Gunpowder Plot, gruesome deaths, and Garnet Street

Guy Fawkes
An engraving of Guy Fawkes by George Cruikshank

This day in London’s history: on 31 January 1606 Guy Fawkes was hanged, drawn and quartered in Westminster’s Old Palace Yard. Hanged, drawn and quartered meant just that: death was considered too quick and merciful for perceived traitors.

The plan for Fawkes and three other conspirators (Robert Keyes, Ambrose Rookwood, and Thomas Winter) was that they should be hanged, or strangled, so that they did not die straight away. They were then to be emasculated and disembowled while still alive. Finally, they were to be quartered – literally, cut into four – and their heads displayed in a place of the king’s desire.

Fawkes, who was already weakened by days of torture and had to be helped to the scaffold, took everyone by surprise by leaping from the ladder to the hanging platform, thus breaking his neck and escaping the grisly death planned for him. Keyes tried to follow Fawkes’s example, but to his great misfortune, the rope broke when he leaped from the ladder, and he was then fully aware of the rest of his execution, rather than being semi-conscious from strangulation.

GarnetAll of which takes us to today’s street, which is Garnet Street in London’s Tower Hamlet region. Coal can be turned into diamonds; in this case, gravel was turned into a garnet, and this street name was upgraded into the gemstone category in 1938. Although garnet brings to mind the colour red, the stones can also be orange, yellow, green, purple, brown, blue, black, pink, or colourless.

Garnet Street was originally New Gravel Lane and the present Wapping Street was Old Gravel Lane. The streets were so called because they were part of the routes for carrying sand and gravel inland from the riverside – also taken to sea as ballast.

The name was changed to honour Thomas Garnett, one of the The Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, a group of Catholic men and women who were executed for treason and related offences between 1535 and 1679. Many were convicted at show trials or without a trial.

Garnett was an ordained priest and admitted by his uncle into the society of Jesus in 1604. He was suspected of involvement in the Gunpowder Plot; following examination by Secretary of State Robert Cecil nothing was proved against him, but he was still sentenced to lifetime banishment in 1606.

Garnett did not, however, leave well enough alone. He returned to England and was apprehended and tried for treason at the Old Bailey. This time he was found guilty – as much for being made a priest of papal authority as for ignoring his banishment – and was executed at Tyburn on 23 June 1608.

There is also a Garnett Road in Hampstead, named in 1934 for Richard Garnett, keeper of printed books at the British Museum and president of the Hampstead Antiquarian and Historical Society.

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