Posts Tagged ‘newgate prison’

The Magpie and Stump in Old Bailey was famously a venue where – if you could afford it – you could get your kicks on a Monday morning watching the hanging outside Newgate Prison opposite. Although its building is now modern, the new licencee has refurbished the place to remind us of its macabre past. Here, beer historian Martyn Cornell ponders how far back we can trace this historical tavern.

A guest post by Martyn Cornell.

My library of pub books only seems to have a few brief mentions of the Magpie and Stump and none gives a definite age, though we can certainly push it back to nearly 300 years old at least. City of London Pubs (Richards and Curl, 1973) says it changed its name to the King of Denmark “[w]hen James I married Anne, a daughter of King Christian IV”, changing it back to the Magpie and Stump only after “many years elapsed”. If correct, this would mean the pub was around in 1589, which was when the marriage took place. There are a couple of problems here, though: Anne was the daughter of Frederick II, not Christian IV, who was her brother (though he WAS king of Denmark at the time of his sister’s marriage to James), and while James was, of course, heir presumptive to Elizabeth I in 1589, I’m not sure a pub in London would name itself after the royal brother-in-law of the ruler of a rival kingdom.

However, after James succeeded Elizabeth on the English throne, Christian IV came to visit his sister and brother-in-law, in 1606, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised that the pub was renamed then: though according to this book  even before Christian’s visit, the Danes and their king had a reputation in England for being heavy drinkers. If the pub wasn’t actually renamed at the time of Charles IV’s visit to London, which seems perfectly possible, it seems just as likely it would have been renamed at some slightly earlier time around after a well-known heavy drinker with strong family links to the new king of England.

Whatever the true story here, the pub appears as “the Magpie” in the Vade Mecum for Maltworms, the rhyming “good pub guide” probably written by Edward “Ned” Ward and published around 1718, with the entry revealing that the inn sign showed the bird sitting on a stump, so it is definitely that old, at least, albeit under a shorter version of today’s name: The scan shows that it appears to have been a hangout of supporters of the (long-vanished) Commonwealth, as well as the “thieves, thieftakers and turnkeys” you might expect from its position by the prison, that the landlord’s name was “Sk–ck” (Skeock would be my guess – a rare North East of England/Scottish surname), and that the house tipple was Twopenny, which was a type of pale ale.

magpie and stump

Its politics look to be confirmed by a mention in Larwood and Hotten’s History of Signboards, which says that the Magpie and Stump “was the sign of one of the Whig pothouses in the Old Bailey during the riots of 1715”, that is, the Mug-House riots between supporters of the Hanoverians and the Stuarts, something confirmed by this entry from Chamber’s Book of Days  which again says the pub was just “the Magpie” in the early 18th century: presumably “and stump” was added because of what the inn sign showed.

HE Popham’s The Taverns In the Town (1937) says the Magpie and Stump at that time “bears a sign telling that it has been established over two hundred years”, which appears to have been an under-estimate even then. It also gives the story of “the gentry” hiring rooms at the pub to watch the public hangings that took place at Newgate Prison from 1783 to 1868. The Old Inns of London (Stanley, 1957) pretty much rehashes what Popham says.


Martyn Cornell, who is a journalist and award-winning author, is one of our leading authorities on the history of British beer, the subject of his book, Amber, Gold and Black (2010). He also has an excellent blog: Martyn Cornell’s Zythophile.


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Amelia Dyer

Amelia Dyer

On this day in 1896, Amelia Dyer –  having been tried and found guilty at the Old Bailey – was hanged at Newgate prison for murder. Her victim was a baby called Doris Marmon. But baby Doris was one of possibly hundreds of babies murdered by Dyer in her role as a “baby farmer”. Baby farming was a late Victorian profession, or service. At at a time when having an illigitimate child carried considerable social stigma, contraception was virtually non-existent and abortion both illegal and highly dangerous, unmarried mothers frequently handed their babies over to baby farmers, i.e. surrogate mothers. The fee was usually £10 – £12, with normally a monthly payment on top, around five shillings.

