This display features a wide range of serious crimes and lesser felonies of the 18th and early 19th centuries. Some of the prints are cheap products of the gutter press while others are expensive copies of famous paintings. Some of the incidents are trivial and the punishments unduly harsh. Others, such as the execution of Louis XVI, King of France, changed the course of history. Victims are featured as well as villains and a number of scenes show the interiors of London’s most infamous prisons.
More crime took place in 18th-century London than anywhere else in the country. Some of the most notorious landmarks, such as the Bridewell prison and the Tyburn gallows gave their names to similar sites around the realm. The London institutions that dealt with crime, the administration of justice and punishment were situated conveniently close together. The Bridewell and the Fleet prisons lay beside the Fleet River, just west of St Paul’s Cathedral and Newgate Prison was next to the Old Bailey Sessions House. The Kings Bench and Marshalsea prisons were just across the Thames in Southwark and the Inns of Court, where the lawyers gathered, were north of Fleet Street and the Strand.
The Marshalsea and the Fleet prisons were already well established when they were sacked during the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. They both housed debtors, but since prisoners had to pay for food and lodging, it became increasingly difficult for them to gain their freedom. William Hogarth’s father was imprisoned in the Fleet Prison from 1708-1712, a hateful experience to which he refers in his paintings and prints. Charles Dickens’s father was imprisoned for debt in the Marshalsea, which featured in his novel ‘Little Dorrit’. Both prisons closed in 1842 when an Act of Parliament phased out imprisonment for debt.
The Bridewell, a former royal palace, was founded for homeless children and to punish disorderly women. In 1700 it was the first prison to appoint a doctor and it functioned as a prison, hospital and workrooms housing paupers, vagrants, prostitutes and single mothers. Newgate Prison, located on the site of a gate in the Roman London Wall, was the most hated of all and housed some of London’s most dangerous prisoners and those awaiting execution. It was set on fire during the Gordon Riots of 1780 when many prisoners died and 300 escaped. On execution days the bell of St Sepulchre’s church was tolled and a religious service was conducted inside Newgate for those condemned to die. They travelled in open wagons to be hanged at Tyburn (where Marble Arch stands today), until 1783 when public executions were transferred to Newgate itself.
Trials took place at the Justice Hall or Sessions House, known as the Old Bailey, which lay close to Newgate. The medieval building was rebuilt after the Great Fire in 1666 and again 1774 with a passage to the prison to ensure security and to limit public access. It was decided to record and publish complete transcripts of each trial (now published online: www.oldbaileyonline.org). These corrected many of the errors reported by the press and in the sensational ‘Newgate Calender’ (www.exclassics.com/newgate). Custodial sentences in the 18th century were not long since so many crimes were punishable by death or transportation. Prisons were run as private businesses; convicts had to pay ‘garniture ‘on arrival and a ‘departure’ fee to leave. Extortionate prices were charged for food, drink, candles, soap and other supplies unless provided by families. Many prisoners ran out of money and died in gaol where their bodies lay rotting until relations paid for the corpse. Not surprisingly, prisons were fetid hellholes, full of lice, rats, disease and misery.
Murder of James I, King of Scotland, 1437
Robert III of Scotland is said to have died of grief in 1406 on hearing that his younger son James had been captured by pirates while fleeing to safety in France (his elder son David had already starved to death in prison in Fife). James I (1394-1437) had actually been intercepted by the English who imprisoned him and demanded a ransom. Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany, who had became regent was in no hurry to pay the ransom so James remained an English hostage for 18 years, living at Windsor Castle and large country houses around London. He was well educated and while in captivity probably wrote an important allegorical romance, ‘Kingis Quair’. He also married Joan Beaufort, a cousin of Henry VI in 1423.
After Albanys death in 1424 the Scots paid the £40,000 ransom and James returned to Scotland where he was crowned at Scone Abbey on 2 May. He ruled with a firm hand, executed many of the Albany family, made a number of financial and legal reforms and tried to remodel the Scottish parliament along English lines. Later in his reign he became unpopular with a number of Scottish nobles. His uncle Walter, Earl of Atholl, who had helped retrieve James from England in 1424, turned against him. Atholl joined with his son, Robert Stewart, Master of Atholl and their kinsman, Robert Graham to assassinate the king at the Dominican Monastery near Perth, on 21 February 1437. There was no support for the three conspirators and they were brutally tortured over three days prior to their public execution in Edinburgh on 26 March. This engraving is taken from a very romantic version of the story painted by John Opie, executed some 350 years after the event.
