Newgate Jail was a prison in the City of London, on the junction of Newgate Street and Old Bailey Street. The jail was erected in the 12th century on the site of Newgate, a Roman wall gate in London. From 1188 until 1902, it was in use for nearly 700 years. The jail was dismantled in 1904. In addition, women and children were confined at horrific circumstances in the jail.
Newgate, London’s first jail, was erected by Henry II in 1188. It was close to the city gate and housed largely criminals and lawbreakers. Prisons were frequently located above city gates in the Middle Ages because it was simpler for troops to protect them. Newgate was one of London’s major jails and had a bad reputation. The captives were jammed into cramped, dark cells with no access to food or water. Those sentenced to death were hung near the prison’s entrance and their bodies were left dangling as a deterrent to other inmates.
The situation has not improved over time. Prisoners who could afford to buy wine from the prisoner-run cellar at Newgate’s main entrance stayed continuously inebriated. There were lice everywhere, and the jailers shackled the inmates to the wall to rot and perish. Those sentenced to death were housed in a cellar beneath the keeper’s house, which was a type of open sewer laced with shackles and handcuffs to induce compliance.
Executions by hanging were moved from the Tyburn gallows to London’s Newgate Prison in the late 18th century. These festivities drew large audiences on the public street in front of the jail until 1868, when they were relocated to the prison.
The jail burned down in 1381 during the Wat Tyler Revolt and was rebuilt in 1382. The jail was burned in the Great Fire of London in 1666 and rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren in 1672. Stephen Hales installed a windmill atop the jail in 1752 in an attempt to improve ventilation. John Deval, the King’s Master Mason, began building to extend the jail in 1769.
Up to the twentieth century, future British executioners were trained in Newgate. John Ellis, who started training in 1901, was one of the last. In total, 1,169 persons were executed at the jail, whether publicly or privately.