to 1783, upon a modified gallows known as the Tyburn Tree, which could accommodate no less than 24 individuals at any one time. It was here that the exhumed body of Oliver Cromwell was hung. All that remains now is a plaque marking the significance of the site.

Lincoln’s Inn Fields

What is now a tranquil part of the city was once the site of incredibly gruesome Tudor executions. Here those who would oust the Queen from her throne were hung, drawn and quartered, with their ‘privy members’ sliced off while alive and thrown onto a smouldering fire. The executioner wielding the axe was not always on fine form as it took several blows to remove the head of Lord William Russell who lost most of his shoulders in the axe man’s first attempts.

Newgate Prison

The area outside of the prison walls became the new site of public executions after the Tyburn Gallows were no longer used. Public hangings took place here until 1868 after which time they were removed from public observation and carried out within the prison walls. The Old Bailey now stands on the site of the old prison.

Execution Dock

This is where condemned sea farers met their end. From those who would incite mutiny to smugglers and pirates, their bodies would hang as a warning to those who would enter the London docks. This is where the infamous Captain Kidd met his end, the site marked by a lone noose hanging out over the river at the back of the Prospect of Whitby public house.

Smithfield

This ancient market site has been the place of many a death. It was here that those who opposed the monarch were dispatched, including William Wallace who was hung, drawn and quartered here in 1305, people still lay flowers to his memory at the memorial on the site. It was also the site of many religious executions and where Bloody Queen Mary was burned at the stake.

Related posts

Leave a Comment

two × two =