Newgate Prison

Newgate Prison closed in 1902.

It had been operating for about 700 years. It was notorious and had held some surprising criminals such as:

  • Daniel Defoe (Who wrote Moll Flanders and Robinson Crusoe
  • William Kidd (the pirate known as Captain Kidd)
  • Lord George Gordon – UK politician whom the Gordon Riots are named after
  • Sir Thomas Malory – highwayman, possible author of Le Morte d’Arthur
  • Catherine Murphy, an English counterfeiter who became the last woman to be officially executed by burning in England and Great Britain in 1789 – Ouch!

And many, many others. Reformer Elizabeth Fry had for some time been particularly concerned at the conditions in which female prisoners and their children were held (yes children went to prison or were born in prison and stayed with their parents). She presented credible evidence to the House of Commons and improvements were made. In 1858, the interior was rebuilt with individual cells.

A big draw for Newgate were public hangings (I can’t think of anything worse!) these were crowded affairs and many people would gather to see these criminals hang. In fact one of the great events in the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign was a public hanging, a bit like a royal wedding in that the number of spectators might range anywhere from 20,000 up to 100,000, the number, according to The Times, attending Kirkdale Gaol in Liverpool for the mutiple hanging of four men on 11 September 1863.

In amongst the mob one found many of the labouring classes; mill-hands, factory girls and women, bricklayer’s labourers and dock workmen, either hoping for some entertainment on their way to work or enjoying St. Monday. Women and children were frequent spectators and at the last public execution in England, The Times commented on the “blue velvet hats and huge white feathers which lined the great beams which kept the mass from crushing each other in their eagerness to see a man put to death.” At any execution one might see ragged children darting to and fro to “play their usual pranks at the foot of the gallows.”

For about 60% of offences punishable by the death sentence, the magistrates recorded that it had been carried out, then gave a less serious punishment. As the century went on, the number of people who were sentenced to be hanged decreased. Between 1801 and 1837, 13 executions took place in Bedford, but between 1838 and 1878 there were only 4. Despite this, between 1800 and 1900, of the 3524 people sentenced to hang in England and Wales, only 1353 were for murder.

From 1868, public executions were discontinued and executions were carried out on gallows inside Newgate. Michael Barrett was the last man to be hanged in public outside Newgate Prison (and the last person to be publicly executed in Great Britain) on 26 May 1868. In total (publicly or otherwise), 1,169 people were executed at the prison.

The Old Bailey now stands on the site of Newgate Prison.



The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner BBC Audio Drama 1998

First Broadcast 10/05/1998 and is directed by Steve Chambers and stars Roy Marsden, Tom Bevan and Lloyd Notice

Ok, so The Life and Strange surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner was published in 1719 long before the Victorian BUT was seen to be a classic and much enjoyed by our Victorian forebears! (therefore it get’s included)

Written by Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe was one for more than 500 novels. Foe as he was before changing his name was a journalist, and pamphleteer but gained his fame for Robinson Crusoe which I rather enjoyed.

Crusoe sets sail on a sea voyage in August 1651 much against the wishes of his parents who like most sensible parents want him to stay at home and study for a career in law.

His journey comes a quick end that sees his ship wrecked in a storm but foolishly sets out to sea again and this journey also ends in disaster as the ship is taken over pirates and Crusoe ends up in slavery. However he manages to escape after a couple of years and is picked by a ship that is en route to Brazil and there he makes and loses his fortune.

But it is an expedition to illegally bring slaves from Africa in which he is shipwrecked on an island near the mouth of the Orinoco river on September 30, 1659 and he is the only survivor.

Being a practical chap he fetches arms, tools and other supplies from the ship before it breaks apart and sinks and builds a fenced-in ‘castle’ near a cave which he excavates himself.

He hunts and eats off the land, raises goats and also adopts a small parrot. He takes to reading the Bible and becomes religious thanking God for his fate in which nothing is missing but human society.

Some years later he discovers that cannibals use his island to kill and eat prisoners. He manages to help one of the potential feasts to escape and this is of course ‘Friday’ who he teaches English and converts him to Christianity.

Soon an English ship appears but there has been a mutiny and they intend to maroon their former captain on the island. Crusoe and the ship’s captain make a deal.Crusoe and the Captain retake the ship and leave the mutineers on the Island after showing them how to fend for themselves…it saves them from being hung.

And off Robinson Crusoe sails back to England with his friend and trusted servant Friday.