Nicola Kirk: Author and Collector of Paranormal Stories and Other Strange Encounters

Posts tagged ‘Tyburn’


Prison Hell: Room Without A View

Newgate Prison once stood on the corner of Newgate Street andOld Bailey, and was originally built in 1188.  The prison was originally one of the seven gates of London Wall (six of which date back to Roman times) and it was extended and rebuilt many times during the course of its long (and somewhat grotty) life before it finally closed for business in 1902.

Temple Of Doom – Newgate Prison

In 1782, the prison was redesigned in the hope of instilling terror into the hearts of would-be villains.  The authorities hoped the prison’s new look would deter people from committing crimes.  The bleak, soot-stained (from burning people at the stake outside the prison) almost windowless walls loomed over the residents as an ever-present reminder of where they would end up if they misbehaved.

Lemme Out!

Life inside the prison was a harsh affair.  Considering there were over 350 crimes that warranted the death sentence, it was unlikely that your stay in prison would be a long one.  Justice was nothing more than a myth in times gone by.  If you refused to plead then you could be left in prison until you changed your mind or died, whichever came first.  When too many people were dying rather than pleading (if you managed to avoid admitting guilt then the crown couldn’t get its grubby mitts on your estate) the justice system tried an alternative method of getting a confession out of you i.e. tying you to the floor with a board on your chest and slowly adding weights until you gave in and confessed… or died.

Depending on how well off you were, imprisonment at Newgate ranged from being a mild inconvenience to absolute hell.  The prison was privately run, which meant you had to pay for the privilege of languishing within its cold stone walls.  Being a gaoler at Newgate was good work if you could get it because keeping the gaoler sweet meant an easier ride for you as a prisoner.  If you had enough money you could afford the luxury of having your heavy, ill-fitting manacles removed, have a private cell with someone to clean it and, if you were feeling a bit frisky, they would even sort out a prostitute to visit you too.  If you were, on the other hand, sadly lacking in funds, then the best you could expect was a lice infested cell, nothing to sleep on but the dirty floor and very little in the way of clothing to keep you warm.  If you were one of the poor unfortunates awaiting execution, chances were gaol fever (Typhus) would claim your wretched life long before the gallows did.

Dancing The Tyburn Jig

Alas, even in death you couldn’t be free of Newgate prison because a ‘departure fee’ had to be paid before the corpse was allowed to be taken away by relatives for burial.

In 1793 the infamous gallows at Tyburn was moved to Newgate.  The Sunday before the condemned were due to die, they were forced to listen to a tedious sermon at Newgate Chapel.  To add insult to injury, some bright spark thought it would be a nice touch to have the doomed convicts’ coffins sitting alongside them during the sermon as a somewhat unnecessary reminder of their impending doom.

Every Monday morning the condemned were forced to endure the humiliation of being dragged out in front of an enormous crowd so they could be executed.  Hangmen of old weren’t well-known for their customer relation skills and they rarely bothered to calculate the correct drop which would cleanly break the condemned person’s neck.  Instead, many people suffered the indignity and horror of slowly strangling to death.  The last execution at Newgate Prison was carried out in May 1902.

Newgate’s Finest: Jack Sheppard

Famous inmates of Newgate prison included Jack Sheppard.  Jack, who showed promise of being a very good carpenter, only had about a year of his apprenticeship left to do before he took to a life of crime.  He was arrested and imprisoned at Newgate no less than five times but he managed to escape time and again.  Alas, justice finally caught up with poor old Jack and a fifth escape from Newgate never happened.  He was hanged at Tyburn on Monday 16th November 1724.  Jack made such a name for himself during the course of his short crime spree that even Bram Stoker refers to him in his famous novel ‘Dracula’. When describing the unfortunate Renfield he says:

“He is safe now, at any rate.  Jack Sheppard himself couldn’t get free from the straight waistcoat that keeps him restrained, and he’s chained to the wall in the padded room.”

Sadly for historians (but fortunately for criminals), there is nothing left of Newgate prison these days.  Or is there?  The Old Bailey that stands on the site of Newgate prison today was built using as much stone from the old prison as possible.  Perhaps the horrors that took place within the walls of Newgate are now deeply embedded into the walls of The Old Bailey instead.


©Nicola Kirk and 2010





He’s a dandy highwayman!

Richard (Dick) Turpin (1705 – 7th April 1739) has strong connections to the area I live in.  Many people think of Dick Turpin and conjure up images of an absolute studmuffin on a huge horse rampaging through the countryside, mugging the rich and leaving hoards of swooning women in his wake.  Unfortunately, as is so often the case, the reality is very different to the legend.

Dick’s E-fit:

Don’t bother locking up your daughters after all

Dick Turpin was a cruel and ruthless fiend with a heavily pockmarked face (so give thy heaving bosoms a rest, ladies, he wasn’t much of a looker) who joined forces with the Essex Gang (also known as the Gregory Gang) in the early 1730s and thought nothing of torturing little old ladies to get their cash out of them.  The list of crimes he committed ran from highway robbery to horse stealing to murder.  There wasn’t much he hadn’t had a go at by the time he was dragged to the Tyburn in York for execution in April 1739.   As York lacked a permanent hangman, a pardoned highway man by the name of Thomas Hadfield took the role instead; there really is no honour amongst thieves.  An entry in The Gentleman’s Magazine dated 7th April 1739 said:

“Turpin behaved in an undaunted manner; as he mounted the ladder, feeling his right leg tremble, he spoke a few words to the topsman, then threw himself off, and expir’d in five minutes.”

Five minutes?!  That’s a long time to be dangling around, kicking your heels (quite literally).

Dick’s grave – Fishergate

Turpin’s corpse was buried in St George’s Church graveyard, Fishergate, but his ghost refuses to sleep quietly.  Turpin apparently had a whale of a time winding up the Most Haunted crew in December 2003 when he led them on a wild goose chase around Epping Forest until they had to be rescued by the forest ranger (shouldn’t laugh…).

Despite being hanged in York, Turpin seems happier lurking in and around Epping Forest and people have reported hearing disembodied hoof beats, believed to be Turpin’s horse, Black Bess, and complain of the strange sensation of being watched as they ride or walk through the area.  Of course, if they are being watched it might not be Turpin at all – many people have met their end within the forest over the centuries and it is also a popular place for murderers to dispose of bodies, so chances are there will be more than one pair of eyes watching your every move if you linger too long.

Keeping it local, Turpin’s ghost is also said to thunder down Traps Hill, Loughton (Essex), perhaps revisiting the scene of one of his infamous raids which took place on 1st February 1735.  He burst into the home of Widow Shelley’s house with the rest of the Gregory Gang and proceeded to torture £700 out of the old woman (apparently this is about £60,000 in today’s money, if Google serves me correctly).  Being a stout old bird, Widow Shelley apparently refused to give up the location of her valuables until Turpin threatened to lay her across the fire.  I guess that would be enough to make anyone change their mind.

Smokin’:  Widow Shelley gets a roasting

Turpin also seems to have had a grudge against the clergy and in a little hamlet called Stubbings (Berkshire) he peppered the window shutters of the vicarage with lead shot.  It would seem he wasn’t too pleased with the end results because his ghost still lingers in the area (perhaps in the hope he might get his hands on the vicar, too).


©Nicola Kirk and 2010


Wikipedia – Dick Turpin

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Wikipedia – Most Haunted Live

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