Execution in York England - A Short History of a Grisly Past at York's Gallows.

Although a wonderful place for a family holiday today. York's history was not always so family orientated. Hanging did take place in York UK many times and of many people. From famous highwaymen to common murderous thieves, they were all given the same treatment by the law of the land. That being a trip to the Knavesmire York, "The Tyburn" for their last moments. The location of public executions changed many times. These were finally halted by an act of Parliament.

Famous Highwayman Execution in York

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 the gallows.

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.

Many Locations of the Different York Gallows

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, but guilty criminals.

Executions by the Church - Thank Goodness Things Have Changed!

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.

Public Opinion Changes the Location to York Castle

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 enthusiasts who wished to view. The Castle gallow was situated roughly where the roundabout by St George carpark is. If you stood on the roundabout (this is a bad idea so please don't. 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. It was ironically re-named The New Drop.

People Still Wanted the Spectacle

Then we had another change so the public could enjoy their experience of execution even more. 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 especially on a Friday afternoon when executions took place. This practice was stopped in 1868.

Closing Time for the Public Executions in York Castle

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 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.

Acknowledgements for the article go to Lindsay Sawyers who has now sadly passed away.

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