Museum of London Docklands’ major exhibition, Executions, has less than a month to run, closing on 16th April. This week sees a special late opening on Friday night (24th March) with a candlelit evening featuring screenings, pop-up talks and tours. There will be execution ballads sung live and a selection of exhibition-inspired drinks available as visitors have the chance to explore some of London’s grisly past before the doors clang shut for good. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/museum-london-docklands/whats-on/exhibitions/executions.
London Pub Signs – The Hand & Shears, Smithfield…
This Smithfield institution owes its sign to its close association with the cloth fair once held nearby.
The current Grade II-listed pub at the corner of Middle and Kinghorn Streets dates from the early 19th century but there has apparently been a succession of taverns on the site since the 12th century (the sign on the pub proclaims the date 1532).
Thanks to its location within the precincts of St Bartholomew’s Priory, it became a focal point for the cloth fair which was held nearby between the 12th century and 1855 (the street Cloth Fair is named for it).
As well as being a favoured location for those attending the fair to obtain refreshment, it was also the location of a ‘Court of Pie Powder’ (from French pied poudreux for ‘dusty feet’ ) relating to travelling traders.
The pub’s name, meanwhile, is said to be a reference to the Lord Mayor of London’s practice of officially declaring the fair open by using shears to cut a piece of cloth on the tavern’s doorstep.
The pub also has some association with executions and, legend has it, was a popular spot for people to seek refreshment as they made their way to Newgate Prison where, between 1783 and 1868, executions were held outside the walls in the thoroughfare now known as Old Bailey.
For more, see the pub’s Facebook page.
PICTURE: Google Maps
10 London ‘battlefields’ – 8. The Gordon Riots…
Well, not so much a battle as a widespread civil insurrection, the Gordon Riots, often described as the worst riots London has ever seen, resulted in considerable property destruction and numerous deaths.
The riots, which took place against a backdrop of high taxation, widespread poverty, and unjust laws, had its origin in the passing of the Catholic Relief Act of 1778 which intended to reduce entrenched discrimination against Roman Catholics in Britain and redress some of anti-Catholic laws which had been introduced 80 years earlier, partly in an attempt to get more Catholics to join the British Army to fight against the United States of America in what’s now known as the War of Independence.
While it initially passed without any real hostility, an attempt to extend the Act’s provisions to Scotland in 1779 provoked such a serious response there that the action was withdrawn. Following the Scottish success in having the provisions withdrawn, the Protestant Association of London was founded with the aim of spear-heading opposition to the act’s provisions. Lord George Gordon was elected president of the newly formed Protestant Association of London in November of that year.
Following failed attempts to have King George III repeal the Act (Lord Gordon had several audiences with the King but failed to convince him of his case and was eventually banned from His Majesty’s presence), on 2nd June, 1780, Gordon and the members of the association marched on the Houses of Parliament (pictured above although the current buildings date from much later than these events) to deliver a petition demanding the Act be repealed.
They crowd, estimated to have been as big as 60,000 strong although a figure in the mid-40,000s is generally accepted, attempted unsuccessfully to force their way into the House of Commons before Lord Gordon, wearing a blue cockade (the symbol of the Protestant Association in his hat) was granted access to deliver the document.
Outside, meanwhile, things went from bad to worse and the crowd erupted into rioting, attacking members of the House of Lords, including bishops, as they attempted to enter and damaging carriages (including that of Lord Chief Justice William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield). Soldiers were eventually summoned to quell the riot which they did without violence. Inside, the members of the House of Commons voted down the petition by an overwhelming majority.
That night violence flared up again with the Roman Catholic Sardinian Embassy Chapel in Lincoln’s Inn Fields set alight while the chapel of the Bavarian Embassy in Golden Square, Soho, was destroyed and random violence carried out in streets known to be the residence of wealthy Catholics.
The next day, a crowd gathered in Moorfields – known to be home to many poor Irish Catholic immigrants – and that night attacked many homes.
The violence spread over the following days and among the buildings attacked was Newgate Prison (which was set on fire), the Fleet Prison, and the Clink in Southwark – hundreds of prisoners escaped – as well as Catholic churches, more embassy chapels, homes of known Catholics and politicians who had been associated with the passing of the act (including that of Lord Mansfield and Sir George Savile, who had proposed the Catholic Relief Act) and the Bank of England (the attack on the bank led to the long-standing tradition of soldiers guarding the bank).
Without a standing police force to tackle the mobs, on 7th June the army was called out with orders to fire on groups of four or larger who refused to disperse. In the next few days, well over 200 people (possibly more than 300) were shot dead and hundreds more wounded. Hundreds of the rioters were arrested and, of those, about 25 eventually executed. Gordon himself was arrested and charged with high treason but found not guilty.
LondonLife – Exposing London’s criminal past…
The death mask of Daniel Good, executed outside Newgate prison on 23rd May, 1842, for the murder of his wife Jane Jones. It was thanks to delays in apprehending Good caused by communication problems that a dedicated detective was formed within the Metropolitan Police. Good’s death mask is just one of the many items from the Metropolitan Police’s Crime Museum which will be on display at the Museum of London’s forthcoming exhibition, The Crime Museum Uncovered. Opening in October, the display will feature never-before-seen objects from the police museum which are usually only accessible to police professionals and their invited guests. Along with the death mask, other objects to be seen in the display will include a memoir by Donald Swanson, senior investigating officer on the investigation into the Jack the Ripper killings in the late 1880s, a pin cushion embroidered with human hair by Annie Parker, who died in 1879 after having been arrested more than 400 times for alcohol-related offences, and ‘microdots’ containing secret messages along with a microdot reader founder in Mrs Helen Kroger’s handbag when she was arrested for involvement in the Portland Soviet Spy Ring in 1961. The exhibition will run from 9th October to 10th April, 2016. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.
What’s in a name?…Farringdon
Farringdon is a name that crops up quite a bit in London. As well as Farringdon Road, Farringdon Street and Farringdon Lane, there’s a Tube/overground train station which also bear the name along with two of the 25 wards of the City of London.
These latter are named Farringdon Within and Farringdon Without – a distinction which relates to their placement within and without the City’s walls and dates to the late 14th century.
While the name Farringdon, which can be found elsewhere in England, apparently meant ‘ferny hill’ in Old English, its origins in London apparently relate to two medieval London goldsmiths, William de Faringdon (also spelt de Farindon and various other ways) and his son Nicholas.
Both William and Sir Nicholas were aldermen and Lord Mayors of London in the late 13th and early 14th centuries.
Sir Nicholas was apparently well favoured by King Edward II – he was several times appointed mayor, a job the king apparently said he could hold for “as long as it pleased him”. He was buried at St Peter-le-Chepe, destroyed in the Great Fire of London.
Interestingly, another well-known alderman of this ward was the radical MP John Wilkes, who was elected while in Newgate Prison.
Farringdon Street, which becomes Farringdon Road, runs along the course of the former Fleet River and dates from the 1730s when the river was arched over.
Treasures of London – Newgate execution bell…
Contained in a glass cabinet within the walls of St Sepulchre-without-Newgate, this bell was traditionally rung 12 times outside the condemned cell in nearby Newgate Prison at midnight on the eve of an execution (ensuring, no doubt, that no-one had a good night’s sleep before their final morning).
According to an inscription on the cabinet, the sexton of St Sepulchre – who reached the condemned cell from the church via a tunnel under the road – recited the following verse (other sources have a longer a version thereof) while standing outside the cell:
“All you that in the condemned hole do lie,
Prepare you for tomorrow you shall die;
Watch all and pray: the hour is drawing near
That you before the Almighty must appear;
Examine well yourselves in time repent,
That you may not to eternal flames be sent.
And when St Sepulchre’s Bell in the morning tolls
The Lord above have mercy on your soul.”
The tradition of ringing the bell apparently dates from 1605 and has its origins in a bequest of £50 made by one Robert Dow(e), a prominent member of the Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors. (Dow had apparently wanted a clergyman to be the one to ring the bell but his money didn’t stretch that far).
A rather grim piece of London’s history.
