Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Newgate Prison, Casanova, and Captain Kidd

Newgate Prison was long a London landmark. It stood on the site of a gate in the Roman Wall for more that 700 years, just to the south of Bart's Hospital, at the corner of today's Newgate Street and Old Bailey. The first Newgate Prison was built in 1188 and looked something like this:

It was rebuilt several times.The last was erected in 1782. 

The "new" Newgate became the scene of public executions the following year, 1783, when they were moved from Tyburn to outside the prison gates.

Large crowds gathered to watch the hangings, often paying large sums for good observation posts. Hawkers sold "confessions" of the condemned as well food and drink to the crowds. All in all, kind of like modern sports events. 


That sort of entertainment ended in 1868, when executions were moved inside the prison walls. Around that time, French artist Gustave Dore drew the following picture of the prisoners' exercise yard at Newgate.

Newgate was closed in 1902 and demolished. It is now the site of London's Central Criminal Court, known as the Old Bailey after the street it fronts upon.  A statue of Justice upon its roof announces its purpose.

Famous prisoners of Newgate included Ben Jonson, Daniel Defoe, alleged pirate Captain William Kidd, Casanova, and William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania. Of this group, only Kidd was executed, but he was hanged at Wapping Dock on the River Thames, as was the custom with pirates.

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