DAVID WILSON explores the history of a little-known site in the city: the York Tyburn

AS you drive, cycle or take the bus along the A1036 into York, it’s quite easy to miss it - 286 Tadcaster Road is the site of the York Tyburn.

It is a modest memorial plinth set back off the road in a paved area, just 50 yards or so from the Marriott Hotel.

It’s easier to see on foot if you walk your dog or go for a run on this side of the Knavesmire.

But 200 years ago and more, this was a well-known if marshy, unappealing spot. It was the location of the York Tyburn, or gallows, named after its sister near Marble Arch in London.

The Tyburn attracted crowds of spectators much like a race-meeting or football match does today.

There were four places of execution in York in the Middle Ages. Three of these were controlled by the church authorities, but the York Tyburn was controlled by the Crown and administered from York Castle.

Both the York and London Tyburns were similarly constructed.

A tall wooden construction with three posts, the Tyburn has been immortalised by at least two places in York city centre: the Three-Legged Mare in High Petergate and former pub The Last Drop Inn in Colliergate.

The Last Drop name has a double meaning: criminals were offered a final drink before death, and were hanged by the short drop method of execution which left victims to die by slow strangulation.

Who was put to death at the York Tyburn by this barbaric method? Both its first and last victims were soldiers found guilty of rape and both were Edwards.

The first execution took place on March 31, 1379. Twenty year old Edward Hewlson had been found guilty of raping Louisa Bentley, a servant at York Castle.

The last person to be hanged was Edward Hughes on August 29, 1801 for having raped Mary Barrun from Easingwold earlier that year.

The public gallows were then removed from the Knavesmire to a spot near York Castle in 1812, and public executions were banned altogether only in 1868.

In earlier centuries, it wasn’t just criminals such as murderers, rapists, thieves and forgers who were hanged at the York Tyburn.

Political rebels and holders of unacceptable religious beliefs were also executed here. Leaders and participants in the rebellions against Henry VIII’s religious reforms such as Thomas Percy, Earl of Northumberland and William Wode, Prior of Bridlington met their final end at the York Knavesmire.

Some of these rebels were also hanged, then drawn (cut in two) and quartered (cut into four pieces).

The Prior of Bridlington suffered the added indignity of being beheaded. Nicholas Postgate, the last Catholic to be martyred for his faith in England, was put to death here in 1679.

But the most famous victim of the York Tyburn was undoubtedly Dick Turpin.

The 34-year-old highwayman was executed there on April 7, 1739 for stealing three horses with a total value of £37.

His body was later buried in an unassuming piece of ground opposite St George’s church in the city centre.

It is said that Turpin carried himself with great dignity, spoke a few words to the assembled crowd, and then with the noose around his neck, threw himself to his death from the ladder.

More recently in 2011, the York Tyburn site enjoyed a makeover. Dringhouses and Woodthorpe Ward Committee pledged £1,500 to tidy up the place, repair a bench and install an information board with an explanation of the history of the place.

Then in 2018, Fr John Bane, parish priest of English Martyrs church in Dalton Terrace, led a group of about 50 people in a service at the site to commemorate all those who lost their lives as a result of religious persecution.

A 20-minute walk from the centre of the city will bring you to this forlorn spot where countless people suffered public humiliation and death.

York Tyburn stands as a reminder of human cruelty and the dark shadow it still casts over the world today.