WHERE: St Sepulchre-without-Newgate, Holborn Viaduct (nearest Tube stations are St Paul’s, Blackfriars and Farringdon); WHEN: Check website for service times; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.stsepulchres.org
A Moment in London’s History – The execution of John Austin, the last person hanged at Tyburn…
The site of public executions for hundreds of years, it’s generally accepted that at about 9am on 3rd November, 1783, John Austin became the last person to be hanged there (for more on the history of executions at Tyburn – and in particular the massive gallows known as the Tyburn Tree – see our previous post here).
Austin had been convicted of being a highwayman – specifically for inflicting “robbery with violence” upon labourer John Spicer, two weeks before during which Austin had attacked Spicer, beating and cutting him, “in a cruel manner”.
As he stood on the cart beneath the gallows (a mobile gallows had been in use since 1759 when the Elizabethan-era Tyburn Tree was dismantled), Austin’s last words were somewhat predictable – he requested that the crowd pray for his “departing soul”, that they would heed his example and that Jesus would have “mercy upon my poor soul”.
His death, it is said, was “hard”. As the cart was moved off, the halter around his neck apparently slipped “to the back part of his head” and instead of his neck being broken, Austin slowly choked to death.
The decision to cease executions at Tyburn (near where Marble Arch now stands) and move them to outside Newgate Prison was apparently due to complaints. These came from both City traders who felt the condemned person’s three mile procession from Newgate to Tyburn disrupted making money and the fashionable who sought to live in the city’s outlying western areas like Marylebone and who didn’t want to see the unruly mob that typically accompanied outside their front doors. Such groups had long been lobbying for the practice to come to an end.
For more on the history of Tyburn see Robert Bard’s Tyburn: The Story of London’s Gallows.
What’s in a name?…Old Bailey…
Running from Ludgate Hill to Newgate Street in the western part of the City, there are a couple of explanations behind the thoroughfare known as the Old Bailey.
One suggests that the name is derived from Latin word ballium which referred to a wall built for defence and which, in this instance, referred to the old Roman wall which surrounded the City.
Another, according to Antony Badsey-Ellis’ book What’s in a Street Name?, is that the name could be a corrupt form of ‘Bail Hill’ – a place where a bailiff held court.
For centuries the street’s name has also been used for that of a court based there. Now formally known as the Central Criminal Court, the first court – or sessions house – was built here in 1539 on part of the site now occupied by the court.
Built next to the Old Bailey court house – and pre-dating it was Newgate Prison – but when this was demolished in 1902, the Old Bailey (which itself had been rebuilt in the 1670s having been destroyed in the Great Fire of London and then subsequently remodelled) was again rebuilt and, opening in 1907, now covers the site.
For an archive of the court’s proceedings, check out www.oldbaileyonline.org. For more on the history of The Old Bailey, check out Theresa Murphy’s The Old Bailey: Eight Hundred Years of Crime, Cruelty and Corruption.
Celebrating Charles Dickens – 8. Dickens’ literary connections, part 1…
London is redolent with sites which appeared in the books of Charles Dickens and, having had a look at his life, it’s time we turn our attention to some of the sites relevant to his writing. For the next two weeks, we’re looking at just a few of the many, many sites which feature in his novels. So, here’s seven places to get us going…
• Saffron Hill, Clerkenwell. Once a notorious slum akin to St Giles (see last week’s entry) and the city’s Italian Quarter, Saffron Hill is where Fagin and his gang of thieves operate in Oliver Twist and have their den.
• Chancery Lane, Holborn. Much of the novel Bleak House is set around this narrow street between High Holborn and Fleet Street – Tom Jarndyce kills himself in a coffee shop here in the novel and Lincoln’s Inn Hall – formerly home of the High Court of Chancery – also features.
• The Old Bailey. Some have suggested Dickens worked here as a court reporter although there is no compelling evidence he did so. But the the Old Bailey (the current building dates from the early 20th century, well after Dickens’ death) and Newgate Prison certainly featured in his books – it is here that Fagin is eventually hung in Oliver Twist.