John Bellingham, taken at the Sessions House, Old Bailey, May 15th 1812
In 1812 the Rt. Hon. Spencer Perceval was assassinated in the lobby of the House of Commons, the only British Prime Minister to suffer this fate. His assailant was John Bellingham, a Liverpudlian whose business in northern Russia had failed and who had endured five years imprisonment there for bankruptcy. The British Ambassador in St Petersburg neglected to help and after his release, already deranged, Bellingham pursued the Ambassador back to London, determined to shoot him or the first Minister who crossed his path.
On Monday 11 May he left his lodgings in King Street, St Jamess and made for the Palace of Westminster. There he waited for the Prime Minister, Spencer Perceval, who arrived to attend a committee and shot him dead at 5.15pm in the lobby of the House of Commons. Perceval ‘uttered but the words “Im murdered” tottered forwards a few steps and fell into the arms of some persons who had rushed to his assistance…’. Confident of vindication, Bellingham immediately gave himself up. Only four days later, on 15 May, Bellingham was tried at the Old Bailey, and was condemned to death by Lord Mansfield, after a plea of insanity was quashed. He was described by the Rev. Crolly as ‘of a pale, intelligent countenance, and with the look of a gentleman… [He] died, frigid and fearless, a reasoning madman.’ The government was seriously shaken and wasted no time before having Bellingham hanged before a large crowd at Newgate Prison on 18 May.
The Martyr of Equality, 1793
In an imaginary scene, the Duke of Orleans stands by the guillotine in Paris holding the severed head of his cousin, King Louis XVI and waves his cap to the crowd. Louis-Philippe-Joseph, Duc d’ Orléans (1747-93) was an aristocratic turned revolutionary As a courtier he had been authorised by court protocol to hand the king his undershirt at his daily dressing ceremony. He was a great Anglophile and had visited Brighton in 1784 and 1790, taking Marlborough House for the social season. He himself was guillotined on 7 November 1793.
Titus Oates, pub. 1810
Titus Oates (1649-1705), the informer and fantasist, is shown here locked in the pillory after his conviction for perjury in 1685. The scroll above his head, which reads ‘Testis Ovat’ (the witness rejoices), is also an anagram for his name. He was an unappealing child who was bullied by his father, a Hastings clergyman and former radical preacher. Oates was expelled from the Merchant Taylors’ School in London and later failed to graduate from two Cambridge colleges where he had, however, become skilled liar and was ordained as a priest in 1670. In 1675 he escaped charges of perjury for making false accusations against a Hastings schoolmaster, by signing on as naval chaplain on the ship ‘Adventure’ bound for Tangier. He was expelled from the navy for homosexuality and shortly after converted to Catholicism. He remained poverty stricken and unemployed until he was sent to Spain and later to France for further religious instruction as a Jesuit.
On his return he renewed his acquaintance with Dr Israel Tonge, a fervent anti-Catholic to whom he confided, in 43 depositions, evidence for a complex Popish Plot. He claimed to have overheard plans to murder King Charles II, potential rebellions in England, Scotland and Ireland, to have read damning letters and to have attended a secret meeting of Jesuits at the White Horse Tavern, London on 24 April 1678. Tonge presented the evidence to the King and his ministers and Oates was questioned. Although many doubted his sincerity, he had selected his Catholic targets shrewdly and his accusations became increasingly bold. Sir Henry Coventry noted that Oates might be ‘…the greatest [liar] I ever saw, and yet it is a stupendous thing to think what vast concerns are like to depend upon the evidence of one young man who hath twice changed his religion’. Oates was so persuasive that he was given lodgings in Whitehall, an initial pension of £40 a month and almost unlimited powers to arrest and question suspects.
Over time the courts became less tolerant of the contradictions and perjuries in his evidence and by 1681 he lost several libel trials. He was himself tried and convicted in May 1685. Before serving a life sentence he was stripped of his clerical garb and brought to Westminster Hall with a paper on his head inscribed, ‘Titus Oates convicted upon full evidence of two horrid perjuries’. He was placed in the pillory in Palace Yard, Westminster on 19 May and pelted with eggs. He was then whipped from Aldgate to Tyburn and remained three years in the Kings Bench prison. The Glorious Revolution of 1688 brought about a brief revival in his fortunes when he was released from gaol and from 1689-92 William III reinstated his pension. In 1693 he married Rebecca, the daughter of a wealthy London draper (who bore him a child in 1700) but spent her fortune in six months. He returned, once more, to the Baptist church of his father, was expelled in 1701, and spent the rest of his career in obscurity.
