Pocket Newgate Calendar


The Newgate Calendar is the original source that inspired 'Newgate novels', also known as the 'Newgate school' – derogatory terms applied to early 19th century fiction that portrayed criminals' lives. Famously, it was a label applied to Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens’s contemporaries including William Makepeace Thackeray. This was much to Dickens’ horror – although the Calendar does appear twice in the novel (Chapter XX and Chapter XLIII), ‘the pages … soiled and thumbed with use’. 

A record of criminal's crimes, testimonies and executions, The Newgate Calendar is a strange and gruesomely detailed mix of fact and sensational fiction. Crude woodcuts accompany each entry, illustrating the crime or the execution. For Oliver Twist, ‘The terrible descriptions were so real and vivid, that the sallow pages seemed to turn red with gore’. It ran to many editions and different copies, bearing the same name, were compiled by competing editors and publishers. It was extremely popular reading; Henry Mayhew records that displaced boys in lodging houses would read it aloud to a group. The pocket size of this edition suggests that it would have been both affordable and easily portable. 

Critics feared that books such as this, and novels in the same tradition, would not only inspire copycat crimes but also glamorise crime as a way of life that led to fame and posterity. Indeed, certain figures immortalised here – such as Jack Sheppard – are still known today.

Full title:
Pocket Newgate calendar; a series of authentic memoirs of characters most famous in their day, for having committed the crimes of murder, housebreaking
1840, London
Book / Illustration / Image
Charles Cavendish
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library

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