In the Middle Ages Smithfield Rotunda – or Smooth Field as it was known – was a grim place of public execution. Heretics, rebels and criminals were burnt, beheaded or boiled and in 1305 Scottish hero William Wallace was hanged, drawn and quartered here after being dragged to the site by a horse. In 1381 Wat Tyler, leader of the Peasants’ revolt, gathered his army in Smithfield and was stabbed by the Lord Mayor of London. The injured Tyler was taken to hospital at St. Bartholomew’s Church, but dragged out again and beheaded.
Many religious martyrs were also executed at West Smithfield, including more than 200 Protestants who were burnt at the stake during Queen Mary’s reign in the 1550s. But despite its gruesome past, Smithfield Rotunda has been a peaceful public open space for 137 years.
A competition-winning stone bench that was unveiled by the Lord Mayor of London in December 2006 and is one of the garden’s focal points. Designed by students from Edinburgh University, the carving process was managed by apprentice stone masons from Cathedral Works Organisation in Chichester.