Newgate horrors and Newgate workers.
About Christmas 1816, or January 1817, Mrs. Fry commenced her leviathan task in good earnest. The world had been full of startling events since her first two or three tentative visits to Newgate; so startling were they, that even in the refined and sedate quietude of Quakerism there must have existed intense interest, excitement, and possibly fear. We know from Isaac Taylor’s prolific pen, how absorbing was the idea of invasion by the French, how real a terror was Bonaparte, and how full of menace the political horizon appeared. Empires were rising and falling, wars and tumults were the normal condition of society; the Continent was in a state of agitation and warfare. Napoleon, the prisoner of Elba, had returned to Europe, collected an army, and, contesting at Waterloo the strength of England and Prussia, had fallen. He was now watched and guarded at St. Helena, while the civilized world began to breathe freely. The mushroom kingdoms which he had set up were fast tottering, or had fallen, while the older dynasties of Europe were feeling once more secure, because the man who hesitated not to sacrifice vast myriads of human lives to accomplish his own aggrandizement, was now bound, and, like a tiger in chains, could do nought save growl impotently.
Meanwhile the tide of prison-life went on, without much variation. Newgate horrors still continued; the gallows-crop never failed; and the few Acts of Parliament designed to ameliorate the condition of the prisoners in the jails had almost become dead letters. In 1815 a deputation of the Jail Committee of the Corporation of London visited several jails in order to examine into their condition, and to introduce a little improvement, if possible, into those under their care. This step led to some alterations; the sexes were separated, and the women were provided with mats to sleep upon. Visitors were restrained from having much communication with the prisoners, a double row of gratings being placed between the criminals and those who came to see them. Across the space between the gratings it was a common practice for the prisoners to push wooden spoons, fastened to long sticks, in order to receive the contributions of friends. Disgusting in its ways, vicious in act and speech, the social scum which crowded Newgate was repulsive, dangerous, and vile in the extreme.