The famous (or infamous) Newgate Gaol
stood in London between 1188
(when it was built at the instruction of Henry II
) and 1902
(when it was demolished for the building of the Central Criminal Court
). It was rebuilt in 1770
, although many restorations had been carried out previously, especially after the Great Fire of London
. Finally, following the damage to the structure during the Gordon Riots
, a wholly new building was designed by George Dance
and completed in 1782
"Going West" to Newgate was the penalty for many people of all classes, backgrounds and criminal behaviours - after 1782, it was even divided into a "Common area" for poorer prisoners, and for those who could afford to pay for more comfortable surroundings, a "State area". These areas were further divided for debtors and felons, and a special women's section usually contained about 300 women and children.
Attacked by Wat Tyler's followers during the Peasant's Revolt, it has a chequered history - it was (until 1901) also a place of execution, taking over from Tyburn in 1783. Commoners and nobility alike met their fate either here, and public executions were a popular event until 1868, after which prisoners were hanged inside the prison. It was also the starting point for many whose fate was transportation to the Colonies, and other forms of execution and torture were carried out, including pressing to death.
Descriptions of the conditions are variable, but certainly all are agreed that for the poorer prisoners, it was a most uncomfortable and unhealthy place to be - many prisoners died of gaol fever (typhus). In 1724, the lowest part of the dungeon was described by one prisoner as "a terrible stinking dark and dismal place situated underground into which no daylight can come. It was paved with stone; the prisoners had no beds and lay on the pavement and whereby they endured great misery and hardship." The richer prisoners could buy goods from the turnkeys, including food, candles and bedding, and whilst their surroundings could never be described as salubrious, they certainly had an easier time of it. Campaigners such as Elizabeth Fry worked hard to improve the conditions, especially for the women, for whom life in Newgate was very harsh.
Charles Dickens visited the prison on many occasions, and wrote of it in Barnaby Rudge, Oliver Twist and Great Expectations, Mr Micawber being in residence there as a debtor.
Among the many prisoners held or executed there were: