Newgate Prison.

An execution taking place at Newgate
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Newgate, the old city gate and prison
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Newgate Prison: a vision of hell on earth. Such was the effects of disease, starvation and violence inside that many prisoners did not even make trial.
Daniel Defoe. Author, Journalist (c. 1660-1731)
Captain William Kidd (c. 22 January 1645 - 23 May 1701)[1] was a Scottish sailor who was tried and executed for piracy after returning from a voyage to the Indian Ocean. Some modern historians deem his piratical reputation unjust, as there is evidence that Kidd acted only as a privateer.
Jack Sheppard. And then "he promptly went forth and robbed a pawnbroker's shop in Drury Lane of a sword, a suit of apparel, snuff boxes, rings, &c., and suddenly made a startling appearance among his friends, rigged out as a gentleman from top to toe."

I looked around upon all the horrors of that dismal place. I looked on myself as lost, and that I had nothing to think of but of going out of the world, and that with the utmost infamy: the hellish noise, the roaring, swearing, and clamour, the stench and nastiness, and all the dreadful crowd of afflicting things that I saw there, joined together to make the place seem an emblem of hell itself, and a kind of an entrance into it.

Moll Flanders

Newgate prison

Newgate was a prison in London, it stood on the corner of Newgate Street and Old Bailey. This was just inside the city walls. It was originally located at the site of

‘Newgate’, this was a gate in the Roman walls of London. The gate/prison was rebuilt in the 12th century and demolished in 1777. The prison was built and extended several times and remained in use for over 700 years, from 1188 to 1902.

The first prison at Newgate was built in 1188 on the orders of King Henry II. It was significantly enlarged in 1236 and the executers of Lord Mayor Dick Whittington were granted a licence to renovate the prison in 1422. The prison was completely destroyed by fire during ‘The Great Fire of London.’ in 1666.

In 1672 it was built yet again and then extended into some new buildings on the southern side of the street. This new prison was managed by two annually elected Sheriffs, who in turn, would then sublet the admin side of the prison to ‘private gaolers’ or more commonly known at the time as ‘Keepers,’ who had to pay an annual cost. Meanwhile they were permitted to ask for payment from the prisoners. This made the prison one of the most profitable businesses in London.


One of the most notorious ‘Keepers’ in the Middle Ages were the 14th century gaolers, called ‘Edmund Lorimer.’ He became infamous for charging inmates four times the legal limit for the removal of their ‘irons’ and Hugh DeCroydon, a keeper, was eventually convicted of blackmailing the prisoners who were in his care within the prison walls.

Over the centuries, Newgate was used for a number of purposes, including imprisoning people who were waiting to be executed. However, the prison was not always as secure as it should have been.

Burglar, Jack Sheppard escaped twice from the prison before he went to the Gallows at Tyburn in 1724. The prison chaplain   achieved some fame in the early 18th century for his sometime dubious publication of ‘The Confessions of the Condemned.’

Sessions House

In 1770 the work began in building a new ‘Sessions House’. The building was erected to the plans of George Dance this was almost completed when it was stormed by a mob during the ‘Gordon Riots’ in June 1780. The building was gutted by fire and the walls very badly damaged. The cost of the repairs was £30,000, a huge sum in those days. Dance’s new prison was eventually completed in 1782 after no further problems.

This new prison was divided into two parts, one for the poor prisoners; this was called ‘The Common Area.’ The other part was called ‘The State Side.’ This part was for the prisoners who could afford a more comfortable stay. Each of these two sides was then divided again. This was to accommodate the felons and the debtors.

The Tyburn Jig

In 1783, the site of London’s Gallows was removed from Tyburn to Newgate. The public executions were carried out, outside the prison walls. These public executions drew huge crowds who came in their thousands to see some unimportant little wretch be hanged.

They were always treated as great social events. By this time Newgate had become the main London prison. It was also possible to visit the prison by obtaining a permit from the Lord Mayor of the City of London or a sheriff. The condemned were kept in rather narrow sombre cells. These were separated from Newgate Street by a thick wall and received only a very dim light from the Inner Courtyard. In the winter time it was dark for almost the whole of the day.

The Gallows were constructed outside a window in Newgate  Street until the 20th century. All the future British Hangmen were trained at Newgate, one of the last of these being John Ellis in 1901.

Some of the more notable and prominent prisoners who were housed in Newgate Prison included: –   

John Frith, who was a notable Protestant Priest and martyr.
Daniel Defoe, the author of the famous book, Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders. 
George Gordon, an English Politian whom the ‘Gordon Riots’ were named after.
William Kidd, the infamous pirate and privateer – known as ‘Captain Kidd’. He was taken to the Execution Dock at Wapping and hanged there in 1701.
William Penn, the Quaker who founded the state of Pennsylvania in the USA. 
John Bellingham, the assassin.
Jack Sheppard, the highwayman and escapee.   
Mary Wade, the youngest female convict to be transported to Australia.
Catherine Wilson, a nurse and suspected serial killer. She was the last female who was publicly hanged in London. DavidRowland

Welcome to the Finsbury Publishing

David Rowland has just launched his 15th and final book, “The Spirit of Winsome Winn II”, all about the B-17 Flying Fortress which crashed at Patcham after being hit by anti-aircraft fire over Germany.


Comments about this page

  • Quote: “The Gallows were constructed outside a window in Newgate Street until the 20th century. All the future British Hangmen were trained at Newgate” – not quite right. The gallows was constructed on the pavement outside the Debtors’ Door until 1868, then it moved inside to the Chapel Yard, before a shed was built. And not “all” future hangmen were trained at Newgate – it was demolished in 1903. Training transferred to Holloway or mainly Pentonville.

    By Neil Hort (15/06/2018)

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