Many other wards,—especially on the Master Debtor’s side,—have been necessarily omitted in the foregoing hasty enumeration. But there were two places of punishment which merit some notice from their peculiarity. The first of these, the Press Room, a dark close chamber, near Waterman’s Hall, obtained its name from an immense wooden machine kept in it, with which such prisoners as refused to plead to their indictments were pressed to death—a species of inquisitorial torture not discontinued until so lately as the early part of the reign of George the Third, when it was abolished by an express statute. Into the second, denominated the Bilbowes,—also a dismal place,—refractory prisoners were thrust, and placed in a kind of stocks, whence the name.
The Chapel was situated in the south-east angle of the jail; the ordinary at the time of this history being the Reverend Thomas Purney; the deputy chaplain, Mr. Wagstaff.
Much has been advanced by modern writers respecting the demoralising effect of prison society; and it has been asserted, that a youth once confined in Newgate, is certain to come out a confirmed thief. However this may be now, it was unquestionably true of old Newgate. It was the grand nursery of vice.—“A famous university,” observes Ned Ward, in the London Spy, “where, if a man has a mind to educate a hopeful child in the daring science of padding; the light-fingered subtlety of shoplifting: the excellent use of jack and crow; for the silently drawing bolts, and forcing barricades; with the knack of sweetening; or the most ingenious dexterity of picking pockets; let him but enter in this college on the Common Side, and confine him close to his study but for three months; and if he does not come out qualified to take any degree of villainy, he must be the most honest dunce that ever had the advantage of such eminent tutors.”
To bring down this imperfect sketch of Newgate to the present time, it may be mentioned, that, being found inadequate to the purpose required, the old jail was pulled down in 1770. Just at the completion of the new jail, in 1780, it was assailed by the mob during the Gordon riots, fired, and greatly damaged. The devastations, however, were speedily made good, and, in two years more, it was finished.
It is a cheering reflection, that in the present prison, with its clean, well-whitewashed, and well-ventilated wards, its airy courts, its infirmary, its improved regulations, and its humane and intelligent officers, many of the miseries of the old jail are removed. For these beneficial changes society is mainly indebted to the unremitting exertions of the philanthropic HOWARD.
How Jack Sheppard got out of the Condemned Hold.