Last Tyburn Hanging
On November 3 1783 a rather inglorious tradition ended when John Austin, a highwayman, was executed at Tyburn, the last of more than 1200 to meet their end there since the first recorded Tyburn hanging in 1196. At times large numbers of prisoners were executed en masse, for example in June 1649 24 died together, the volume accommodated by the famous Tyburn Tree, a construction like a giant three-legged stool without a seat.
Executions at Tyburn had been big business for what was for centuries a village, though by the time Austin was killed it had been swallowed up in the urban sprawl of the 18th century. Apprentices were given holidays to witness the criminals die; stands would be erected for ‘popular’ executions; crowds of several thousand regularly gathered in a festival mood to see the spectacle, with food-sellers and in later years leaflet-printers doing well from them.
The Tyburn Tree had, however, already gone long before Austin’s day, as the good people moving into the area objected to the grisly device – doubtless it was hitting their property values. Austin had murdered a poor man named John Spicer somewhere on the road in Bethnal Green , and like so many others before him was taken slowly to the crossroads site of the gallows – in his case a portable device. The last words with which he is credited seem to fit ill in the mouth of a lowly criminal, asking for salvation and begging for the prayers of those present. It took him 10 minutes to die, strangled slowly by the rope.
For the curious, and those wanting to test the atmosphere, the crossroads execution site is commemorated at the junction of Bayswater Road and Edgware Road, three small brass triangles set in the paving of a traffic island there.
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