'The Bow Street Office' by Thomas Rowlandson and Augustus Pugin, from Microcosm of London (1808)
The courthouse at Bow Street was opened by Sir Thomas De Veil in 1739. The famous Bow Street Runners were formed by Henry Fielding. They solved crimes and arrested suspects.
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The Old Bailey
'Old Bailey' by Thomas Rowlandson and Augustus Pugin, from Microcosm of London (1808)
The court at the Old Bailey was held eight times a year. It heard cases of crime committed in the City of London and the County of Middlesex. The most serious crimes were tried in this court. In this print a witness is being cross-examined. Even today, the Old Bailey is the country's most important crown court, though it is now known as the Central Criminal Court. The present day building is a twentieth-century construction.
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'Newgate Chapel' by Thomas Rowlandson and Augustus Pugin, from Microcosm of London (1808)
Newgate took its name from one of the gates of the City of London. It was the jail for the most serious criminals. According to William Pyne, author of the Microcosm of London (1808), on the Sunday before the condemned were scheduled to die, the 'Ordinary' (the clergyman) of Newgate preached a special sermon in the jail's chapel. A black coffin would be placed on a table in the centre of the chapel (known as the dock). Those condemned to die sat immediately around the coffin. (Can you see the Ordinary in the picture?)
The political activist, Francis Place, described his experience of visiting Newgate Prison in the mid-1790s:
In 1794 I was several times in Newgate on visits to persons confined for libel &c - one Sunday in particular I was there when several respectable women were also there - relatives of those I went to see. When the time for leaving the prison arrived we came in a body of nine or ten persons into a large yard which we had to cross - into this yard a number of felons were admitted and they were in such a condition that we were obliged to request the jailer to compel them to tie up their rags so as conceal their bodies which were most indecently exposed and was I have no doubt intentional to alarm the women and extort money from the men. When they had made themselves somewhat decent we came into the yard, and were pressed upon and almost hussled by the felons whose arms and voices demanding money made a frightful noise and alarmed the women. I who understood these matters collected all the halfpence I could and by throwing a few at a time over the heads of the felons set them scrambling swearing all but fighting whilst the women and the rest made their way as quickly as possible across the yard.
British Library, Add. MS, 27,826, 'Place papers. Vol.XXXVIII: Manners and Morals, vol.II', fol.186
The reformer, Elizabeth Fry, wrote this letter to her children in 1813:
I have lately been twice to Newgate to see after the poor prisoners who had poor little infants without clothing or with very little and I think if you saw how small a piece of bread they are each allowed a day you would be very sorry.
I could not help thinking, when there, what sorrow and trouble [is experienced by] those who do wrong, and they have not the satisfaction and comfort of feeling among all their trials, that they have endeavoured to do their duty.
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The execution of Lord Ferrers at Tyburn in 1760. Ferrers was convicted of murdering his steward in a trial in the House of Lords. Tyburn was used as a place of execution up to 1783.
The executions of people convicted in the Gordon Riots in 1780, witnessed by Samuel Rogers:
I recollect seeing a whole cartload of young girls in dresses of various colours on the way to be executed at Tyburn. They had all been condemned for having been concerned in (perhaps for having been spectators of) the burning of some houses ... it was quite horrible.
The reformer Elizabeth Fry saw Elizabeth Fricker hours before she was executed. She wrote about the meeting in her diary (March 1817):
Her hands were cold and covered with something like the sweat preceding death ... There were also six men to be hanged, one of whom has a wife near confinement, also condemned, and seven young children.
A strait waistcoat [straitjacket] could not keep him within bounds: he had just bitten the Turnkey; I saw the man come out with his hand bleeding, as I passed the cell.
The Swiss traveller, Cesar De Saussure, wrote of his experience of viewing an execution at Tyburn in the late 1720s.
Criminals are not executed immediately after their trial, as they are abroad, but are given several days to prepare for death. During that time they may ask for anything that they require either for the soul or for the body. The chaplain of the prison (for there is one) does not leave them, and offers every consolation in his power. The day before the execution those who desire it may receive the sacrament, provided the chaplain thinks that they have sincerely repented and are worthy of it. On the day of execution the condemned prisoners, wearing a sort of white linen shirt over their clothes and a cap on their heads, are tied two together and placed on carts with their backs to the horses' tails. These carts are guarded and surrounded by constables and other police officers on horseback, each armed with a sort of pike. In this way part of the town is crossed and Tyburn, which is a good half-mile from the last suburb, is reached, and here stands the gibbet. One often sees criminals going to their deaths perfectly unconcerned, others so impenitent that they fill themselves full of liquor and mock at those who are repentant. When all the prisoners arrive at their destination they are made to mount on a very wide cart made expressly for the purpose, a cord is passed round their necks and the end fastened to the gibbet, which is not very high. The chaplain who accompanies the condemned men is also on the cart; he makes them pray and sing a few verses of the Psalms. The relatives are permitted to mount the cart and take farewell. When the time is up - that is to say about a quarter of an hour - the chaplain and relations get off the cart, the executioner covers the eyes and faces of the prisoners with their caps, lashes the horses that draw the cart, which slips from under the condemned men's feet, and in this way they remain all hanging together.
You often see friends and relations tugging at the hanging men's feet so that they should die quicker and not suffer. The bodies and clothes of the dead belong to the executioner; relatives must, if they wish for them, buy them from him, and unclaimed bodies are sold to surgeons to be dissected. You see most amusing scenes between the people who do not like the bodies to be cut up and the messengers the surgeons have sent for the bodies; blows are given and returned before they can be got away, and sometimes the populace often come to blows as to who will carry the bought corpses to the parents who are waiting...
C. De Saussure, A Foreign View of England in 1725-29: The Letters of Monsieur Cesar De Saussure to His Family (Translated and edited by Madame Van Muyden, London, 1995), pp.77-8
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