Friday, February 15, 2008
58. Newgate: London's Prototype of Hell-Stephen Halliday

Newgate was, according to the Amazon description, the largest, most notorious, and worst prison in Britain's history. The title of the book alone was what inspired me to order a copy from the local library. Figuring this would offer an insight into the seemy world of this supposedly "notorious" prison and the the horrors it must have witnessed through the years, I dived right in. Alas... I was to be disappointed once again.

Starting off with a brief history of the prison and all it's various incarnations from it's early days in Roman Britain up until it's eventual demise in the 19th century, the book quickly loses track. Don't get me wrong, the book is interesting but the majority of the chapters only deal with Newgate itself in passing. Most of the book looks at the evolution of Britain's penal code throughout the years (especially the types of punishment and the crimes for which they're assigned), prison reformers and advocates for prisoner rights, and it highlights some of the country's most famous (and infamous) inmates, their crimes, and their sentences.

I'd recommend the book but not whole heartedly. If you're interested in prison life, crime and punishment throughout the ages, and British history, you'll enjoy it. If you're looking for something sensational and will have you eagerly turning each and every page, give it a pass.


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