General La Fayette in Prison, attended by the Marchioness and his amiable Daughters
Gilbert du Motier, marquis de La Fayette (1757-1834) was born in the Auvergne into minor French aristocracy. He joined the army in 1771 at 14 and married Marie-Adrienne-Françoise de Noailles at 16. Despite opposition from his superiors he insisted on serving with the rebels in the American War of Independence from 1777, notably at the battles of Brandywine and Yorktown. He then returned to France where, in 1789, he was an early revolutionary leader although he always remained a moderate. In the Constituent Assembly he pleaded for religious tolerance, the establishment of trial by jury, the freedom of the press and the emancipation of slaves.
By 1792 he was out of step with the extremist revolutionary government, was declared a traitor and imprisoned for five years in Prussian and Austrian prisons. The sentimental scene shows the Marquis languishing in a gaol, where the gaoler wears Austrian folkloric dress, attended by his faithful wife. Though ill, she chose to share his incarceration. Napoleon was not an ally but secured his release through the Treaty of Campo Formio in 1797 and he lived quietly in retirement until after the overthrow of Napoleon. He then served as Deputy for Sarthe from 1818-24 and for Meaux from 1825 until his death. From 1824-25 he made a triumphant return visit to the United States where monuments were raised in his honour.
Brandeth the Traitor executed at Derby, 1817
This vigorous sketch shows a man with dishevelled hair and wild eyes standing on a raised platform. Holding it up by the hair, he shows the head of the man he has just executed to the assembled crowd, while his axe lies at his feet. The head is that of Jeremiah Brandeth (or Brandreth), the leader of a protest march known as the Pentrich Rising. Following the end of the Napoleonic Wars Britain suffered sever economic depression. Increased industrialisation combined with the demobilisation of the armed forces led to widespread unemployment. There were sporadic outbursts from unemployed and half-starved workers, from the Luddite riots of 1811-13 to the ill-fated gathering at Peterloo of 1819.
On 8-9 June 1817, around 50 men (frame-knitters, quarrymen and iron workers) gathered in Pentrich in Derbyshire, intending to march to Nottingham with a few vague revolutionary demands including the cancellation of the National Debt. They were led by Jerry Brandeth, an unemployed stockinger from the hosiery district of Wilford in Nottinghamshire. Armed only with pikes, scythes and a few pistols, they requisitioning further troops and weapons along the way until Brandeth accidentally shot a man. Eventually up to 300 men marched in pouring rain to Giltbrook, Nottingham, where they were scattered by a small contingent of the 15th Regiment of Light Dragoons. The infamous W.J. Richards, alias Oliver the Spy, had infiltrated the revolutionary cells and probably tipped off the troops.
The leaders were eventually rounded up and imprisoned in Nottingham and Derby gaols. They were charged with ‘maliciously and traitorously [endeavouring]… by force of arms, to subvert and destroy the Government and the Constitution’, and tried at County Hall in Derby. 14 men were transported while Brandeth and his deputies, Ludlam and Turner, were convicted of high treason and sentenced to death. They were hanged and beheaded on Nuns Green in Derby on 7 November 1817 although the Prince Regent remitted the customary quartering of their bodies.
Sarah Malcolm Executed in Fleet Street, March ye 7th
Sarah Malcolm (1710-32) was born in Durham and raised in Dublin. After her mother’s death she moved to London where she became a domestic servant or laundress. On the night of 4 February 1732 one of her employers, the 80-year old Lydia Duncombe together with her elderly former servant, Elizabeth Harrison and their maid, the 17-year old Ann Price were murdered. Ann Price had had her throat cut while the other two were strangled. Sarah Malcolm was arrested and indicted for breaking into the house, for killing all three women and for the theft of 20 moidores (Portuguese gold coins), 18 guineas, 6 broadpieces (English gold coins each worth more than a guinea) a silver tankard (valued at 40 shillings) and two smocks (worth 12 shillings).
At her trial on 23 February Malcolm put up a spirited defence. She admitted the theft but pleaded not guilty to the murders, citing accomplices. She alleged that the linen mentioned was soiled with her own menstrual blood rather than that of the murder victims and she pointed to other weaknesses in the testimony of witnesses. The jury, however, found her guilty of wilful murder. After sentencing she continued to protest her innocence, declared herself a Roman Catholic and behaved ‘very penitent and devout’. Intrigued by the notoriety of the case and by Malcolm’s youth and self-confidence, William Hogarth painted her portrait in Newgate Prison, (now in the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh) intending to sell an engraved edition. He is said to have remarked, ‘I see by this womans features that she is capable of any wickedness’. At her execution in Fleet Street on 7 March, she wore a black gown, white apron, a hood of sarsenet (a thin silk fabric) and black gloves. She appeared to be in great distress, wringing her hands and fainting. The press of people was so great that several platforms erected to accommodate the crowd collapsed, causing a number of injuries.
The murderer, John Holloway, executed in December
Celia Bashford was born in Ardingly around 1800. Small (little over 4ft. tall) and odd-looking, she was working as a servant in Brighton when she met John Holloway (1806-31), a casual labourer, at Brighton Races. She became pregnant and he served five weeks in Lewes Gaol until he reluctantly agreed to marry her in 1825. When their child was stillborn, Holloway felt trapped and began to beat her. While working in the Naval Blockade Service in Rye he met and fell for Ann Kennett with whom he contracted a bigamous marriage. Back in Brighton he found work as a painter on the Chain Pier and the Poor Law Authorities ordered Holloway to pay maintenance of two shillings per week to the destitute Celia. Both women were pregnant and Holloway became desperate.
He suggested a reconciliation with Celia, who moved to new lodgings in North Steine Row in June 1831. Here, on the pretext of kissing her, he tried to strangle her but needed Anns assistance to finish the job. Together they dismembered the body, dumping Celias head and arms in the outside privy at No 7 Margaret Street, where he lived with Ann. They burnt Celias clothes and bundled her legs and torso containing her unborn child into a trunk, which they wheeled in a barrow at night to the outskirts of Preston Village. They buried the trunk in a shallow grave in the woods off Lovers Walk. It was soon exposed by heavy rain and the body was identified by Celias sister, despite the absent head. Holloway was arrested and held at Horsham Gaol before trial at Lewes Assizes. He was found guilty after blaming the murder on pressure from Celia’s family and from the Parish Overseers, and was hanged on 16 December 1831 before being handed over for dissection. Ann was tried as an accessory in March 1832 but was acquitted.
Catherine Hayes assisting Wood & Billings in cutting off the head of John Hayes, 1726
Around 1705 Catherine Hall, a wild and volatile girl, who alternated between prostitution and domestic service, was taken in by the Hayes family of Great Ombersley, Worcestershire. Soon after her marriage to their son John the couple moved to London where they sold sea coal. In 1725 they took as lodgers two of Catherine’s former acquaintances, Thomas Wood and 18-year old Thomas Billings, who was alleged to be both her son by John Hayes’s father as well as her lover. On 1 March 1726, after a heavy drinking session, the two men murdered her husband while she assisted in dismembering the body in a vain attempt to cram it into a chest. The parts of Hayes’s body were then distributed around London. On 12 March a severed head was spotted in the Thames and stuck on a pole in St Margaret’s churchyard. It was eventually identified as that of John Hayes.
Catherine and Billings were arrested and she was sent to the Bridewell and then to Newgate; Wood was arrested soon after. Catherine, who showed no remorse, stood trial at the Old Bailey on 20 April, accused of ‘petty treason’, the murder of a husband by a wife, less often the murder of a master by a servant. (High treason, of course, involved the murder of a sovereign by their subject). She stated that although her husband had beaten her she had no real excuse, t’he Devil was in us all, and we were all got drunk’. All three were convicted; Wood died in prison but Catherine failed to poison herself in order to escape execution. On 9 May Billings was hanged at Marylebone Fields while Catherine became the last woman in England to be burned alive at Tyburn. The horrors of her life and death later inspired William Thackerays story, ‘Catherine’ (published in 1869).
Miss Mary Blandy, Executed at Oxford for poisoning her Father, 1752
Mary Blandy was hanged at Oxford in 1752 for poisoning her father. She was, as the portrait suggests, a well-bred, well-read young woman and an unlikely murderess. Her father, Francis Blandy, a prosperous lawyer and the town clerk of Henley-on-Thames, unwisely advertised a dowry of £10,000 for the successful suitor for Marys hand. In 1746 Mary fell for the stunted, pockmarked Hon. Capt. William Cranstoun, who already had a wife and child in Scotland. Her father, on hearing rumours of an existing wife, proved more resistant to his charms. Cranstoun persuaded her that her father could be won over by the administration of powders labelled, ‘to clean the Scotch pebbles’, so as to allay suspicion. The apparent love-potion, which she mixed with Blandys tea and water-gruel, (thin porridge) turned out to be arsenic.