• Child & Co’s Bank, Fleet Street. While the present building dates from 1878, Dickens is believed to have used the bank as the model for Tellson’s Bank in A Tale of Two Cities.
• St Dunstan-in-the-West, Fleet Street. In David Copperfield, David and his aunt, Betsy Trotwood, make a special trip to see the giants Gog and Magog strike the church bells. It also features in Barnaby Rudge and Dickens dedicated his Christmas story, The Chimes, to the church.
• Garden Court and Fountain Court (pictured), Middle Temple. Garden Court is where Pip lived in Great Expectations and where Abel Magwitch turned up to reveal himself as Pip’s benefactor. Fountain Court features in Martin Chuzzlewit as the site for the romance of Ruth Pinch and John Westlock.
• Golden Square, Soho. Mentioned in Nicholas Nickleby – Nicholas’ uncle, Ralph Nickleby, was thought to live in a previous building at number seven.
There’s some great books about London sites which appear in Dickens’ books – among them are Ed Glinert’s Literary London: A Street by Street Exploration of the Capital’s Literary Heritage and Michael Paterson’s Inside Dickens’ London as well as Paul Kenneth Garner’s
A Walk Through Charles Dickens’ London.
Lost London: Gates Special – Newgate
Better known now as the name for the infamous former prison which whom its history is intertwined, Newgate was originally one of the seven principal gates of London and, like five others, originally dates back to Roman times.
The gate, which apparently took the name ‘new’ thanks to a rebuild in the early medieval era, possibly in the reign of King Henry I or King Stephen, was located close to where the street known as Newgate meets the Old Bailey (see picture – there’s a blue plaque marking the spot on Newgate).
It was used as a prison from the 12th century for housing debtors and felons – in the 13th century King Henry III is recorded as having issued orders for the prison’s repair (You can see our earlier entry on the prison here.)
The gate’s prison function – this was really no more than a few ‘cells’ – was substantially added to in the 1420s when, apparently as required under the terms of former Mayor Richard Whittington’s will, the gate was rebuilt and a new prison building was constructed to the south on what is now the site of the Old Bailey (home of the Central Criminal Court).
The gate was eventually demolished in the mid 18th century apparently due to urban planning issues. The prison, meanwhile, continued to be used until 1902 and was finally pulled down two years later.
Lost London – Execution Dock…
The favoured place to dispatch pirates, Execution Dock was located on the north bank of the River Thames just off Wapping High Street.
Among the most famous to be executed here was Kidd himself who, having been found to have turned pirate while operating as a privateer under the authority of King William III, was hanged here on 23rd May, 1701.
The site, near where a cannon foundry operated supplying the fleet of King Henry VIII, was in-use as an execution ground for more than 400 years, from the 15th century until the last hanging in 1830 (that of pirates George Davis and William Watts).
Those convicted of piracy in the High Court of Admiralty were typically brought to Execution Dock from Marshalsea Prison (or in some cases from Newgate) in a procession across London Bridge and past the Tower of London which was led by the Admiralty Marshal or his deputy who carried a silver oar as a symbol of their authority.
In a public spectacle, the pirates were then hanged on a wooden scaffold built at low tide but unlike at other sites of execution where they were cut down after death, the victims were left hanging to allow three tides to wash over them.
The most notorious of the pirates would then be tarred and put in a gibbet to be exhibited on one of the banks of the Thames as a warning to others (Kidd’s remains were apparently left in such a state for more than 20 years at Tilbury).
The exact location of Execution Dock remains a matter of dispute with favoured locations including a spot near the Town of Ramsgate pub, just along from The Captain Kidd pub near what are now known as King Henry’s Stairs and, between the two locations, a warehouse which stands on the waterfront and is prominently marked with an E (for Execution Dock). Some even suggest the site was outside the Prospect of Whitby pub further east along Wapping High Street.
There’s currently an exhibition on Captain Kidd at the Museum of London Docklands, Pirates: The Captain Kidd Story. See here for more information.
Lost London – The ‘Tyburn Tree’
For six centuries, the gallows at Tyburn, in the city’s west, was one of London’s sites of public execution. Today, little remains to remind visitors of the infamous past of the area, which lies close to Marble Arch, but for a plaque set in the middle of a road.
