The Chronicles of Newgate - Arthur GriffithsBracken Books, 1987, Hardback in Dust Wrapper.
Condition: Very Good — in Very Good Dust Wrapper. Gently faded at the spine.
Illustrated by way of: Black & White Photographs;
From the cover: “It was the scene of vicious torture and punishments, both cruel and unusual, the house of the rack and gyves; it was a breeding ground of disease, a place where vice ran rampant. Over the centuries, Newgate prison, as the annex of the Old Bailey, the great criminal law court of London, came to be a symbol for the carriage, and, all too often, miscarriage, of justice in England. In these chronicles, Arthur Griffiths, one of Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Prisons in the late nineteenth century, presents the history of Newgate and the ‘criminal periods’ through which it passed. It is his aim to show how and why Newgate became the most dreaded place in England.
The first historical reference to Newgate occurs in the thirteenth century, during the reign of King John, and for over seven hundred years the gaol housed some of the most notorious criminals in English history. Here we find thieves and murderers, forgers and assassins, confidence men and highwaymen, the criminal aristocracy, as well as aristocrats turned criminal.
Yet it is not Griffiths’ purpose to give accounts of the infamous only, colourful though they are. He presents also the troubling history of persecution and martyrdom suffered for religious and political beliefs. While floggings and hangings were the fate of the common cut-purse and brigand, Griffiths shows that the more ferocious punishments and ingenious tortures were reserved for crimes of conscience and circumstance.
Finally, though, it is Griffiths’ contention that the greatest injustice was suffered by the countless thousands whose tragic fate was to have been jailed for debt. In Newgate it was they ‘who were slowly murdered… by the unspeakable horrors of the place’.
Housed indiscriminately with depraved criminals and lunatics, caught in the vicious trap of organized extortion by which the prison ran, debtors, and often their families with them, sank slowly into degradation. Griffiths shows that, as overcrowding and the foul conditions of Newgate led to plague and pestilence, the mixing of the criminal classes made it ‘a hot-bed of vice, a nursery of crime’.
Although re-built several times during its long history, Newgate remained a hell-hole — it was ‘always notorious as England’s worse gaol’. For over a century reformers agitated for the closing of the prison, succeeding finally in 1881. For these reformers, which included Arthur Griffiths, the closing represented a triumph of progress, a fitting final chapter to the story of Newgate, whose history is, in Griffiths’ words, ‘the epitome of English criminal history’. In clear, vivid prose he has given us that history, along with an unforgettable portrait of its most infamous prison.”