When, in August 1751, Mary realised her father was dying, she became distraught and begged his forgiveness, which he freely gave. She was tried on 3 March 1752 at Oxford assizes and convicted on the basis of testimony given by her household servants, surviving traces of arsenic and an apparently incriminating letter to Cranstoun. In prison she was noted for her composure; shortly after receiving the death sentence she ate a hearty supper of mutton chops and apple pie. ‘The fair parricide’ was hanged on 6 April, ‘wearing a black crape sack[-backed dress]’. The tiny scene below the portrait shows her execution. Her hands were tied in front of her with ribbons in black paduasoy (a heavy ribbed silk) so that she could hold her prayer book. Her last request, as she mounted the scaffold was ‘Gentlemen dont hang me high, for the sake of decency’. Cranstoun, the real villain, had escaped to France where he also died in 1752.
Hermit, or Man of the Wood, who lived in a cave 23 Years & was Murderd Decr 28 1802
Samuel Matthews was born in Pembrokeshire c.1735. In Dulwich he worked as a jobbing gardener for local gentry and was a quiet, inoffensive man, who appeared to suffer a breakdown after his wife’s sudden death. At this time, around 1775, he sought permission from Dulwich College to live deep in the nearby woods. He excavated a cave and erected a hut over the entrance, which he covered with ferns and furze and lived there for over 20 years. On Sundays and in the summer months curious visitors sought out ‘The Wild Man of the Wood’. He greeted them most cordially, offering home-brewed beer and food and they would give him donations. He ‘…was not only visited for his simplicity and admired for his civility, but respected for his punctuality in all his little dealings with the neighbouring villages’.
Matthews was occasionally pestered by thieving boys and in 1798 he was attacked and robbed by vagrants who broke his arm and stole 12 shillings. Having convalesced in Dulwich Village and in Wales he returned to rebuild his vandalised shack. There were rumours, however, that he had a fortune hidden in his cave. On 28 December 1802 boys who were regular visitors discovered his body. He had been beaten about the head with an oak branch and robbed. An inquest was held at ‘The French Horn’ in Dulwich and a reward of £25 was offered by the Camberwell authorities for information leading to the whereabouts of his murderers. Only in 1809 did ‘Wry-necked Isaac’ Evans confess on his deathbed in Lewisham workhouse to being one of his killers.
William Corder as he appeared in Bury Gaol a few days previous to his trial, 1828
William Corder was the younger son of a farming family from Polstead, Suffolk. He was a noted wastrel and womanizer when he became involved with Maria Marten in 1825, who was already a single mother. After Maria had borne his child, William suggested that she could be arrested for having illegitimate children, and she agreed to flee to Ipswich. They arranged to meet at the Red Barn at Polstead on 13 May 1827 and Maria was never seen again. William went to London, married a respectable schoolmistress and began a new life.
After Maria’s body was discovered in a shallow grave in the floor of the Red Barn. Corder was tracked down to Brentford, arrested and tried at Bury St Edmunds, found guilty and hanged outside Bury gaol on 11 August before a capacity crowd clamouring for souvenirs. After the hanging, William Corder’s corpse was put on public display for a day before being removed for dissection. Most of his skin was sold in small sections to members of the public as souvenirs, except for his scalp and a copy of a book on the trial bound in his tanned hide, which remain at Moyse’s Hall Museum at Bury St Edmunds. His skeleton continued to be used until the mid twentieth century for anatomy lessons at the Royal College of Surgeons in London. In 2004 Corder’s descendants arranged for some of these remains to be released for a private cremation and afterwards scattered his ashes at Polstead.
Robbery and Abduction
William Cox in the Press Yard, Newgate, c1773
William Cox was a habitual thief, taught the tricks of the trade by his father, who was eventually transported. Cox Jnr. trained a sparrow to fly through open windows, giving him access to houses he wished to burgle when he begged to retrieve it. As an adult he remained a slight, boyish figure, usually well dressed, who often took his victims off-guard. At his last trial on 8 September 1773, he was accused of stealing three bank notes, each to the value of £100, from the premises of one John Kendrick of Oxford Street. After extensive questioning of witnesses the notes were identified and traced back to Cox. He was found guilty and sentenced to death since, as the final comment at his trial wearily records, ‘Note, this prisoner has been tried a great number of times’. He was hanged at Tyburn on 27 October.
William Cox is shown here in the Press-yard at Newgate Prison, wearing heavy leg-irons. From1657 the Press-yard was the site where prisoners who refused to plead guilty had weights placed on top of their bodies until they were crushed to death. The name continued to be used for the area where the condemned assembled, prior to execution. Here they had their leg-irons removed and their wrists manacled in front of crowds of onlookers, before mounting the cart in which they had to ride with the hangman and the prison chaplain to Tyburn to be hanged.
