Riddled with disease, filthy and unhealthy, London’s Newgate prison was demolished in the early 1900s and is said to have been one of the worst and most notorious prisons in history.
So named because it was originally built into London’s old Roman wall, this hellish prison came to be when Henry II instigated legal reform giving the Crown more authority in administering justice. Newgate was rebuilt several times from the 12th century onwards until its demolition in 1902-04.
Infamous for its horrific conditions (prisoners shackled in sewage-filled cells, and inmates being executed for the pettiest of crimes), after a rebuild in 1782 the prison comprised of two main divisions, a common general section which housed societies poorest and most destitute and more comfortable state accommodation for those who could pay for it. Newgate was also the site of London’s public gallows, having been relocated from Tyburn at modern-day Marble Arch. Up until 1868, the execution of prisoners drew large crowds but after this time condemned men and women went to meet their maker from within the prison walls.
Today we know the site better as the Central Criminal Court, or even better still as the Old Bailey but remnants of the prison do remain. In Amen Court to the rear of the present-day court building, you will find what survives of Newgate prison wall.
Additionally, the prison bell; which rang out when an execution was imminent, can be found a short distance away in St Sepulchre’s church.
Prison Gates on display at the Museum of London
Newgate Prison door, circa 1780
“In 1780, Newgate prison was rebuilt after its destruction in the Gordon riots Behind its monumental iron entrance doors, there were dark and dank prison cells occupied by prisoners awaiting trial, execution and transportation. Executions took place regularly in front of the prison, attracting vast crowds. After witnessing one Charles Dickens wrote that he felt as if he was ‘living in a city of devils'”. – Museum of London