It would be easy to pass by this unassuming traffic island near Marble Arch and never know the morbid history of this very spot. Today, a small stone marker in the pavement is the only reminder that this was the site of London’s public hangings for nearly 600 years.
The Tyburn Tree was not a tree at all, but rather a wooden gallows where felons were executed in front of crowds that could number in the thousands. The “tree” was a triangular-shaped scaffold with three beams, able to hang up to 24 people at once, which was quite an innovative mechanism in medieval Europe.
The first recorded execution at the site dates as far back as 1196, but the wooden gallows weren’t built until 1571. The strange structure became known as the Tyburn Tree, and was given many nicknames such as the “Triple Tree” or “the Deadly Never Green Tyburn Tree.”
Public hangings were a popular spectacle in the Middle Ages, and huge throngs of people came to watch criminals “dance the Tyburn jig,” as it was sometimes so indelicately called. The prisoners would traditionally say a few words before their death, often speaking out against the political powers of the day. This tradition evolved into Speaker’s Corner, which served as a place for public debate and radical ideas in the city, and is still located nearby.
In 1783, the site of executions was moved to Newgate Prison, and a circular stone marker was installed to commemorate where the infamous Tyburn Tree hanging gallows once stood.
Know Before You Go
The marker is embedded in the pavement in the middle of the traffic island at the junction of Edgware Road and Bayswater Road.