Unfortunately, not a few baby farmers took the cash and murdered the babies. The most notorious and prolific was Dyer. She was a trained nurse from Bristol who managed to continue her foul deeds by staying on the move, changing her name and other slippery tactics. Her orbit was the south west, in an area encompassing Somerset, Berkshire, Gloucestershire and Bristol. Her only connection to London was her trial and death. But London did have its own baby farm murderers, who included: Margaret Waters, convicted in 1870 of murdering five children in the Brixton area; Anna Chard-Williams of Barnes, the last woman to be hanged at Newgate, in 1899; partners in crime Annie Walters and Amelia Sach – the “Finchley Baby Farmers” – who were the first prisoners to be executed at the new Holloway Prison in 1903.

Wikipedia is very good on the Amelia Dyer story, and there’s a good background on baby farm murderers here.

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execution of 1st duke of monmouthThere can hardly be a more fascinating dramatis personae in London’s rich story than that of the Restoration. Aside from the king himself, we have playwrights, diarists, scientists, architects, building developers, projectors, wheeler-dealers of every stripe. Everybody striving, but striving in a general atmosphere of paranoia and fear. For the issues which dominated this highly politicised, religious and violent of centuries still persisted.

And so we come the legal profession, which was  kept extremely busy. Dozens of barristers making a name for themselves either defending or prosecuting Catholics and recusants, in fact anyone straying from the restored Anglican orthodoxy. From Judge Jeffreys at the pinnacle wielding terrible justice to the prisoners at the bottom. On the rung barely just above them, their own gaolers and executioners. Most notorious of these was Jack Ketch (unknown – 1686). Sometimes referred to John, his surname frequently rendered as “Catch”, his onomatopoeic moniker quickly became the stuff of legend, invoked even by frustrated parents as a warning to miscreant toddlers.

Even though Ketch was a public executioner almost continuously between 1666 and 1678, his background remains a mystery. Date of birth unknown, it’s thought that he came from Ireland. It is known that he lived near Grey’s Inn Road and was buried in Clerkenwell in 1686, predeceasing his wife, Katherine.

With at least eight public executions a year, at Tyburn and elsewhere in the capital, it is certain that Ketch would have despatched hundreds of prisoners, almost all by hanging. Those who were found guilty of treason were also drawn and quartered at his hand. The heads of traitors, as was the custom, were displayed on London Bridge, Temple Bar and other notable landmarks. The corpses of many prisoners who were not quartered, were instead gibbeted, that is to say displayed in a cage which was hung up near busy roadways. In order to make body parts and corpses last longer, the executioner would first immerse them in boiling pitch. Ketch did this at his headquarters in Newgate Prison which hence became known as Jack Ketch’s Kitchen.

Executioner is a macabre profession in any age, and there were many over the years, so why did Ketch become so notorious? First, there was his longevity in the job. Second, he was known to be unpleasant, and very frequently extremely drunk, on and off the job. Third, he was avaricious. He was constantly in dispute with the authorities over payment for quartering and “boylinge” of the bodies. A further stream of revenue, it was customary for the executioner to keep the clothes of the condemned, often very fancy in the case of the wealthy, people preferred to look their best en route to the scaffold. But in addition, the prisoner would often bribe the executioner with as much as he could afford, to despatch him as painlessly and quickly as possible. Ketch was known to milk this particular system in full. One has to wonder, therefore, how he ended up doing a spell in the Marshalsea for debt.

After 1678, Ketch continued to work as an executioner until his death and it’s from this period that almost certainly he derives his notoriety, in particular for his appalling incompetence in the beheadings of William, Lord Russell in 1683 for the Rye House Plot; and the Duke of Monmouth in 1685 for his failed attempt on the throne itself. Beheadings during this period were relatively few, reserved for the high-born only. In earlier times it was customary to engage a specialist, often from the Continent, to do the job. Ketch had no experience as an axe-wielder and so he proved. In the case of Lord Russell, despite being given between ten and thirty guineas (accounts vary) to do a good job, he took at least three blows to sever the noble’s head, the first of which struck Russell on the shoulder! Some say Ketch had been deliberately vindictive, others that he was blind drunk. Perhaps he was both.

