Between 1571 and 1783, over 1000 people, predominantly men, were executed at Tyburn. During the same period, there were also executions at Smithfield and Tower Hill. Imagine what it would be like to be taking the journey to the gallows: crowds jeering – sometimes numbering as many as 30,000, all manner of insults and objects being thrown at you – and the knowledge that you were about to die. Rob Clear gives a very detailed account of the route from The Old Bailey/Newgate to Tyburn along the streets of modern day London:
There are also some great photographs here by both Rob and Matt Brown. Rob reminds us that prisoners were plied with alcohol on their way to the gallows and names the public houses that would have been visited by these condemned men. I imagine that these premises would have been overflowing with the general public, those wanting to see the prisoners as well as those just wanting to drown their own sorrows. The last one on the route, The Mason’s Arms, still stands today. I would love to be able to walk this route: had I only known of it when I was in London.
And it was not only the crowds of people out for a day of entertainment waiting at the gallows. Anatomists were there also, wanting the best bodies for dissection. It was not unusual for fights between the scientists and the families of the deceased to break out over possession of the body: it must be remembered that it was believed that for a person to rise on the Last Day, their body had to be buried intact. To not have the body to bury was just another tragedy for the family of the deceased.
Hanging in this period could be a long and agonising process. It could take up to 45 minutes for some unfortunates. It was common for friends and relatives to actually pull on the legs of the hanging man in order to hasten his death and end his suffering.
After 1783, hangings were moved to Newgate but the public could still witness the executions until 1868.
Here are some links you may find interesting: