Justice was swift, harsh and haphazard in the late 1700s, and there were over 200 capital offences. There was no police force – execution was supposed to work as a deterrent. Prisons were privately run, with prisoners paying or bribing to receive privileges, and conditions inside were terrible.
Newgate was London’s largest prison, housing 40–50 prisoners. Dating from 1188, it was demolished in 1777 and rebuilt to this design – seen here in a copy from 1800 – by George Dance the Younger (1741–1825). The brutal, almost windowless appearance was an intentional part of punishment and deterrence.
After the Prison was razed by protestors in the Gordon Riots of June 1780, the replacement was finished in 1782. The following year, the site of London’s public executions was moved there from Tyburn.
Death was by hanging, in front of eager crowds, with little effort towards humane dispatch: victims usually took many minutes to die by strangulation. Between 1783 and 1799, 559 people – 17 of them women – were put to death at Newgate: 35 a year on average, though one day alone saw 20. The last public hanging was at Newgate in 1868.