The structure was designed by John Nash in 1827 to be the state entrance to the "cour d'honneur" of Buckingham palace; it stood near the site of what is today the three bayed, central projection of the palace containing the well known balcony. In 1851 it was relocated and following the widening of Park Lane in the early 1960s, the monument is now on a large traffic island at the junction of Oxford Street, Park Lane, and Edgware Road.
Historically, only members of the Royal Family and the King's Troop, Royal Horse Artillery are permitted to pass through the arch; this happens only in ceremonial processions. The arch gives its name to the vicinity of its site, particularly, the southern portion of Edgware Road and also to the nearby underground station.
The arch also stands close to the former site of the Tyburn gallows (sometimes called 'Tyburn Tree'), a place of public execution from 1388 until 1783, located 100 meters north west from Marble Arch on the traffic island at the start of Edgware Road.
|Site of the Tyburn Tree in 1746|
These executions were public spectacles and proved extremely popular, attracting crowds of thousands. The enterprising villagers of Tyburn erected large spectator stands so that as many as possible could see the hangings (for a fee). On one occasion, the stands collapsed, reportedly killing and injuring hundreds of people. This did not prove a deterrent, however, and the executions continued to be treated as public holidays, with London apprentices being given the day off for them.
The word "Tyburn" was commonly invoked as euphemisms for capital punishment – for instance, to "take a ride to Tyburn" (or simply "go west") was to go to one's hanging, "Lord of the Manor of Tyburn" was the public hangman, "dancing the Tyburn jig" was the act of being hanged, and so on. Convicts would be transported to the site in an open ox-cart from Newgate Prison. They were expected to put on a good show, wearing their finest clothes and going to their deaths with insouciance. The crowd would cheer a "good dying", but would jeer any displays of weakness on the part of the condemned.
Even in the eighteenth century the Tyburn Road (or Oxford Street) was a lively area, with salesmen and shoppers and people stopping for a bite to eat or for a drink. Those who found a seat in the Mason's Arms, a pub in Seymour Place, would get a special view of the prisoners, because this was their very last place to stop for food and drink.
The City Marshall knew that the utmost care had to be taken at this final stop. Despite the custom for allowing prisoners to have a drink (perhaps in the hope the alcohol would numb them before the execution), the cellars of the pub still have the manacles on the walls, which indicate the prisoners didn't enjoy their last pint in great comfort.
As they left the pub, the prisoners were loaded back onto the cart where they would shout to customers 'I'll buy you a pint on the way back!' This was just one of the many rituals that made the day such a spectacle for the thousands who, at some point, decided to watch. Some, who might have come miles to see 'the drop', were determined to have a good time - almost as though it was a holiday or they had gone to a carnival - and it was Saint Monday, a long weekend, after all! There were eight of these hanging days a year and they were considered to be the biggest tourist attraction of the day!
|Plaque that marks the spot where the tree stood|
It could be a slow death. Men often swung, struggled and gasped for up to three quarters of an hour. If they were lucky, soon after the cart was pulled away and they were left hanging, a relative or friend would pull on their legs and put them out of their misery quickly. The give-away sign of death was when urine ran down the leg of the dead body. At this point, the crowds hushed.
As the bodies were cut down and the crowds started to walk home, some relatives thought of rescuing their dead from the fate of dissection by the anatomists. Others were desperate to touch the dead men's hands - believing it would give them luck or perhaps a cure. However, it was mostly the City Marshall and the anatomists who won the fight for the bodies. The dead bodies were taken back to Newgate, still under security: even after death they were still prisoners.
Executions took place at Tyburn between 1571 and 1783. About 1100 men and almost 100 women were hanged at Tyburn in the eighteenth century. Londoners were also executed at Smithfield and Tower Hill. The Tyburn gallows were last used on 3 November 1783, when John Austin, a highwayman, was hanged. After that, because the government's fears of public disorder and rioting were so great, executions took place at Newgate, where security was easier to manage. However, even then they remained a spectacle available to Londoners, with some paying up to £10 for a seat at one of the windows overlooking the gallows. The last public executions in London were in 1868.
Enough about death. Since our plans were aborted we did take a few pictures of Covent Garden when we returned, so I'll share those as well.
|Covent Garden Piazza Today|
After the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1540, Henry VIII claimed all the land belonging to Westminster Abbey, including the convent garden and seven acres to the north called Long Acre; and in 1552 his son, Edward VI, granted Covent Garden to John Russell, 1st Earl of Bedford. The Russell family, who in 1694 were advanced in their peerage from Earl to Duke of Bedford, held the land from 1552 to 1918.
|John Russel 1st Earl of Bedford by Hans Holbein|
In 1630, the fourth Earl of Bedford was given permission to demolish buildings on an area of land he owned north of the Strand, and redevelop it. The result was the Covent Garden Piazza, the first formal square in London.The new buildings were classical in character. At the west end was a church, linked to two identical houses. The south side was left open.
|Covent Garden in 1737 (before the 1830 Market Hall was built) by Balthazar Nebot|
St Paul's was the first entirely new church to be built in London since the reformation. According to an often repeated story, recorded by Horace Walpole, the Earl of Bedford asked Jones to design a simple church "not much better than a barn", to which the architect replied "Then you shall have the handsomest barn in England".
Work on the church was completed in 1633, at a cost of £4,886, but it was not consecrated until 1638 due to a dispute between the earl and the vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields. It remained a chapel within the parish of St Martin-in the -Fields until 1645, when Covent Garden was made a separate parish and the church was dedicated to St Paul.
|St Pauls Church in Covent Garden|
Despite the destruction, parish records were saved, as was the pulpit — the work of Grinling Gibbons. St Paul Covent Garden was completely surrounded by the parish of St Martin in the Fields. It was grouped into the Strand District in 1855 when it came within the area of responsibility of the Metropolitan Board of Works.
St Paul's connection with the theatre began as early as 1663 with the establishment of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, and was further assured in 1723 with the opening of Covent Garden Theatre, now the Royal Opera House.
On 9 May 1662, Samuel Pepys noted in his diary the first "Italian puppet play" under the portico — the first recorded performance of "Punch and Judy", a fact commemorated by the annual "MayFayre" service in May. The portico of St Paul's was the setting for the first scene of Shaw's Pygmalion, the play that was later adapted as My Fair Lady.
Since 2007 St Paul's has been home to its own in-house professional theatre company, Iris Theatre, originally created to mount a production of T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral. It gained full charitable status in Oct 2009.
There is so much more I could tell you, but it's nearly eleven, so I'm going to sign off for the night. I'll check in again tomorrow.