Newgate and Old Bailey timeline

966: First reference to Court of Hustings. Genesis of London’s legal rights and customs.

1086: Reference to Newgate as a “Heynhouse” or hateful jail.

1132: Charter granted by Henry I to citizens of London confirming their ancient rights and granting new ones. The right to appoint their own “Justicier” was granted: “And none other shall be Justicier over these same men of London.” Pipe Roll of this date shows site value as £3.6.8d.

1241: Certain Jews imprisoned in Newgate until their kinsmen in Norwich paid a fine. Crime was the common one then brought against Jews, usually ill-founded, of circumcising a Christian child.

1255: Sheriff imprisoned for allowing a prisoner to escape. Prisoner supposed to have murdered a cousin of the Queen.

1381: Wat Tyler broke open Newgate and freed the prisoners within.

1414: Fever broke out. Keeper and 64 others died of it.

1423: There is a reference to “Whit’s Palace”. Money left by Richard Whittington, Lord Mayor, for charitable purposes was used for renovating Newgate.

1518: “Evil May Day”. Many put to death at Newgate for May Day rioting. King Henry VIII judged the prisoners in person. Several reprieved at foot of scaffold on the intervention of the King’s wife and sister.

1539: First Court erected. Up to this time Courts held in the open (as Hustings) or on private premises.

1657: Press Yard in use in Newgate. For those who refused to plead, weights were placed on top of their body and added to until they were dead. Those convicted of Felony forfeited their goods so prisoners, to avoid forfeiture, opted for this end. Mayor Strangeways died in this way.

Jury fined for not convicting defendants; imprisoned in Newgate until fines paid. Some sent a message to the Lord Chief Justice, who reviewed their case and confirmed the important right of juries to bring in their own verdict without interference by the judge.

1689: Lord Chief Justice Wright imprisoned in Newgate.

1690: Record of man imprisoned for 47 years; married and had several children in Newgate. Held on a Fiat of the Attorney General and never brought to trial.

1696: Keeper paid £3,500 for his post. Could charge “fees”. Kept a sort of Wet Canteen, where prisoners and warders regaled themselves with liquor. Prisoners usually paid.

1718: Hangman hanged for murder of a woman in Moorfields. Drunk from time of entering prison to time of execution.

1724: Jack Sheppard made his series of sensational escapes. Hanged at Tyburn, where: “All London turned out to see him”.

Undated picture of new gallows at Old Bailey
New gallows at Old Bailey

1750: Outbreak of Gaol Fever (probably typhus) in Newgate. Many died, including the Lord Mayor and two judges. Bunches  of flowers (nosegays) began to be carried and sweet smelling herbs spread about in an attempt to ward off illness; still done today at opening of summer Sessions.

1772: Edward Dennis, public hangman, imprisoned in Newgate for pick-pocketing.

1777: Mary Jones, aged 19, mother of two children, convicted at the Old Bailey of shoplifting in Ludgate Hill and hanged. Had baby at the breast while being taken from Newgate to Tyburn. Case used in Parliament in an attempt by Sir William Meredith to reduce the number of offences carrying the death penalty, which totalled about 190.

1780: June. “No popery” riots by supporters of Lord George Gordon (1751-93). Excuse by under-privileged persons for destruction and looting. Newgate broken into and rioters already imprisoned there released. Some due for execution next day.

Edward Dennis, public hangman, again imprisoned in Newgate and tried and sentenced to death for taking part in the riots in Holborn. Later reprieved so that he could hang his fellow rioters. In office 1771-1786. Had a right to the clothes and personal property of his victims.

1781: Lord Gordon acquitted of High Treason charge arising out of 1780 riots.

1783: November: Last execution at Tyburn, a place of execution for 600 years – 50,000 executions in total. Executions then carried out in front of Newgate Prison, opposite present old building, up to 1868.

1785: Prison reformer John Howard introduced solitary confinement in Newgate.

1787: Lord Gordon imprisoned in Newgate with his Jewish servant, being unable to find sureties after his conviction for publishing pamphlets libelling the Queen of France and the English Judges and Law.

1793: Death of Lord Gordon in Newgate.

1800: The Editor of the Times imprisoned in Newgate for libelling the Duke of York. Received state pension while in prison.

1813: Elizabeth Fry, prison reformer, began work in Newgate.

1830: Last use of the pillory, which had existed since time immemorial outside Newgate.

1835: Three boys under 14 hanged for burglary.

1868: Last public execution; Michael Barrett, a member of an Irish political organisation known as “Fenians” was hanged for murders that resulted when his group blasted the wall of the Clerkenwell House of Detention and released some of their friends. Executions then within the walls of Newgate.

1881: Newgate ceased to be used as a prison.

1902: Last execution at Newgate.

First hand appeared through the wall from the inside. It was that of a workman engaged in demolishing Newgate to make way for the new Court building. This fulfilled an old prophecy that “an innocent man will one day break through the walls of Newgate”.

The Grand Hall of the Old Bailey
The Grand Hall of the Old Bailey

1907: New Court opened by King Edward VII. Became known as Old Bailey.

1941: North West corner hit by bomb. Two officials killed. Court 2 destroyed.

1950: Rebuilding commenced.

1952: New Court 2 opened.

1954: North murals painted by Professor Moira to replace those destroyed.

1960: Last death sentence passed.

1962: James Hanratty hanged for A6 murder.

1965: Abolition of Capital Punishment for crime of murder.

1972: New South block opened, containing 12 modern courtrooms.

1973: West front damaged by IRA car bomb. No one killed but 180 injured by flying glass.