There have been more prisons in London than in any other European city. Of these, Newgate was the largest, most notorious and worst.
Built during the twelfth century, it became a legendary place - the inspiration of more poems, plays and novels than any other building in London. It was a place of cruelty and wretchedness, at various times holding Dick Turpin, Titus Oates, Daniel Defoe, Jack Sheppard and Casanova. Because prisons were privately run, any time spent in prison had to be paid for by the prisoner.
Housing varied from a private cell with a cleaning woman and a visiting prostitute, to simply lying on the floor with no cover. Those who died inside - and only a quarter of prisoners survived until their execution day - had to stay in Newgate as a rotting corpse until relatives found the money for the body to be released.
Stephen Halliday tells the story of Newgate's origins, the criminals it held, the punishments meted out and its rebuilding and reform. This is a compelling slice of London's social and criminal history.
All our lectures are available for free download from the Gresham College website, in video, audio or text formats: gresham.ac.uk
Gresham College professors and guest speakers have been giving free public lectures in central London since 1597. This tradition continues today and you can attend any of our lectures, or watch or listen to them on our website.
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