Newgate Goal was located at the corner of Newgate Street and Old Bailey just inside the city of London. Newgate as the name suggests was originally a gate in the Roman wall.
The first prison at Newgate was built in 1188 on the orders of Henry II. It was significantly enlarged in 1236 and was renovated when the Lord Mayor of London Dick Whittington granted a licence in 1422.
The prison was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666 and was rebuilt in 1672 extending further to the south.
According to medieval statute the prison was managed by two annually elected sheriffs, who would in turn sub-let the administration of the prison to private gaolers – for a price. These gaolers would in turn extract payment directly from the prisoners making the position one of the most profitable in London.
This system inevitably led to what today would be seen as an abuse of power. The prisoners were charged for everything from literally having to pay to enter the gaol, paying to have their chains both put on and taken off, as well as the more obvious things such as food, ale and clothing.
Some of the worst of these gaolers were held to account, Edmund Lorimer was famous for charging four times the legal limit for the removal of irons and Hugh de Croydon was convicted of blackmailing prisoners.
Over the centuries Newgate was used to house people awaiting execution. One of the practices at Newgate was on the Sunday before their execution prisoners due to die the following day, would sit in the condemned pew, this was a large black pen in the centre of the chapel where they could be seen by all their fellow inmates, sometimes their coffins would be placed there next to them. They would listen to prayers said for their souls, join in the responses for their own funeral service and listen to an address warning other prisoners to take warning of their fate.
Newgate wasn’t as secure as it could have been and some did manage to escape. Jack Sheppard famously escaped twice before he finally kept his appointment at Tyburn.
It wasn’t just the prisoners and gaolers that couldn’t be trusted. The prison chaplain Paul Lorraine; one time secretary to Samuel Pepys, published his book the Confessions of the Condemned.
The prison was rebuilt in 1770, the city of London provided a piece of ground 1600 feet long and 50 feet deep to enlarge the gaol and to build a new sessions house (court house). The new building was almost finished when it was stormed by a mob during the Gordon Riots (anti-catholic riots) in June 1780,
The building was gutted by fire and the walls almost destroyed, but on the it was claimed the building had been visited by ‘King Mob’ which is were we get the term from. It cost £30,000 to repair but it was opened in 1782.
The new building was designed to separate the ‘commons’ or poor prisoners from those able to pay for more comfortable accommodation, these were then sub-divided again into felons and debtors.
In 1783 the site of the London gallows was moved from Tyburn (modern day Marble Arch)to Newgate Gaol and executions were held outside the building where they would draw huge crowds, it was also possible to view the condemned in their cells by paying either the Lord Mayor or the Sheriff for a permit.
Until the 20th century all British executioners were trained at Newgate, the last of these was John Ellis in 1901. Amongst some of the more famous prisoners hung by Ellis were Crippin (wife murderer) Seddon (poisoner) Herbert Rowse Armstrong (traitor) and Edith Thompson (husband murderer). As being a hangman was only an occasional occupation, his full time job was as a hairdresser in Rochdale.
The last man hanged in public outside Newgate or anywhere else in Great Britain was Michael Barret a Fenian.
The prison closed in 1902 and was demolished. The Central Criminal Court known as The Old Bailey now stands on the site.