On the 1st of March 1379, the bailiffs of the City of York along with the magistrates and the members of the Grand Jury met at York Castle to determine the location of a new gallows, following the "insubordination" of the monks at St. Mary's where the executions had been held in the city to that date. The gallows were to be sited at Knavesmire, a marshy area a mile or so south of the castle and be known as "York Tyburn" after the famous Tyburn of Middlesex.
Master Joseph Penny - a joiner - was commissioned to build the gallows and paid £10 15s for his work. Unencumbered by red tape as those days were, the gallows was erected and ready for business by the 7th March and on the 31st of that month began its grisly work.
The first soul to mount the steps was Edward Hewison - a soldier from the Earl of Northumberland's Light Horse. At York assizes, he had been found guilty of raping Louisa Bentley - a servant at York Castle. Villagers and townsfolk alike came along to watch the spectacle of his death in a ritual that would be enacted thousands of times over the next 4 centuries.
When his body was cut down, it was hanged on a gibbet in the field where the rape took place, adjacent to the castle itself.
Over the following years, several notables among the roll call of petty thieves, murderers and political prisoners would meet their deaths at York Tyburn including:
In 1801, the City decided that public executions at the entrance to the city was an annoyance and executions were moved to within York Castle itself. By a grimly poetic stroke, the final execution at Tyburn was also of a soldier and for rape - when 19 year old Edward Hughes of the 18th Light Dragoons became the last person to climb the gallows for his 'atrocious' rape of Mary Brown of Tollerton.