Two years later it was Monmouth’s turn. The Duke gave Ketch six guineas with a promise of more from his servant after the act and demanded that he do a better job this time:

Do not serve me as you did my Lord Russel. I have heard you struck him three or four times…

In vain. Ketch took a least five strikes this time. Halfway through he cast down his axe in frustration and was ordered to continue. In the end, he had to finish the task with a knife. The crowd were up in arms. The diarist John Evelyn wrote:

five Chopps … so incens’d the people, that had he not ben guarded & got away they would have torne him to pieces.

A year later, Ketch himself was dead.

But his fame was well established in his own time. Poems, ballads, pamphlets, broadsheets, essays abounded, all laced with hefty dollops of black humour, irony and sarcasm. Within a generation he was resurrected, reinvented as the hangman in Punch and Judy shows, the one whom Mr Punch tricks into hanging himself.

Wikipedia, as per.
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (sub required), profile by Tim Wales
Newgate: London’s Prototype of Hell by Stephen Halliday

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newgate: london's prototype of hellBack from freezing France where I was, at least, able to do some chunky reading, quickly despatching the above-titled narrative history of Newgate prison by Stephen Halliday. The descpription “prototype of Hell” comes from Henry Fielding, one of the 18th century’s big personalities. A dramatist, writer and impressario, on becoming the chief magistrate of Bow Street, he set to work cleaning up the local criminal justice and penal landscape which had become saturated in corruption. Unfortunately, after the death of his brother John who succeeded him, the system soon returned to its old ways.

The Fieldings were two participants of dozens who populate the Newgate story. The prison, sited next door to the Old Bailey, witnessed the trials, incarceration and deaths of many thousands of men and women for some seven centuries. More died from disease within its walls than ever did at the gallows. Along with petty criminals and debtors, its inmates included celebrities such as Dr Dodd, Jonathan Wild and Jack Sheppard, political agitators, traitors, sex offenders and those deemed to be a general thorn in the side of authority such as the writer Daniel Defoe. All the significant dramatis personae of the Newgate story here are given separate pen-portraits, an approach I really like. One can take a break from the narrative and make a mental note to find out more later about those whose story extends beyond their relationship with the prison.

The value of this book is not just in the absorbing tale of Britain’s most notorious prison, but the history of crime and punishment in England across the ages and society’s response to them. One soon gets the measure of the essentially medieval system that persisted through to the late Georgian period and how it failed to contain crime, despite the “Bloody Code”, in the world’s most populous city. But the most interesting part of the story is how the penal system was thorougly transformed, from its faltering beginnings with the Fieldings through the Victorian era and into the 20th Century.

One would think it not too challenging to write a story as colourful as Newgate’s that was thoroughly entertaining and indeed, Stephen Halliday achieves this with ease. But the reward of a good history book is to leave the reader truly enlightened on a particular subject and in this the author is throroughly successful.

Newgate: London’s Prototype of Hell by Stephen Halliday, The History Press, 2006. 317 pp. ISBN 978-0-7509-3896-9,

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Dr William Dodd by John Russell

Dr William Dodd by John Russell, ©National Portrait Gallery, London.

When visiting Dr Johnson’s House recently, I was intrigued by the story of Dr William Dodd (1729 – 1777), a portrait of whom is on display there (not the one featured here). I met him again a few days ago where he is covered in Stephen Halliday’s excellent book about Newgate Prison (page 109), which I’m reading.

Dodd, a clergyman, was a social-climber, dilettante and bon viveur who, in order to support his lifestyle, put himself in terrible debt: this ultimately cost him his life. But he seemed to be well-liked as evidenced by the trouble that many influential people took to see him pardoned. To no avail.

In 1777, Dodd was tried for forgery and sentenced to death by hanging. Finding himself in insurmountable debt, he had forged a bond in the name of his friend the Earl of Chesterfield for £4,200, a whopping sum. The Earl himself did not wish for the prosecution to proceed, but matters were out of his hands. Even at his trial, the jurors themselves did not wish for Dodd to be condemned to death. There followed a petition of 37,000 to have him pardoned. Samuel Johnson and others vigorously petitioned for his life to be spared and the matter eventually reached the King. Despite Dodd having once been the King’s own chaplain, George III decided that he could not make a special case, and the flamboyant reverend’s fate was sealed.

