Executions at Smithfield Market – Dark history on our Free London Ghost Tour
London is a city with 2000 years of history, and in all of that time a lot of very spooky, bizarre and dark things have happened. One of the best ways to spend your time in the city is to take a truly unique free ghost tour of London. We have chosen to focus our free London ghost tour in and around the ancient area of Smithfield. While there are countless locations in London associated with the dark side, Smithfield beats them all with its high concentration of macabre sites.
Smithfield is a portmanteau of the words ‘smooth’ and ‘fields;’ recorded over 800 years ago as a smooth field on top of Ludgate Hill where horses were traded twice per week. Today, the massive Smithfield Meat Market dominates the area. This wrought iron structure was completed in 1866 by architect Horace Jones (most famous for his iconic Tower Bridge).
Despite the relative youth of the current building, this area has been used for butchery for nearly a millennium. The ‘smooth fields’ were dotted with abattoirs and butcher’s sheds, and the nearby River Fleet ran red with blood and offal. Perhaps it was this large open field that made the area so attractive for executions – this was the main place in London where people were hanged, drawn and quartered back in the Middle Ages. Public executions drew large crowds, and Smithfield could handle them. The most famous execution in the area? Infamous Scottish patriot Sir William Wallace, who was hanged, drawn and quartered here in 1305.
Smithfield was also popular spot for traitors to be boiled alive in vats of oil. After all, at the end of a long day in the meat market, there was bound to be some fat left over. Richard Roose was boiled alive in an oily broth here at Smithfield in 1531 after allegedly poisoning the soup of a local Bishop. This set a dangerous precedent – being boiled alive at Smithfield became a common punishment for poisoners.
My personal favourite story is that of the Marian martyrs – that is, the Protestants executed under Queen Mary I as she attempted to quash The Church of England in favour of Catholicism. Over 200 Marian Martyrs were burned at the stake, many of them at Smithfield. Now, you might think that Henry VIII’s eldest daughter would want to be as far away as possible from this brutal event, but no – she was nearby. ‘Bloody Mary’ had a special watchtower constructed so she could hear the screams and watch the executions, all the while dining on roast chicken and drinking hearty red wine.
With nearly a millennium of horrors and executions in the area, it is no wonder that Smithfield is said to be the most haunted place of London. Want to learn even more?
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