On this day in 1783 highwayman and murderer John Austin became the last person to be hanged at Tyburn, now Marble Arch. Executions had taken place at 'the Tyburn Tree' for nearly six-hundred years, with the first recorded hanging being that of William Fitz Osbert, the leader of a popular uprising, in 1196. Criminals were taken on the back of a cart along the three mile direct route from Newgate Prison (now the Old Bailey) to Tyburn (many pubs claim that prisoners would be allowed a final drink at their establishment on their way to the gallows, but this is generally myth-making - most of the pubs that claim this are nowhere near the route). At Tyburn the condemned would stand on the back of the cart with a noose around their neck; when the cart was driven away it would leave them hanging in mid-air, and it could take up to forty-five minutes to asphyxiate. Following Austin's execution, public hangings took place instead outside Newgate Prison using a trapdoor in a scaffold - known as the 'new drop'.
Multiple executions at the Tyburn Tree
On this day in 1890 the City and South London Railway was opened by the Prince of Wales. Running between King William Street, just south of the present-day Monument Station, and Stockwell, the route now forms part of the Bank branch of the Northern Line. The C&SLR was the world's first underground electric railway, the world's first deep tunnel railway, and the first purpose-built railway tunnel under the Thames - the Metropolitan Railway (now the Metropolitan Line) had opened twenty-seven years earlier in 1863, but it was built using a 'cut-and-cover' method of digging up the road to lay the track, and ran on steam trains.
A cigarette card of the City and South London Railway
On this day in 1967 a train travelling at seventy miles per hour derailed between Hither Green and Grove Park railway stations in Lewisham, killing forty-nine passengers. A broken rail resulted in eleven of the twelve carriages derailing, four of which turned onto their sides; the train continued to travel a further 250 yards before coming to a stop. Amongst the survivors of the Hither Green rail crash was Bee Gees singer Robin Gibb, and his future wife Molly Hullis.
A derailed train carriage after the Hither Green rail crash
On this day in 1974 Covent Garden fruit, veg and flower market traded for the last time. Originally known as the Convent Garden, the area was owned by Westminster Abbey; after the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII in the 1530s fashionable housing was built on the site, and by the mid-seventeenth century a market had been established in the square. The market continued to expand, but by the 1960s the narrow streets couldn't cope with traffic congestion from the delivery lorries. New Covent Garden Market, a fifty-seven acre purpose-built site, was constructed in Nine Elms, and opened on the Monday morning following Old Covent Garden's closure on the Friday evening. Most of the buildings on the old site were protected, and by the 1980s the area had been repurposed with cafes, restaurants and shops.
On this day in 1724 thief and escape artist Jack Sheppard was hanged at Tyburn. Sheppard was born in poverty in the slums of Spitalfields in 1702, and was apprenticed to a carpenter; originally he showed promise in his trade, but he fell in with a rough crowd and began thieving and burgling. Sheppard was arrested on four occasions, but escaped every time - including whilst handcuffed, clapped in irons, and chained to the floor of Newgate Prison. He told the authorities “I am the Sheppard, and all the gaolers in the town are my flock!”, and he became a folk hero. Sheppard was unable to escape his fifth arrest, and 200,000 spectators - a third of London's population - lined the streets on his way to the gallows to cheer him on.
Jack Sheppard escaping from Newgate Prison
On this day in 1910 Dr Hawley Harvey Crippen was hanged at Pentonville Prison for the murder of his wife Cora. Earlier that year Cora had mysteriously disappeared; Crippen told the police that she had returned to their native America with her lover. This explanation satisfied the police, but Crippen and his secretary and mistress Ethel le Neve fled abroad and caught a boat to Canada, which aroused suspicion. A search conducted at Crippen's home on Hilldrop Crescent in Holloway uncovered a human torso buried in the cellar, and Chief Inspector Walter Dew boarded a fast boat to Canada - he arrived ahead of Crippen and le Neve, both of whom were arrested and returned to London. A trial at the Old Bailey found Crippen guilty of Cora's murder, but Ethel was acquitted; in recent years however, following tests on the torso, doubt has been thrown on the conviction, although Crippen's decision to flee does suggest his guilt.
Dr Crippen and Ethel le Neve in the dock at the Old Bailey
On this day in 1991 Freddie Mercury, the lead singer of Queen, died of AIDS at his home of Garden Lodge on Logan Place in Kensington. He had been diagnosed with the illness four years earlier, and publicly acknowledged it the day before his death.
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