Or was it? One of Dodd’s many past preoccupations was the development of a method to resuscitate victims of hanging. He collaborated on this with the eminent surgeon Dr Hunter and even published a paper on it. The procedure involved the immersion of the corpse in a warm bath. Immediately after his execution at Tyburn, Dodd’s friends rushed his body to a private house and attempted his own innovation to return  him to life, but unfortunately their efforts failed.

There is much more to tell about the fascinating Dr Dodd, a true eccentric. I recommend you follow the Wikipedia link above, whence there are excellent further external links.

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jack sheppard

Jack Sheppard, engraving by George White, after original portrait by James Thornhill (Wm. Hogarth's father-in-law)

It can’t have escaped your notice that I’ve been on a bit of a London gaols thing of late, notably Newgate prison.

Today marks the execution at Tyburn in 1724 of Jack Sheppard, possibly Newgate’s most notorious inmate, a huge celebrity in his day. He met his fate aged just 22. A promising carpenter by trade, he became a common criminal, capturing the imagination of Londoners through a string of audacious escapes in the brief six month period leading up to his execution.

Escape #1. Having been betrayed by his brother Tom, a fellow-felon and partner in crime, Sheppard was initially set up by Jonathan Wild, a criminal gang-master and fence, who nonetheless operated on both sides of the law, working for the other side when it suited him. Sheppard was invited to play a game of skittles, there apprehended and locked up in St Giles Roundhouse. Within three hours he had broken through the ceiling and lowered himself to the ground from the room above using the classic rope of bedclothes. He made his getaway, still manacled.

Escape #2. Sheppard is caught pickpocketing on 19 May and banged up in St Ann’s Roundhouse.  He is joined there by his girlfriend  Elizabeth Lyon (who was instrumental in leading him into the criminal life in the first place). They are transferred to New Prison, Clerkenwell,  where they spend some days filing through their manacles. Once again, on 25 May, Sheppard uses the knotted bedclothes method for the both of them to depart the building, negotiate a twenty foot wall, and make their escape.

By now, Sheppard’s exploits are reaching a wide audience.

Escape #3. Sheppard immediately resumed his career but once again was betrayed by his associates, including Jonathan Wild. He was arrested on 23 July and charged with burglary. On 12 August, he was convicted and sentenced to death, the date of execution being set for 4 September . This time he found himself an inmate of Newgate prison. On 31 August, he had visitors, who distracted the guards sufficiently for Sheppard to remove the bars of the window and get away yet again, this time disguised as a woman.

Escape #4. Sheppard was re-captured on 9 September in Finchley and returned to Newgate. He now had super celebrity status and received dozens of admiring and curious visitors. This time he was incarcerated in a strong room,  manacled and chained much more securely and furthermore padlocked to metal staples attached to the floor. Nonetheless, he laughed at his gaolers’ efforts and was right to do so. On 15 October, Sheppard managed to remove his handcuffs and chains, but still manacled broke through a series of six doors, gaining access to the prison chapel, then via the roof of the prison itself and onto the roof of a neighbouring house. He broke through the house and escaped out of the front door.

Once again, Sheppard sought refuge in the country, and once again was drawn back to the city. He was apprehended one last time, the authorities on this occasion taking no chances, chaining him to heavy weights under 24 hour guard. He spurned the opportunity for a reduced sentence in return for shopping his accomplices, and on 16 November, was hanged. The crowd that gathered for his final procession and execution was estimated at 200,000, over ten times the throng for a high-profile despatch.

Jack Sheppard became an instant legend. Already he had had his portrait painted in prison and been the subject of dozens of pamphlets and newssheets. After death he was the object of biographies, ballads, plays and musicals, not least The Beggars’ Opera.

There is excellent coverage on Jack Sheppard at Wikipedia,  here.

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Yesterday’s trip to town started at St Sepulchre without Newgate, my “new experience of the day”. It is diagonally opposite the Old Bailey, the former site of Newgate Prison, on the junction of Newgate Street and Old Bailey. It’s celebrated in the nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons with the line: When will you pay me? say the Bells of Old Bailey.

