Newgate Prison.



West View of Newgate prison. Illustrated by George Shepherd (1784–1862).

Newgate was a notorious London prison, originally built at the new gate in the medieval city’s wall. The prison was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 and rebuilt. It was destroyed again during the Gordon Riots of 1780 and rebuilt.

In 1783, the site of London’s gallows was moved from Tyburn to Newgate. Public executions outside Newgate, by this time, London’s main prison, continued to draw large crowds, from this time until 1868, when executions were moved to gallows inside the prison.



Charles Dickens and Newgate.

The Victorian writer and social critic Charles Dickens visited Newgate and used the infamous prison in a number of his works. He also witnessed at least one public execution there.

item In the sketch A Visit to Newgate (Sketches by Boz), Dickens described a visit to the prison.

item In the sketch Criminal Courts (Sketches by Boz), Dickens describes Newgate:

Prisons in Newgate prison exercise yard. Illustration by Gustave Dore from 1872.

Prisoners in the exercise yard at Newgate. Illustration by Gustave Dore from 1872.

How dreadful its rough heavy walls, and low massive doors, appeared to us – the latter looking as if they were made for the express purpose of letting people in, and never letting them out again.

item In the novel Oliver Twist, Oliver visits Fagin in Newgate and witnesses his hanging.

item In Barnaby Rudge, Hugh, Dennis, and Barnaby are imprisoned at Newgate in cells refitted after the prison was burned in the riots.

item In Great Expectations, Wemmick and Pip visit the prison while Pip is awaiting the arrival in London of Estella.

item On 6 July 1840 Charles Dickens, along with his friend and fellow writer William Makepeace Thackeray, attended the public hanging of François Benjamin Courvoisier outside the prison. A crowd of around 40,000 witnessed the execution. Courvoisier was a Swiss-born valet who was convicted for murdering of his employer Lord William Russell at 14 Norfolk Street, Park Lane (now Dunraven Street, Mayfair), in London.



Newgate was finally torn down in 1902 and the London’s Central Criminal Court (more commonly referred to today as The Old Bailey), was built on the site.

Newgate Prison.

The site of the former Newgate Prison is now the court buildings of the Old Bailey.



Further Reading (external sites).




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