Mr Brodie, c1788
William Brodie (1746-1788) lived a double life in Edinburgh in the late 18th century, as an upright citizen by day and a burglar by night. He later became the inspiration for the dual character in ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde’ (1886) written by the young Robert Louis Stevenson, an Edinburgh resident. As the eldest of the 11 children of Francis Brodie, he succeeded his father in 1781 as ‘deacon’ or leader of the wrights (cabinet makers). This was a prominent trade guild in the city and gave him an influential, unelected position on the Edinburgh city council. By the mid-1780s rumours spread of Brodie’s abuse of his position. Privately he kept two mistresses, Jean Watt and Anne Grant with whom he had several illegitimate children.
His first link with crime was his implicated involvement in the escape from the Tolbooth prison of a stable-hand convicted of murder. From August 1786-88 he embarked on a series of burglaries, assisted by a criminal gang made up of those he had met at cockfights. He robbed bankers from the Royal Exchange of £800, the University Library (the gang stole the Mace) goldsmiths, a purveyor of silk and a Leith grocer who lost a hundredweight of tea. He was linked with the city’s ring of cardsharps and linked to a bungled attempt to burgle the excise office. He fled to the Netherlands, hoping to sail to New York but was caught and extradited to Edinburgh. The Whig defence counsel at his trial concentrated their attack on English Tory intrusion into Scottish affairs to no avail; he was hanged at the Tolbooth gallows on 1 October 1788.
Sixteen String Jack just returnd from an excursion to Brentford, c1775
John Rann, the highwayman, (alias Sixteen String Jack) was probably born near Bath around 1750. By the age of 12 he was in service with a lady who took the waters at Bath Spa and a little later was coachman to the Earl of Sandwich. At some point he drifted in to crime, probably to fund his taste for extravagant living and dress. His nickname ‘Sixteen String Jack’, derives from his habit of tying his breeches at the knee with an excessive number of decorative laces. He enjoyed a short but eventful career as a highwayman and for a while was fortunate enough to be acquitted several times at the Old Bailey.
On 8 December 1773 he escaped conviction for holding up the Hampstead stagecoach on 13 November, because neither the coachman nor the passengers could identify their assailants. On 6 July 1774 he and an accomplice were acquitted of robbing John Deval of seven guineas and his watch on the Hounslow Road on 21 May. Eleanor Roache, one of Rann’s acquaintances gave evidence against him, which he dismissed as spite on her part for being rejected as his lover. Once again he walked free and promptly made Roache his mistress. That summer he pranced about the promenade gardens at Bagnigge Wells in finery that included a scarlet coat, a tambour waistcoat and silk stockings. When he lost a ring he boasted that ‘it was but 100 guineas gone, which one evenings work would replace’. On 26 September he robbed William Bell, chaplain to Princess Amelia, of his watch and a stone seal set in gold, on the road between Ealing and Gunnersbury. Eleanor Roache was seized for trying to pawn the pieces and sentences to transportation for 14 years. Rann was convicted of the theft by Judge Henry Fielding and was hanged at Tyburn on 30 November 1774. James Boswell recorded that ‘Dr Johnson said that Gray’s poetry towered above the ordinary run of verse as Sixteen-string Jack above the ordinary footpad’.
Eliz. Canning who was strippd and robbd by Mary Squires, Mary Squires the Gipsy Woman, condemnd in the year 1753 & A Plan of the House of Susanna Wells at Enfield Wash, 1754
Elizabeth Canning, an 18-year old London maidservant, claimed to have been abducted on New Year’s Day, 1753 and forced into prostitution at the brothel run by ‘Mother Wells’ in Enfield. She alleged that Mary Squires, an elderly gipsy, had imprisoned her but that, after a month’s captivity she had escaped and returned to her mother’s house in London. Her case was at first upheld by Henry Fielding, the Middlesex magistrate and novelist. Squires and Wells were tried at the Old Bailey and Squires was sentenced to death for stealing Canning’s stays (corset) an indication of prostitution.
Squires was saved by the influential Sir Crisp Gascoyne, former Lord Mayor of London, who produced witnesses confirming that Squires was in Abbotsbury, Dorset when the alleged abduction took place and she was granted a free pardon. The London mob, regarding Canning as a plucky heroine for defending her honour, were incensed and there were violent clashes between the ‘Canaanites’ (for Canning) and the ‘Egyptians’ (who supported the gipsy Squires). Contemporary doggerel recorded, ‘One day for Liberty the Briton fires the next he flames for Canning or for Squires’. Elizabeth Canning was tried in 1754, convicted of perjury and transported to America.
