London’s most famous gallows was the large triangular structure in the district of Tyburn, at what is now the junction of Bayswater Road and Edgware Road, colloquially known as ‘Tyburn Tree’ or ‘the Three-Legged Mare’. In 1678, it collapsed abruptly one night, an event which caused considerable astonishment and some wild rumours. An anonymous writer immediately produced a semi-humorous pamphlet: The Tyburn-Ghost: Or, The Strange Downfall of the GALLOWS. A most true Relation how the famous TRIPLE-TREE near PADDINTON was on Tuesday-night last (the third of this instant September) wonderfully pluckt up by the Roots, and demolisht by certain EVIL-SPIRITS. Some people, says the writer, believed that it had grown old and sunk under its own weight; others, that ‘a Company of Quack-Doctors’ had planned to steal it and grind it to powder, to be sold as a ‘Universal Medicine’ (splinters of gallows wood were indeed used in folk medicine, for instance as a cure for toothache).
But the most probable Opinion is, That it was ruined by certain Evil Spirits, perhaps the Ghosts of some who had formerly suffered there; for if Persons Killed retain so great an Antipathy against their Murderers, that scarce a Physitian dares come near his expired Patient, lest the Corpse should fall a-Bleeding, and discover [reveal] that which the more Courteous Grave uses to hide, we may imagine amongst so many Rank Riders as have broke their necks by Falls from this skittish Three-leg’d Jade, some or other might resolve to be revenged on her.
Nay, it is reported, or may be for ought I know, That there was seen last Tuesday-evening a Spirit sitting on one of the Crossbeams with its Neck awry, making a strange noise like a Scrietch-Owl; which ’tis supposed did afterwards demolish all the venerable Fabrick: But of this there is yet no Affidavit made.
The gallows was of course promptly replaced, and continued in use till 1783.