Capitol Punishment

London’s historic sites of Execution
(A look at Capital Punishment around the Capitol)

Capital punishment in the UK was used until the creation of the state in 1801.  The last executions by hanging were in 1964. Originally, there were around 220 crimes that held a sentence of death by execution as a penalty. The state would use executions to deter citizens from committing crimes. Some of the most notorious hangings would lure crowds of around 200,000.

Exectution Sites Locations
Execution Sites Locations

Many of London’s streets have an air of grandeur about them – but a new interactive map reveals their macabre past.

Historians have pinpointed the precise locations of the capital’s most notorious execution sites, where crowds of up to 200,000 would gather to revel in the gruesome spectacle of seeing people put to death.

The map, compiled by Historic UK, shows how many of the sites are clustered around the centre of the city in places such as Charing Cross, Kennington Common and Wandsworth.

The hallowed ground of St Paul’s Cathedral also saw its fair share of death by hanging.

There used to be some 220 crimes that were punishable by death including being in the company of gypsies for a month, being out at night with a blackened face and damaging Westminster Bridge.

The state would use the public events to wield its power and ultimately put large crowds off from taking their first steps into less than salubrious careers.

Although the death penalty in England was abolished in 1965, here are some execution sites in London that you can visit for a spine-chilling day out.

1 – Tyburn
Tyburn Gallows was a busy place for public executions, with as many as 12 hanging days a year. The scaffolding here was designed to accommodate 24 people at once.
When highwayman Jack Sheppard was hanged there, Historic UK said, the event attracted an audience of 200,000 people. The gallows here were last used in 1783.

2 – Charing Cross
King Charles II took revenge against eight people who’d killed his father, Charles I, by subjecting them to being hanged, drawn and quartered at Charing Cross.
These executions took place in 1660, with the site popular for public floggings long after, according to Historic UK. A statue of King Charles was erected in 1675.

Charing Cross

3 – Banqueting Hall Balcony
Banqueting Hall balcony was the location for King Charles 1’s execution in 1649.
He was put to death on specially designed scaffolding after being convicted of high treason.
A black mark next to the number two on the clock face at nearby Horse Guards, said Historic UK, serves as a reminder of this most high profile of executions.

This engraving shows the execution of Charles I on a scaffold outside the Banqueting House in 1649.

Banqueting Hall

4 – Old Palace Yard
Four Gunpowder plotters were hanged, drawn and quartered in Old Palace Yard, which is just outside the Palace of Westminster. This illustration by George Cruikshank shows Guy Fawkes climbing the ladder to the gallows in 1606
Four other Gunpowder plotters were hanged, drawn and quartered in Old Palace Yard, which is just outside the Palace of Westminster.
Sir Walter Raleigh was also executed here, a few years later in 1618.
He was heard to shout ‘strike, man, strike!’ before the axe fell, according to Historic UK.

Old Palace Yard

5 – Lincolns Inn Fields – then known as Cup Field
It may be a tranquil spot now, but Lincoln’s Inn Fields used to be a macabre site where very gruesome public executions took place in Tudor times.
Enemies of the state were dispatched here, usually by the method of being hanged drawn and quartered, according to Historic UK.
It said: ‘Although there is no plaque to mark the exact site of these and the several other hangings that followed at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, consensus suggests that the current bandstand marks the most likely spot.’

Lincolns Inn Fields

6 – Fetter Lane (NO OLD PIC)
According to Historic UK there is some evidence to suggest that this site was a popular place for executions before the Reformation, and remained in use until at least 1733.
Among those executed was Christopher Bales (Bayles) an English Catholic priest.
He was hanged and quartered on 4 March 1590 ‘for treason and favouring foreign invasion’.

7 – Newgate Prison
Newgate prison was built by King Henry II in the 12th century and it remained in operation until 1902. Between 1790 and 1902 over 1,000 people were put to death at Newgate. In 1782 its notoriety increased significantly when London’s public gallows moved there from Tyburn. The site today is occupied by the Old Bailey.

This drawing shows an execution before the debtor’s door at the prison.
Newgate Prison

8 – The Elms Smithfield
Smithfield was a popular entertainment area during medieval times, hosting jousting, summer fairs and sometimes the occasional execution. This engraving shows the martyrdom of Thomas Loseby, Henry Ramsey, Thomas Thirtell, Margaret Hide and Agnes Stanley there in 1557
A few small flowers and a Scottish flag serve as a clue as to the identity of the person who was executed at The Elms – William Wallace, also known as Braveheart.
He was put to death in 1305.
Later, between 1555 and 1558, over 50 protestants were burned at the stake here, during the reign of Queen Mary 1 (Bloody Mary).

The Elms Smithfield

9 – St Paul’s Cathedral Churchyard
You may not associate St Paul’s Cathedral with capital punishment, but its churchyard was an execution site reserved for extreme criminals.
It may be a sanctuary of peace these days, but in the past, extreme criminals were put to death there, sometimes in a most gruesome fashion.
Four of the infamous Gunpowder Plotters – Sir Everard Digby, Robert Winter, John Grant and Thomas Bates, were hanged and disemboweled here on January 30, 1606.
This drawing depicts the hanging of Richard Hunne in 1514.