Gin Lane, 1751
From 1690 onwards the British government had encouraged the distilling industry since it supported grain prices and encouraged trade, but without regulation or quality control. The gin trade became increasingly unmanageable and the government attempted to check sales, in 1729 by issuing excise licences and imposing duty and in 1736 by trying to suppress sales altogether. This proved unenforceable and the Act of 1743 made sales legal again but subject to heavy duty. By 1750 gin was sold by unlicensed barbers, carpenters, chandlers, tailors, weavers etc. In addition most operated as receivers of stolen goods and centres for prostitution. The production and consumption of cheap gin threatened the very fabric of society and after 1751, when the earlier acts were more rigorously applied, the crisis began to abate.
Hogarth published Gin Lane and its companion print, ‘Beer Street’ on 14-16 February 1751 (costing 1 shilling each), at the height of the Gin Craze. ‘Beer Street’ represents good humour, health and prosperity, the positive side of alcohol consumption, at a time when it was safer to drink beer than water. In ‘Gin Lane’ all is chaos brutality and poverty. Set in the London parish of St Giles where one in four addresses sold gin, the only businesses to thrive in the crumbling city are the gin shop, the pawnshop and the undertakers. In the foreground is a horrifying image of an inebriated mother taking snuff while her baby falls into the abyss. This was inspired by the shocking case of Judith Dufour who, in 1734, fetched her two-year old child from the workhouse where it had been ‘new-clothed’ for the afternoon. She strangled it, left its body in a ditch in Bethnal Green and sold its clothes to buy gin.
The Harlot in the Bridewell Prison, beating hemp, 1732
The Bridewell Palace was built for Henry VIII on the site of St Bride’s Inn, on the banks of the Fleet River in London. In 1553 Edward VI handed over the palace to the City of London to house homeless children and to punish disorderly women. The Bridewell became a prison, hospital and workrooms and became the model for similarly named institutions throughout the country. The Harlot, Moll Hackabout, is named after the scandalous fictional heroine of Defoe’s ‘Moll Flanders’ and Kate Hackabout, a notorious prostitute and sister to a highwayman. She was the protagonist for a series of six paintings of 1731 (now lost). Having arrived as an innocent in London Moll is lured into prostitution, loses her rich protector and is arrested.
In the Bridewell ‘house of correction’ Moll is seen beating hemp for ships’ ropes and hangman’s nooses alongside other prisoners who include a male card-sharp. The gaoler raises his switch, urging the exhausted woman to work harder while his wife is about to steal her fine clothes. Behind her a man stands with his wrists in the pillory, the punishment for refusing to work. In the background is a stick-man graffiti portrait of John Gonson, a British judge noted for his enthusiasm for raiding brothels (he had arrested Kate Hackabout) and passing harsh sentences.
The Rake in the Fleet Prison, for debt, 1735
Between 1707 and 1708 Richard Hogarth’s Latin-speaking coffeehouse failed and he and his family were confined for debt in the Black and White Court of the Fleet Prison. Richard, primarily a publisher of Greek and Latin texts, was left without employment; the family kept afloat thanks to the sale of his extensive library and his wife Anne’s home remedies. He was finally released in 1712 thanks to an Act of Parliament but the experience left its mark on the young William. He was able to illustrate some of the many abuses of the penal system in this episode from ‘A Rake’s Progress’ The eight paintings in the series are at the Sir John Soane Museum in London.
Tom Rakewell, the Rake, has gambled away two fortunes, the second from his one-eyed hag of a wife who shouts into his right ear. The gaoler stands behind him reminding him to pay an extortionate rent for his cell while anther prison employee demands payment for a mug of beer. On the table lies Tom’s rejected play. On the left Sarah Young, his faithful lover, who has come to visit him with their child, faints. She is caught by another prisoner, a dishevelled bearded man with a paper in his pocket marked ‘Debts’. Another paper inscribed, ‘Being a New Scheme for paying ye Debts of ye Nation by T:L: now a prisoner in the Fleet’ has fallen to the ground.
Sale of a Wife in Smithfield Market
Scenes like this extraordinary event, where a wife is being touted for sale at Smithfield (the London meat and livestock market) for half a guinea, actually happened. Among poor folk women were regarded as their husband’s property and this bizarre ritual was sometimes the easiest way of ending a dysfunctional marriage. Husbands could be brutal drunkards and wives harridans. The inscription says:
‘..tho her Horns bent Wisible, yet he that buys her will soon feel their sharpness..’ There are newspaper reports of such auctions, the closest in date being a note in ‘The Times’ for 19 September 1797, ‘an hostlers wife, in the country, lately fetched twenty-five guineas.’ At such a sale in Edinburgh on 16 July, 1828 Mary Mackintosh’s honour was upheld by hundreds of local women who stoned the male participants. At another, more poignant, event in Thirsk on 26 July 1855 William and Mary Marshall had been happily married for 16 years before ‘his infirmities’ (at 80 he was 45 years her senior) led him to free her from their bond.