From 1196 to 1783, it’s suggested that thousands of people (some have estimated as many as 60,000) were hanged at various gallows erected at Tyburn, known by numerous names over the centuries including ‘The Elms’, the ‘The Deadly Never Green Tree’, and most infamously the ‘Tyburn Tree’.
Hangings were apparently initially carried out using the branches of a tree on the bank of the Tyburn River but the first gallows date from 1220. In Elizabeth times these were upgraded to a larger gallows known as the ‘Triple Tree’ which enabled many more people to be hanged simulteously – as many as 24 at once in 1649.
The gallows was removed in 1759 because it was blocking the road and a mobile gallows used until hangings were moved into Newgate Prison (see our earlier entry on Newgate).
Executions were a public spectacle and it’s estimated that at times the crowds at Tyburn swelled to more than 50,000 people, all eager to witness someone “dancing the Tyburn jig”.
Among those to be hanged at Tyburn were William Fitz Osbern (a champion of London’s poor who was hanged in 1196), Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March (hanged in 1330 after being accused of assuming royal power), Perkin Warbeck (pretender to the throne of King Henry VII who was hanged in 1499), and Elizabeth Barton, the ‘Holy Maid of Kent’ (hanged for treason after prophesying King Henry VIII would die within six months of marrying Anne Boleyn).
Others included key figures in the so-called Pilgrimage of Grace (an uprising in England’s north in 1536 which followed King Henry VIII’s break with Rome) and many other Catholics including Oliver Plunkett, the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland (1681).
In an unusual move, the body of already deceased Oliver Cromwell, along with that of John Bradshaw and Henry Ireton, was exumed from his grave and and hanged there to mark the first anniversary of the Restoration.
What is believed to have been the site of the Tyburn Tree is today marked by a plaque set in a traffic island at the corner of Edgware Road and Bayswater Road (nearest tube station is Marble Arch).
There is a Shrine of the Martyrs dedicated to the more than 105 Roman Catholics who were hung at Tyburn for their faith at the Tyburn Convent in Hyde Park Place (for visiting details, see www.tyburnconvent.org.uk).
Note: This article originally referred to the Shrine of the Martyrs commemorating more than 350 Catholic martyrs who died during the Reformation as all being executed at Tyburn but it is believed some 105 were – the greater figure refers to those martyred across England and Wales during the Reformation.
Lost London – Newgate Prison
The most notorious of London’s many prisons, Newgate remained in use for more than 700 years.
The prison – located on the corner of Newgate Street and Old Bailey on the site of what is now London’s Central Criminal Court (known as the Old Bailey thanks to its position on the street known as Old Bailey) – was apparently first constructed around the end of the 1100s on the orders of King Henry II at the site of one of the gates in the Roman wall (see picture).
It was enlarged and renovated several times over the ensuing centuries (including a complete rebuilding after the Great Fire of London in 1666 and another to the design of George Dance after the prison was badly damaged during the Gordon Riots of 1780, sparked by opposition to Catholic emancipation).
The prison, which was infamous for the squalid conditions in which prisoners were housed, was used for a range of purposes including housing debtors and the incarceration of people awaiting execution (by the 18th century, it’s said that more than 350 crimes had become punishable by death).
In 1783 public executions were moved from Tyburn, west of the city, to a site just outside the prison. In 1868, executions were no longer open to the public at large and the gallows moved inside. The prison closed in 1902 and was eventually demolished in 1904.
Famous prisoners who spent time in Newgate include Shakespeare’ contemporary Ben Jonson (for killing a man in a duel), 17th century author Daniel Defoe (for his authorship of political pamphlets), Captain William Kidd (for piracy), and William Penn, Quaker and founder of Pennsylvania (for contempt of court during a case brought after he was accused of having illegally preached ).
But perhaps the most infamous is the 18th century criminal Jack Sheppard, known for having escaped from the prison several times before finally being hanged at Tyburn (close to where Marble Arch now stands).
The only surviving part of the prison in its original location is part of the prison wall which can be seen in Amen Corner.