The ghosts of Tyburn
Updated: Feb 4
The Tyburn tree as it was known was the famous gallows where thousands of Londoners would come together to enjoy a day of entertainment at the public executions. The 3 mile trip from Newgate prison to Tyburn was in an open cart and could often take hours through the jeering crowds, including a stop at the local inn to allow the condemned a final drink.
The saying one for the road originated from this procession, as did falling off the wagon and left in the lurch (in reference to the prisoners left to wait while the constables had their drink).
The first recorded hanging at Tyburn was that of William Fitz Osbern in 1196 but it could have been an active place of execution from as early as 1108, when Henry I abolished William the Conqueror's previous ban on capital punishment.
The original hanging spot was likely to have been a real tree (possibly a large Elm which were common to the area) but by the 13th century, records confirm that a scaffold was in operation. Although generally used for common fellons, Henry VIII used Tyburn to execute Francis Bigod, one of the ringleaders from the Pilgrimage of Grace revolt in 1537.
With the site's popularity increasing, a major upgrade took place in 1571 when huge 6 metre high wooden gallows were erected, triangular in shape to accomodate more people and capable of hanging up to 24 condemned souls at a time. The 1571 structure lasted almost 200 years before it was taken down in 1759 due to wear and tear. It's replacement was a pop-up structure, quickly assembled when needed and easily dismantled after the execution.
The last to be executed at Tyburn was the robber John Austin in 1783. It is unknown why, after almost 600 years of tradition, the site lost it's popularity but with the move to Newgate prison, it may simply be down to a matter of convenience.
Located in the north-east corner of Hyde Park, the execution site is now a traffic island at the intersection of Bayswater and Edgware Road.
Some have experienced feelings of overwhelming emotion within the area where the gallows once stood and others have reported deaf spots where sounds become muffled or out of sync for a period of time?
Over the years, residents of nearby Connaught place have woken to the sounds of jeering crowds during the night, and ghostly re-enactments of hangings have also been seen, sometimes accompanied by cheers and shouts but also playing out in eerie silence.
An American tourist once claimed that, while standing on the pavement marker for the gallows, he was momentarily transported into the body of a condemned 18th century man preparing for execution. As crazy as it sounds, the man's description of what he witnessed (the positioning of carts, the uniforms of Javelin men and the design of a seated spectator's area) did fall in line with historical records.
But perhaps the most terrifying account comes from a local resident in the 1980s, who was
woken in the early hours of the morning by what appeared to be "many voices talking nearby". Unable to see the source from her bedroom window, the lady cautiously crept downstairs to investigate.
As she descended the staircase, she was horrified to see that a mist had engulfed every inch of the ground floor, with the heads and torsos of many people emerging from the top, staring motionless at something ahead. Although the ethereal crowd ignored her presence, the woman quickly retreated to her room and remained there until daylight!
I was fascinated by this story when I read it as a teenager and i've been trying to find out more information ever since, particularly the exact location of the property and the chance to speak with the eyewitness (if they're still out there!).
If anyone can expand on these reports, have heard or experienced similar encounters in the area or can put us in contact with the homeowner/eyewitnesses, please get in touch!