The most famous fictional incident takes place in the opening chapter of Thomas Hardy’s ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’ published nearly a century later in1886. Hardy justified the use of the plot device by affirming that he had evidence of several instances. He had heard of a case in Portland, Dorset, and in 24 March 1833 ‘The Observer’ published an extract from the ‘Blackburn Gazette’, ‘Sale of a Wife – a grinder named Calton sold his wife publicly in the market place, Stockport last Monday week. She was purchased by a shop-mate of the husband for a gallon of beer. The fair one, who had a halter round her neck, seemed quite agreeable’.
A Table describing the Burning of B Ridley and Father Latimer at Oxford, D Smith there preaching a the time of their Martyrdome
Hugh Latimer (c1485-1555) was created Bishop of Worcester in 1535 and his younger colleague, Nicholas Ridley (1500-1555) became Bishop of London in 1550. Both were profoundly affected by the ideas of the Reformation. Latimer encouraged the puritans in his diocese, resigning his bishopric in 1539 and Ridley, who had been chaplain to Thomas Cranmer, Henry VIII’s Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury, opposed the succession of Princess Mary. When Mary became Queen they were both sent to the Tower of London, denounced as heretics and burned at the stake in Oxford. The grisly details of these events were recorded in John Foxe’s ‘Book of Martyrs’ together with Latimers stirring final words:
‘Be of good comfort M. Ridley, and play the man: we shall this day light such a candle by Gods grace in England, as (I trust) will never be put out.’
Newgate Illustrated or the Knight and the Squire, 1805
Sir William Rawlings and Robert Albion Cox sit in a prison cell, the former in an armchair, the latter on a stool, while a gaoler stands between them. They were Sheriffs of Middlesex who were imprisoned after committing an electoral fraud by allowing over 300 people to vote as proprietors of a mill at Isleworth. This is indicated by the scroll on the floor, inscribed, ‘A View of the Mill at Isleworth’ and by Cox’s comment about having ‘a Millstone about my neck’. The Whig politicians Charles James Fox and Richard Sheridan supported them. Cox was partner in the silver-refining company of Cox & Merle, based in Little Britain in the City of London. He went on to become an Alderman and a respected member of the Royal Horticultural Society.
View of the Tread Mill erected at the House of Correction, Brixton, 1821
Brixton Prison was opened in 1820 as the Surrey House of Correction, with ten wards and ten day-rooms. It was intended to house 185 convicts in 149 single cells and twelve double cells were fitted with three bed racks. Frequently it held over 400 men. It was primarily a place of hard labour, with intensive use of the treadmill, invented by Sir William Cubitt and first installed in 1821. At Brixton the device, which was intended to drive industrial machinery, powered the flourmill; at some other prisons it was totally unproductive. Under a regime of silence, the men trod ten minutes on, five minutes off. This exercised a large number of men but was a punishingly tedious routine. Occasionally individuals were able to escape by scaling the low walls. There is a campaign today to preserve the original building known as The Octagon, seen on the left the left of the print, designed in 1819 by Thomas Chawner, the county surveyor.
A View of the Hulks at Woolwich in Kent, with some of the Convicts heaving up Ballast, c1780
In a chilling description early in Charles Dickens’s ‘Great Expectations’ (1861), young Pip is surprised in a coastal churchyard by Magwitch, the convict, who had escaped from a prison hulk. It is later described:
‘…the black hulk lying out a little way from the mud of the shore, like a wicked Noahs ark, cribbed and barred and moored by massive rusty chains, the prison ship seemed to [Pips] young eyes to be ironed like the prisoners.’
After 1775 when the War of Independence ended the transportation of offenders to America, there was a crisis of overcrowded prisons. The extra convicts awaiting transportation to Australia were accommodated in former warships, which continued to be used, despite their obvious unsuitability, until 1857. Hulks were stationed at Portsmouth, Deptford and at Woolwich. There the Royal Arsenal was built in 1805 and convicts from the hulks assisted with the heavy construction work and in the dockyard. In this print prisoners are shown digging up ballast and wheeling it in barrows to strengthen the embankments of the Thames against erosion and flooding. Moored in the background is one of the prison hulks; either the ‘Censor’, the ‘Ceres’ or perhaps the fist of three ‘Justitias’.