Now that Charles III is King – he takes over the royal palaces and that includes an impressive Tudor spread just outside London called Hampton Court Palace. A royal residence seized from its original owner Cardinal Wolsey by his boss, King Henry VIII. He expanded it into the incredible series of structures you see today.
I visited in April 2022 – fifty-two years after I went as a child (see my film below). It’s as magical today as it was in 1970. Though the way it’s presented has changed a bit. But all the main features are still very much in evidence. The cavernous kitchens that served jumbo-sized meals to courtiers and the king twice a day. The manicured gardens with the maze that delights children. And the great vine for gardening enthusiasts.
The palace is closely associated with three of Henry’s wives. The intertwined letters A and H you can see carved at certain points refers to the thousand days in which Henry took Anne Boleyn to be his second queen. After arranging for Anne to be beheaded with a sword on charges of treason, the overbearing monarch married Jane Seymour but she died in childbirth at Hampton Court.
Wife number five was the teenage Catherine Howard who was put under effective house arrest at this palace after being accused of adultery. She would also lose her head. As a child I remember a guide at Hampton Court telling us that her ghost could still be heard imploring the king in high pitched screams to forgive her indiscretions. He didn’t.
A century later, and King Charles the first was imprisoned in his own palace at the end of a civil war that had pitched royalists against parliamentarians. The king managed to escape as he knew his own palace and its various exit points. But was recaptured and executed outside the Banqueting House in London. The Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell – who headed up Britain’s first and only period as a republic of sorts – lived at Hampton Court enjoying its regal splendour.
But as you’ll see in the film below, that splendour wore thin by the end of the 1600s with King William III setting out to demolish the entire palace and rebuild it in the baroque style. He got half way there. So today, you have the remains of a Tudor palace bolted on to a grand Versailles-style edifice. It’s a curious stylistic jumble.
In 1737, King George II gave up on the place preferring Kensington Palace while George III developed what would become Buckingham Palace. It remains a royal palace and part of the new king’s palatial portfolio but it’s managed to be passed on as opposed to Charles III having any power to change it in any way.
London has always had its interesting landmarks but none could be so ghoulish as its regular places of execution. They are not always easy to spot now but let me give you some ghoulish clues!
Up until the 19th century, there were certain places where you could be guaranteed to catch a hanging, burning or beheading – should you wish.
Unfortunately, many Londoners did wish – as it was viewed as a macabre form of entertainment. So – where would you have seen such a dreadful spectacle? Where are the places of execution in London?
Tyburn. If you were a commoner, then it was off to Tyburn to be hanged high in the air dancing at the end of a rope for a vast crowd. The location of the triple gallows that entertained so many Londoners was on what is now a traffic island at the intersection of Oxford Street and the Edgware Road. Oxford Street was called Tyburn Road up until the 1700s and the area was semi-rural, effectively the edge of London. This was probably the most popular place of execution in London.
Tower Hill. If you were an aristocrat, you could avoid the shame and humiliation of dangling at Tyburn by being beheaded on Tower Hill. Your end was swift provided the executioner was good at his job – and that wasn’t always guaranteed. But for an aristocrat, this was the place of execution for you in London – not the shame of the tree at Tyburn.
Lincoln’s Inn Fields. One of the lesser well known places of execution in London. Those conspiring against the life of the monarch might be dispatched at Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Such was the fate of Anthony Babington who plotted against Elizabeth I. Her day out was ruined however by his persistent screams of agony while being hanged, drawn and quartered. He made such a racket that the Queen decided just to behead everybody else involved in the conspiracy.
Smithfield. Now being heavily redeveloped, the meat market near Farringdon tube station once rang to the shrieks of Protestants being burned for their faith by Queen Mary Tudor aka “Bloody Mary”. The Catholic Queen was out to reverse the religious reforms of her father Henry VIII using the flames to consume those who had rejected the pope’s authority.
Execution Dock. Pirates breathed their last here – in a London location for execution deemed to suit their crime. They had lived by stealing on the waters – and so they would face their end by the river with the tide submerging their bodies. Captain Kidd was hanged at this location.
Banqueting House, Whitehall. King Charles I stepped from a first floor window and on to a wooden scaffold to lose his head. When his son Charles II became king, he hunted down those who had signed his father’s death warrant and had them executed a stone’s throw away at Charing Cross. The diarist Samuel Pepys, a bit of a royalist toady by then, wrote an inappropriately merry account of one of those hanging, drawing and quarterings.
Kennington. This was south London’s main place of execution. I’ve blogged before about two unfortunately gentlemen who were hanged for the crime of being gay. It surprises me that given the large LGBT population in the area, there is no monument to this injustice.
Stratford-le-Bow. Now I knew nothing about this London execution site until recently. But this is where Queen Mary Tudor burned another load of Protestants as part of her ongoing and ultimately unsuccessful attempts to turn Britain back to Catholicism. Thirteen men and women were burned in front of 20,000 people on 27 June 1556.
Shooters Hill Crossroads. Little bit further out of town towards Woolwich is where highwaymen were hanged. This was presumably to warn any wannabe Dick Turpins heading towards London that they would meet a grim fate.
St Thomas-a-Watering. Right next to the Thomas-a-Becket pub on the Old Kent Road, famous in the 20th century for playing host to gangsters and boxers, was the place of execution for a small group of Catholic friars in 1539. As with Marble Arch and Tyburn, you’re going to need to summon up those powers of imagination to picture the scene now.