St. Pauls

10 – Execution Dock
Execution Dock was where The Admiralty hanged pirates in front of huge crowds, their plight worsened by the use of shortened rope, which meant they died from suffocation instead of a broken neck, according to Historic UK. The organisation said that the bodies remained suspended until three tides had washed over them.
One of the most famous pirates to be put to death here was the inspiration for Treasure Island – Captain Kidd. He was hanged in 1701.
Execution Dock

11 – The Tower of London and Tower Hill
The Tower was where Anne Boleyn (1536), Catherine Howard (1542) and Lady Jane Grey (1554) were put to death.
An expert swordsman was brought over from France to make Boleyn’s death a quick one.
The Countess of Salisbury, on the other hand, was struck 11 times before she died.
Tower Hill, meanwhile, was the site of countless public executions, according to Historic UK, including George Boleyn, the brother of Anne, and Thomas Cromwell.

The Tower

12 – Kenington Commom
Until the late 1700s executions south of the river took place at the Surrey gallows at Kennington Common.
A speciality of the gallows here was putting highway robbers to death.
And when it wasn’t being used for public executions, the site was often used for cricket matches, as it is today.

Kenington Common

13 – Horsemonger Lane Gaol
Between 1800 and 1877 135 convicts were executed here, including four women.
According to Historic UK, Charles Dickens witnessed one of the public hangings.
He wrote about his experience in a letter to The Times, describing the sight as ‘inconceivably awful’.
This jail used to be the biggest in the country – but nothing remains of it now.

Horsemonger Lane Gaol

14 – Wandsworth Prison
When Horsemonger Lane Gaol closed in 1878, Wandsworth Prison stepped in and took up its execution duties.
Here 135 people were put to death, including 10 spies from the two world wars.
The most infamous of these, according to Historic UK, was William Joyce, the WWII Nazi propaganda broadcaster known as Lord Haw-Haw.

Wandsworth Prison

15 – St Thomas-a-Watering (NO OLD PIC)
St Thomas-a-Watering on Old Kent Road used to be a way point on the pilgrim route to Canterbury.
But it had a hellish connection with executions, too, with many Catholics and dissenters put to death here during the reformation, including Wales’ most famous Protestant martyr, John Penry.
His crime? According to Historic UK he had done nothing more than ‘issue strong words of warning’ against the Queen, Elizabeth.

16 – Holloway Prison
Between 1903 and 1955, a total of five women were put to death by hanging at Holloway, which became the main detention centre for woman after Newgate prison shut.
The first to be put to death were Amelia Sachs and Annie Walters in February 1903, Historic UK said. The pair had murdered at least 20 infants.


17 – Pentonville Prison
When Newgate Prison shut in 1902, its hangman’s gallows were re-assembled at Pentonville.
This prison not only became the main execution site for men in London, but a training centre for would-be hangmen, who were taught the ‘art of hanging’.
The most famous of the 120 men hanged at Pentonville between 1902 and 1961 was probably Dr Hawley Harvey Crippen, who poisoned his wife.

Pentonville Prison

Stratford-le-Bow was the site of the infamous Burnyng of the Stratford Martyrs that took place on 27 June 1556.
Historic UK said: ‘Watched by a crowd of more than 20,000, eleven men and two women were tied to three stakes and burnt to death on a single fire. The 13 ordinary folk that were executed on that black day included a blacksmith, a woodworker, a brewer, a weaver, a tailor and a labourer.’
It added: ‘As one of the women was pregnant at the time, perhaps the death toll should read 14.’
The deaths were ordered by Queen Mary – known as Bloody Mary – as she tried to convert England back to Catholicism following Henry VIII’s split with the Roman Catholic Church.


Shooters Hill Crossroads (NO OLD PIC)
Shooter’s Hill in Greenwich was a common haunt for highwaymen – and many of them met their makers right here, where they plied their nefarious trade.
The popularity of the spot for putting them to death here may have been because this is one of the highest points in London.
The Shooter’s Hill hangman was kept busy right up until the early 19th century with highway robbers, according to Historic UK.

Salmon and Ball pub, Bethnal Green (NO OLD PIC)
Between 1763 and 1769 silk weavers in their thousands protested about poor working conditions – and a militant trade union movement became established that fought their cause.
The ringleaders were eventually arrested and four sentenced to death.
Two of them, John Doyle and John Valline, drew their last breath in front of the Salmon and Ball pub in Bethnal Green on December 6, 1769.

St Thomas-a-Watering (NO OLD PIC)
St Thomas-a-Watering on Old Kent Road used to be a way point on the pilgrim route to Canterbury.
But it had a hellish connection with executions, too, with many Catholics and dissenters put to death here during the reformation, including Wales’ most famous Protestant martyr, John Penry.
His crime? According to Historic UK he had done nothing more than ‘issue strong words of warning’ against the Queen, Elizabeth.

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6th Mar 2016 @ 14:50

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