To close the scene of all his actions heWas brought from Newgate to the fatal tree;And there his life resigned, his race is run,And Tyburn ends what wickedness begun.
If there be a haunted spot in London it must surely be a few square yards that lie a little west of the Marble Arch, for in the long course of some six centuries over fifty thousand felons, traitors and martyrs took there a last farewell of a world they were too bad or too good to live in. From remote antiquity, when the seditious were taken ad furcas Tyburnam, until that November day in 1783 when John Austin closed the long list, the gallows were kept ever busy, and during the first half of the eighteenth century, with which this book deals, every Newgate sessions sent thither its thieves, highwaymen and coiners by the score.
There has been some discussion as to the exact site of Tyburn gallows, but there can be little doubt that the great permanent three-beamed erection—the Triple Tree—stood where now the Edgware Road joins Oxford Street and Bayswater Road. A triangular stone let into the roadway indicates the site of one of its uprights. In 1759 the sinister beams were pulled down, a moveable gibbet being brought in a cart when there was occasion to use it. The moveable gallows was in use until 1783, when the place of execution was transferred to Newgate; the beams of the old structure being sawn up and converted to a more genial use as stands for beer-butts in a neighbouring public-house.
The original gallows probably consisted of two uprights with a cross-piece, but when Elizabeth's government felt that more adequate means must be provided to strengthen its subjects' faith and enforce the penal laws against Catholics, a new type of gibbet was sought. So in 1571 the triangular one was erected, with accommodation for eight such miscreants on each beam, or a grand total of twenty-four at a stringing. It was first used for the learned Dr. John Story, who, upon June 1st, "was drawn upon a hurdle from the Tower of London unto Tyburn, where was prepared for him a new pair of gallows made in triangular manner". There is rather a gruesome tale of how, when in pursuance of the sentence the executioner had cut him down and was "rifling among his bowels", the doctor arose and dealt him a shrewd blow on the head. Doctor Story was followed by a long line of priests, monks, laymen and others who died for their faith to the number of some three thousand. And the Triple Tree, the Three-Legged Mare, or Deadly Never-green, as the gallows were called with grim familiarity, flourished for another two hundred years.
In the early eighteenth century it appears to have been the usual custom to reserving sentencing until the end of the sessions, but as soon as the jury's verdict of guilty was known steps were taken to procure a pardon by the condemned man's friends. They had, indeed, much more likelihood of success in those times when the Law was so severe than in later days when capital punishment was reserved for the most heinous crimes....