Monday, 2 January 2017

Newgate Prison

Three of my ancestors, Uriah Moses (1780-1847), Richard Holland (1783-1867) and Mary Bateman (1773-1829) spent time in Newgate Prison in London before being transported to Australia.

When we visited London in 2011 we explored the area where Newgate Prison once stood. The prison buildings were closed in 1902 and demolished to enable the rebuilding of the new Central Criminal Court (Old Bailey).
Part of Google map showing Newgate Street- Old Bailey
Corner of Newgate Street and Old Bailey,  former site of  Newgate Prison
Newgate Prison is where the convicts waited to be tried at the Old Bailey and were then kept, often for months or in some cases years, before being taken to the ship that would carry them from England to Australia.

Mary was arrested on 19 April 1788 and tried at the Old Bailey 7 May 1788. She then returned to Newgate until 12 March 1789 when 108 female prisoners were transferred to the transport ship, Lady Juliana.

Uriah waited in Newgate from 8 December 1787 until his trial on 10 January 1788. He then returned to Newgate until 14 February 1799 when he was removed to a prison hulk, Lion, in Portsmouth.

Richard was arrested on 24 May 1806 and was tried at the Old Bailey on 2 July 1806. On 2 January 1807 he was transferred to the prison hulk, Captivity, at Portsmouth.

 Newgate Prison building was situated on corner of Newgate Street and Old Bailey. The original prison was built in the Newgate, the fifth gate built into the wall around London. The prison was rebuilt and extended many times from the end of the twelfth century.
Old Newgate - Wikimedia Commons
In 1666 the prison was destroyed in the Great Fire of London. It was rebuilt and extended in 1672 but the conditions for the prisoners remained appalling. The water supply to the prison was poor, there was inadequate ventilation and there were frequent outbreaks of disease within the prison. New prisoners were put in chains where the weight of the chains depended on what the prisoner could pay the jail keeper. The conditions in which the prisoners lived depended on what they could pay for bedding and food.

Between 1770 and 1778 a new, larger prison designed by George Dance the Younger was built. However, during the Gordon Riots in June 1780, the rioters stoned and set fire to the new prison allowing prisoners to escape. The prison was rebuilt between 1780 and 1783.
Newgate Prison end of nineteenth century - Historic Prisons
The new prison was therefore only a few years old when Uriah was imprisoned there in December 1787 and Mary in April 1788.

During the later years of the 1770s there was a movement to improve conditions in prisons. John Howard (1726-1790) worked for prison reform. He visited prisons throughout England and was not impressed with the conditions. In 1774 he gave evidence to a select committee in the House of Commons before the Gaol Act was passed. The Act was to abolish the payment of fees by prisoners to jailers as well as improve sanitary conditions in jails.

Conditions within English prisons improved but were still not good. Although Newgate Prison was designed to look impressive on the outside conditions inside were basic as prisons were still designed primarily as a detriment to crime.  It was not long before Newgate Prison once again became overcrowded.

The new prison was divided into sections and had three exercise yards. Common prisoners were housed in a different area from those who could afford to pay for better food and conditions. Female convicts were housed in a separate area.
Plan of Newgate Prison - Wikimedia Commons
Within the prison was the chapel. There was also a passage that led to the courtroom where prisoners were tried at the Old Bailey. Another passage led to the place of execution. There was also a burial ground for executed prisoners. The prison structure was altered again in the 1850s.

Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845) worked to improve conditions for female prisoners.

During the nineteenth century authors such as Charles Dickens wrote about conditions at Newgate as well as including descriptions of the prison in some of their books.

A quick search in Google provides a number of sites providing information about Newgate Prison. A sample appears below.

Wikipedia article on Newgate Prison

There is also a short article in Wikipedia on the Newgate.

Last Mile Tours - Newgate Prison

While many of the prisoners were in the prison awaiting trial, others were waiting to be executed. Many prisoners were hanged at Newgate.

Images of Newgate Prison in the 1890s.

Historic UK has an article on Newgate Prison including images of part of the remaining wall.

Knowledge of London includes a photo of the only part of a prison wall that remains. The wall can be viewed in Amen Court at the back of the current Old Bailey building. 

London Lives 1690-1800 has an article about prisons including Newgate Prison.

British History online includes pages from the book, Old and New London (volume 2 published in 1878) about Newgate Prison.

The State Library of Victoria also has a number of titles on Newgate Prison which I will check.
The English Bastille: a history of Newgate Gaol and prison conditions in Britain. 1188-1902 by Anthony Babington 1971.
The gaol: the story of Newgate - London's most notorious prison by Kelly Grovier 2008.
Newgate: London's prototype of hell by Stephen Halliday 2006.
The Old Bailey and Newgate by Charles Gordon 1902.

The London Journal: a review of Metropolitan Society Past & Present vol. 9 (1) 1983 has an article 'Reconstruction of London's Prisons 1770-1799 an aspect of growth of Georgian London.This is also available in the State Library of Victoria.

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