The oldest prison and jail in the United States was built about 200 years ago. The oldest New Jersey prison dates back to 1798, but that’s nothing compared to the origins of some prisons around the world.
If you’re a prison history buff, you’ve probably heard of the infamous Newgate Gaol. Newgate Prison is located at the corner of Newgate Street and Old Bailey Street in the former City of London, not far from St. Paul’s Cathedral. It was built on the site of the gate of the Roman London City Wall in the 12th century. The facility opened in 1188.
To this day, the mere mention of the name of this dreadful prison brings chills to Londoners. But does it still hold up? Is it still working? Can you visit Newgate Gaol?
In today’s blog post, I will cover the following topics:
- A glimpse into the rich history of Newgate Gaol
- Famous inmates of Newgate Prison
- Newgate Gaol demolished in 1904
- What is the site of Newgate Prison?
- still have tourism (sort of)
A glimpse into the rich history of Newgate Gaol
Newgate Gaol opened in 1188 after Henry II ordered its construction. It has been a fully functioning facility for over 700 years. During that time, it was repeatedly expanded and rebuilt, keeping all types of criminals inside its walls. For most of its history, a series of criminal courts were attached to the prison, often referred to as the “Old Bailey”.
By the 15th century, Newgate was in dire need of repair. When locals learned that the women’s section was too small and had no toilets, the prison added a separate tower and cells just for women.
The original building was also crumbling and decaying, and many prisoners died from the close quarters, overcrowding, rampant disease, and poor sanitation. Things got so bad that city officials temporarily closed the jail in 1419.
The prison was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666 and rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren in 1672. His design expanded the complex into new buildings on the south side of the street.
In 1770, work began on expanding the prison and adding new courtrooms. The new jail was built with an “architecturally dire” design aimed at deterring lawbreakers.
Arranged around a central courtyard, the building is divided into two parts – a “common” area for poor prisoners and a “state” area for those who can afford to pay for more comfortable accommodation. Each section is subdivided to accommodate felons and debtors.
The new Newgate Gaol opened in 1782 after the Gordon Riots of 1780, when a mob stormed the facility and burned it down, nearly destroyed the building.
In 1783, the gallows in London was moved from Tyburn Tree in the west of the city to the Gaol, which became the main place of executions. The public was not allowed to watch the execution until May 26, 1868, and tickets were sold for the best viewing locations.
After 1868, public executions ceased and were carried out on gallows in prisons. The Dead Man’s Walk is a long passage of stone slabs, partly open to the sky, and covered with iron mesh (also known as the Birdcage Walk). Executed criminals were buried beneath the stone slabs, and their initials were carved into the stone walls above.
A total of 1,169 people were publicly or otherwise executed at Newgate Prison.
Famous inmates of Newgate Prison
this list of famous prisoners Many people have worked at Newgate. Pennsylvania founder William Penn is in jail for contempt of court after allegedly refusing to remove his hat during his trial as a Quaker.
Daniel Defoe – Author Robinson Crusoe and Moore Flanders— imprisoned at Newgate in 1703 for seditious libel.protagonist in the play Moore Flanders The novel was born and imprisoned in Newgate. Poet and playwright Oscar Wilde was briefly imprisoned in 1895 and pirate captain Kidd was hanged from Newgate.
Newgate Gaol demolished in 1904
Newgate Gaol was finally closed in 1902. In 1904 it was demolished. The original iron gate leading to the gallows has been used for decades in an alley in Buffalo, New York. It is currently located at Canisius College.
The original door to the prison cell that housed St. Oliver Plunkett in 1681 is on display at St. Peter’s Church in Drogheda, Ireland.
As referenced in countless works of literature, movies, TV shows, games, and other media, prisons are perpetuated through popular culture.
Newgate Gaol has featured in many of Charles Dickens’ works, including Little Dolittle, Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities, Barnaby Larch: A Tale of Eighties Riots and Great Expectations. Newgate is also the subject of an entire essay in his work, Boz’s sketches.
Other literature depicting prisons includes:
- Jonathan Barnes sleepwalker
- Selected Works of Geoffrey Chaucer The Canterbury Tales (Chef’s Tales)
- novel by bernard cornwell gallows thief
- novel by michael clayton Great Train Robbery
- novel by daniel defoe Moore Flanders
- novel by margaret henry king of wind
- novel by louis lamour to the blue mountains
- The Star of the Sea by Joseph O’Connor
- Neil Stephenson’s baroque cycle
Other popular culture references to Newgate Prison include the film Plunkett and McLea, Online Interactive Fiction Game fallen london, wachowski sisters films V for Vendetta, and TV series primary.
What is the site of Newgate Prison?
Today, the former site of Newgate Prison is occupied by the ‘new’ Old Bailey, London’s main central criminal court. Outside, the only reminder to passersby that this was once a prison is a simple plaque on the courthouse wall. In Amen Court, a cul-de-sac of nearby residences, there are some remnants of the prison’s east wall.
Across the street from the ‘new’ Old Bailey is a Victorian gin palace known as the Viaduct Tavern. Rumor has it that the last remnants of the old cells of Newgate Gaol are hidden in this building.
The Viaduct Tavern was originally built as a watering hole for workers working on the nearby Viaduct, but was converted into a fine gin palace in 1869. Downstairs in the pub – past the cellar filled with beer barrels – visitors can find what are believed to be old Newgate Gaol cells.
The locals’ story is that a tunnel once connected these prison cells to the main facility across the street. However, it is not clear if this is true or just a local legend.It is also possible that these cells were part of the old debtors’ prison, known as Earl of Giltzpur Street.
still have tourism (sort of)
If you ever get a chance to visit a Viaduct Tavern, head down to the basement wine cellar if you ask the bar staff. If you’re interested in visiting Newgate Prison, obviously not.However, there are free walking tour What’s available covers the three miles from Newgate to Tyburn during the Dead Man’s Walk (before the gallows was moved to the prison).
Tourists gather at St Paul’s Station, pass by the famous old cathedral, and stop at the Old Bailey. From there, you’ll “trace the three-mile journey of the condemned” before eventually arriving at Marble Arch, where the dreaded Tyburn tree is located.
“Along the way, stories of crime, retribution and punishment in dark times will teach us about the fate of those who broke the law in the past, and the myriad ways in which they died in London’s dark past,” final journey Travel sites to read.
The tour does contain descriptions of acts of violence and gore. It is not suitable for children or those who are delicate. Locations and topics covered by the tour include:
- St. Paul’s Cathedral
- old bailey
- Newgate Prison (Reserved)
- Church of the Holy Sepulcher
- Holborn Viaduct
- Hatton Gardens (Diamond District)
- oxford street
- marble arch
you can Click here to book your free walking tour. They take place on Mondays, starting at 10:00 am and lasting about two and a half hours.
Have you visited the ruins of Newgate Prison in London? Let us know in the comments below.
Sources: Hidden Cells of Newgate Prison Free Tours By Foot: The Final Journey 8 Oldest Prisons in America https://www.oldest.org/structures/prisons-us/#:~:text=New%20Jersey%20State%20Prison&text=What%20is%20this%3F,-Report%20Ad&text=While%20the%20New%20Jersey%20State,the%20oldest%20prison%20in%20America. Giltspur Street Compter Prisons and Lockups