Item of the Day: Microcosm of London (1809)

Microcosm of London

“This work already honoured by His approbation is most humbly dedicated by permission to His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales by his grateful, and obedient servant, R. Ackermann.”

Written by Rudolph Ackermann, 1764-1834; William Henry Pyne, 1769-1843; William Combe, 1742-1823; Augustus Pugin, 1762-1832; Thomas Rowlandson (illus.) 1756-1827; Hand-colored engravings throughout by Pugin and Rowlandson. In three volumes. Vol. 2 printed in London for R. Ackermann, 1809.“Newgate”:

IT is the opinion of our best antiquarians, that Newgate obtained its name from being erected several hundred years after the four original gates of the city. It was built in the reign of Henry I. Others, who maintain a contrary opinion, assert that it was only repaired at this period, and that it was anciently denominated Chamberlain-gate. It appears, from ancient records, that it was called Newgate, and was a common gaol for felons taken in the city of London, or the county of Middlesex, as early as the year 1218; and that, so late as the year 1457, Newgate, and not the Tower, was the prison for the nobility and great officers of state.

In the year 1780, Newgate was almost burnt down by the rioters, and the felons confined in the strongest cells were released: such was the violence of the fire, that the great iron bars of the windows were burnt through, and the adjacent stones vitrified. This circumstance afforded the opportunity of carrying into effect a plan which had been long projected, of separating the felons from the debtors. Mr. Howard, in his State of Prisons, 4to ed. 213, seems to think, that notwithstanding some of the defects of the old prison are removed, yet the present one is by no means free from errors; and that, without great care, the prisoners are yet liable to the fatal fever which is the result of one of these errors. The exterior presents a uniform front to the west, of rustic work, and consists of two wings, the keeper’s house forming the center. The north side is appropriated to debtors, men and women: the men’s court is forty-nine feet six inches by thirty-one feet six inches; the women’s is about the same length, but not more than half the width. These courts are surrounded by wards, rising three stories above the pavement: the men’s rooms are about twenty-three feet by fifteen feet, and are usually occupied by from fifteen to twenty persons: the debtors’ side has generally about 250 inhabitants. The allowance to debtors is ten ounces of bread and one pound and a half of potatoes per day: the debtors in the poor and women’s sides have an allowance of eight stone of beef weekly sent them by the sheriffs. The south side is appropriated to felons and persons confined for offences against the government.

The plate [“Newgate Chapel.”] represents the chapel of the prison during divine service on the Sunday preceding the execution of criminals. Upon this occasion, a suitable sermon, called the condemned sermon, is preached by the ordinary; during which a coffin is placed on a table within an inclosure, called the Dock; and round this coffin are prisoners condemned to die.

The mode of executing criminals at Tyburn had long been complained of, as tending rather to introduce depravity, by a want of solemnity, than to operate as a preventive to crimes, by exhibiting an awful example of punishment. To remedy this evil, both the place and manner of execution were changed: a temporary scaffold was constructed, to be placed in the open space before the debtors’ door of Newgate, having a movable platform for the criminals to stand on, which, by means of a lever and rollers, falls from under them. The whole of this building is hung with black; and the regulations which are observed on these mournful occasions, are calculated to produce that impression on the minds of the spectators which is the true end of all punishments.

A solemn exhortation was formerly given to the prisoners appointed to die at Tyburn, on their way from Newgate. Mr. Robert Dow, merchant tailor, who died in 1612, left 26s. 8d. yearly, for ever, that the bellman should deliver from the wall to the unhappy criminals, as they went by in the cart, a most pious and awful admonition, and also another in the prison of Newgate on the night before they suffered. They were as follow:

Admonition to the prisoners in Newgate on the night before execution.

You prisoners that are within,

Who, for wickedness and sin,

After many mercies shewn you, are now appointed to die to-morrow in the forenoon, give ear, and understand, that to-morrow morning the greatest bell of St. Sepulchre’s shall toll for you, in form and manner of a passing bell, as used to be tolled for those who are at the point of death, to the end that all godly people hearing the bell, and knowing it is for your going to your deaths, may be stirred up heartily to pray to God to bestow his grace and mercy upon you whilst you live. I beseech you, for Jesus Christ’s sake, to keep this night in watching and prayer, to the salvation of your own souls, while there is yet time and place for mercy, as knowing to-morrow you must appear before the judgment-seat of your Creator, there to give an account of all things done in this life, and to suffer eternal torments for your sin committed against him, unless, upon your hearty and unfeigned repentance, you find mercy through the merits, death, and passion of our only mediator and advocate, Jesus Christ, who now sits at the right hand of God to make intercession for as many of you as penitently return to him.

Admonition to the condemned criminals as they are passing by St. Sepulchre’s church wall to execution.

All good people, pray heartily to God for these poor sinners, who are now going to their death, for whom this great bell doth toll. You that are condemned to die, repent with lamentable tears; ask mercy of the Lord for the salvation of your own souls, through the merits, death, and passion of Jesus Christ, who now sits at the right hand of God to make intercession for as many of you as penitently return unto him.

Lord have mercy upon you,

Christ have mercy upon you,

Lord have mercy upon you,

Christ have mercy upon you.


1 Comment

Filed under 1800's, Culture, Legal, Posted by Carrie Shanafelt

One response to “Item of the Day: Microcosm of London (1809)

  1. Pingback: Item of the Day: Microcosm of London [1808-1810] « Eighteenth-Century Reading Room

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