St Sepulchre is one of the larger of our City churches, originally being in a well-populated parish outside the wall (“without Newgate”). In common with many of the others, it bears the scars of time. Although founded in the 12th Century and dedicated to St Edmund, the oldest parts of the extant building, namely the tower, the porch and the outer walls, date from the mid-16th century. Following severe damage in the Great Fire, the parishioners, too impatient to wait for Wren to get around to them, were able to engage one of his leading stonemasons to restore the church very quickly in 1670.

"St Sepulchre without Newgate"

St Sepulchre without Newgate


The Execution Bell

The Execution Bell

The Execution Bell
My main interest in the church is its relationship with Newgate Prison down the centuries, in particular with regard to condemned prisoners. These unfortunates, on the day of their execution, were literally carted from Newgate to Tyburn. On these particular days, and on no other, the bells of St Sepulcre were rung. From 1605 there began a macabre ritual whereby at midnight on the eve of execution, a man would go to the prison via a tunnel that ran underneath the street, stand outside the cell of the condemned, ring a handbell and recite a grisly rhyme:

All you that in the condemned hole do lie,
Prepare you for tomorrow you shall die;
Watch all and pray: the hour is drawing near
That you before the Almighty must appear;
Examine well yourselves in time repent,
That you may not to eternal flames be sent.
And when St. Sepulchre’s Bell in the morning tolls
The Lord above have mercy on your soul. 

As if the prisoners were not suitably traumatised already! Today the bell is displayed in a glass case in the church.

St Sepulchre is also the regimental church of the Royal Fusiliers, whose monument in High Holborn I referred to last week. The south aisle is dominated by their chapel, standards and battle honours. Some of their better known recruits, for all the wrong reasons, were the Kray twins, who did their national service with the regiment. Ronnie and Reggie ended up in the Tower for going AWOL!

In addition to all of this, from the mid-20th Century, St Sepulchre became known as the Musician’s Church and their are stained glass windows commemorating John Ireland, Sir Henry Wood and Dame Nellie Melba. The church frequently hosts recitals.

One last thing. In the middle of the south aisle, there is a stained glass window dedicated to Captain John Smith, early American pioneer of Pocahontas fame. He was a parishioner and is buried somewhere in the church, the exact location lost due to the Great Fire.

I cannot recommend too highly a visit to this fascinating church.

Prison Cell in Giltspur Street

Prison Cell in Giltspur Street

I nipped across the road to the Viaduct Tavern pub, wafted my London Historians card, and requested that the barmaid accompany me to the cells in the basement. Many sources claim that these cells were from Newgate prison. This is not possible. Far more likely that they were from Giltspur Street Compter, previously covered here. I took a few pictures, and took my leave.

Quick tube to Leicester Square and a stroll down Whitehall through driving rain past the Cenotaph to the Garden of Remembrance at Westminster. “Doing my bit” for Armistice Day. The builders’ hoardings that recently obscured the statues of World War II top brass field marshalls Montgomery, Alanbrook and Slim are now gone.

Dark now. Back up Whitehall to Covent Garden. I had an hour to kill, which I spent in Stanfords. Very dangerous. Managed to escape having spent just £27.50, could have been worse. London street map from 1891; two area maps (Charing Cross area, 1871 ; St Paul’s area map, 1873); Newgate, London’s Prototype of Hell  by Stephen Halliday.

Northern Line to Warren Street and a short walk to UCL. Dark now. Nearly get killed crossing Tottenham Court Road when a gust of wind blows away my M&S tweed cap. Straight into a large puddle. Typical.

On to the UCL campus for the Colin Matthew Memorial Lecture by Professor Amanda Vickery. The topic was What did eighteenth-century men want? Professor Vickery told us how the modern image of bachelorhood as being a carefree, manly lifestyle – indeed, something to be admired among the Loaded generation –  is quite the opposite of that during the 18th Century. Older bachelors were portrayed in art and literature as being physically poor specimens and social misfits. Failures in life. This was sharply in contrast to the manly head of the marital household: hard-working, worthy, virile, deserving. Professor Vickery illustrated all of this with very amusing slides and diary entries by seemingly rather naive young men, desperately wooing any eligible young ladies who socially crossed their bows.

Professor Vickery has presented history programmes on Radio 4 recently and her forthcoming series, At Home with the Georgians, airs in the very near future on BBC2. Look out for it.

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