Probably the most famous client of the York Tyburn gallows was Dick Turpin.
On Saturday the 7th April 1739, having been found guilty of horse-theft, he
was taken from the York castle's condemned cell and driven in a horse drawn
cart through the imposing gateway of the castle and along Castlegate. Crowds
would line the route as they made their way over Ouse Bridge, the only road
bridge across the river at that time. Along Ousegate and continuing up the
steep slope of Micklegate, they would have driven through Micklegate bar and
onto Blossom Street, The Mount, and finally to the Knavesmire, the site of
This is a long way to travel, especially for the convicted
knowing the fate that awaited at the other end! He carried himself with much
dignity to the last and, after speaking a few words, he turned and threw
himself from the ladder and died after a few minutes. His body was then
taken back to York and kept in the Blue Boar Inn in Castlegate overnight. In
those days a public house often had a room that was used as a temporary
mortuary, or as a courtroom. John Palmer, or better known as Dick Turpin, is buried in St. George's churchyard, where a stone can still be seen.
The gallows were situated on Tadcaster Road, opposite Pulleyn Drive, the
spot is marked by a small paved area and a plaque. Originally the site of a
gibbet post, (for either hanging or displaying the bodies of felons as a
warning). A new gallows replaced the gibbet in 1379 and remained until the
last hanging, that of Edward Hughes (for rape), in 1801. It stood for unused
for a further 11 years and was finally pulled down in 1812.
York had other sites of gallows, situated within parishes. One was in Burton
Stone Lane and was governed by the Abbot of St Mary's. Another was
controlled by the Dean and Chapter of York and was situated at the junction
of Haxby Road and Wiggington Road, (near the present hospital). This area
was known as the Horsefair. St. Leonard's governed the gallows at Garrow
Hill. The present Thief Lane is the route that was taken to the horrible
fate awaiting the unfortunate.
The Archbishop of York had gallows situated in Fossgate, it seemed that the
church had more people hanged within their parishes than the Crown did!
The demolition of the St Leonard's gallows took place in 1700, and the
others were soon dismantled and most of the executions then took place on
the Tyburn site where they remained for the next hundred years.
Eventually the scene was objected to, by visitors to York along this main
highway, you can imagine it would not be the nicest way to have a first
impression of the City you were about to visit. Also by the people of York
who perhaps had begun to feel a bit sorry for the folk who had to endure the
journey. So, in the modern and enlightened times of 1801 the Gallows were
erected close to the Castle, but still in public for those who wished to
view. The Castle gallow was situated roughly where the roundabout by St
George carpark is. If you stood on the roundabout, probably a bad idea but
use your imagination!, you can see, tucked next to the corner of the museum
in the wall to the right, a small doorway. This is the door through which
the condemned were led to the new gallows, re-named The New Drop.
On the bank of the river Foss, where the car park is now, was a Public House
called the Windmill. For the short time these gallows were in use the pub
did a roaring trade on a Friday afternoon when executions took place. This
practice was stopped in 1868, and as a result of an act of Parliament,
executions were taken indoors and carried out within the Castle walls. The
new Drop in the castle took up the job of execution by hanging, but behind
closed doors. The double white doors of the drop can still be seen from the
Castle car park, if you look from the 'bottom end' of the carpark, (the
entrance to Coppergate and the Yorvik site) back towards the Museum, you can
see the doors (through the tree's!) on the end of the museum building to the
left. The last hanging that took place here was of one August Carlsen in
December 1896. He was charged with murder, and the black flag was raised
above the Castle of York for the final time.