The Joys of Newgate
What Fresh Hell is This?
The Joys of Newgate
Timon Dexter Chiseldon emerged from a riotous nightmare of angry faces to a waking nightmare of stench, uproar, and pain. His eyes opened first. Reports from his other senses queued up close behind to also demand immediate attention.
There was little light, some came from a heavily barred window set high in a wall, and some dim light squeezed through the thick straps of iron in the door. Cut stone blocks, dark with old soot and clammy with fetid moisture, comprised the walls and ceiling.
What came through Timon’s ears and nose were too much to quickly grasp: A tumult of voices: Sobbing, laughing, arguing, chattering, wailing, murmuring and babbling. Somewhere, there was the clink of iron and the thumping of heavy mallets. The smell was a melange of sewage and vomit, of bodies that never washed; and uncut by any breath of fresh air or wholesome smells. The scent of the air was thick enough to taste.
Timon stirred and that was enough to let in another cascade of reports: He was lying prone on a cold and clammy stone floor; there were rents in his clothing and iron shackles about his ankles; he had plenty of bruises; his head was beyond dizzy and his mouth was dry. Most important of all, he had a bellyful of something that disagreed with him and it was coming up… now.
He rolled over and spewed. After the first gush as his stomach fought to bring up more, Timon learned he was not alone. “That’s it… give the floor a good rinse. It needs it.”
After a minute of dry-heaving and spitting; Timon was just able to stand. There were a half-dozen others sitting against the walls in the gloom, men and boys, but only one youth of Timon’s own age bothered to speak. “Where am I?” Timon asked; his head was still reeling.
“You need to ask? You’re in Newgate. I’m here because I am a thief but they say you are a murderer.”
There was a growl from a couple of the other men, and one spat.
Timon sputtered: “But, but who? What did I do?”
One of the other men growled again: “You ’ad your old man’s serving girl you did, then slashed ’er up and dumped in the river when you was finished with ’er.” The man who spat at Timon did so again. “H’it’s a Tyburn dance for you, boy.”
“Peggy is dead?” Timon’s protest excited nothing but contempt from most of the other inmates of the cell. It didn’t seem fair and could not be true. Peggy was a wide-eyed and innocent fourteen year old country girl from Somerset. They were attracted to each other but Timon had only recently worked up the courage to kiss her. This was all a nightmare, and at this very moment Peggy must be tending to the linens, or dusting in the ancient half-timbered House on the London Bridge.
Only the young prisoner seemed prepared to believe his innocence, although guilt or innocence didn’t matter inside Newgate. What did matter was how much money one had.
Timon checked his waistcoat pocket; he had eleven pence there yesterday afternoon when he got home from his school. Now his pocket was inside out and quite empty. The gaolers expected to be paid to get you bread and water, or anything else you wanted. There was even a fee for ‘easement of chains’, which meant they took off your shackles for a while.
After some hours of sitting against the wall, the gaoler turned up with two of his mates. The Gaoler, in a long brown coat and no wig on his scabby shaven head, held a lantern and a staff. His two mates were bare-handed but grabbed Timon and pulled him out of the cell. The rough movement made him puke again.
There was a dimly-lit narrow corridor, busy with knots of people at the other strap-iron doors, but everyone eased to one side as the procession went by. The rumble of dozens of conversations died to a whispered susurration that surrounded Timon and all eyes were on him until he had passed. That effect of a muted pocket of hushed silence travelled with Timon up a short stone spiral staircase, and into the old gatehouse itself.
They spiraled up another floor, passed through a stout wooden door and into a small stone chamber. Here, there was light and air, but it seemed to Timon that the stench from the cells had already woven itself into his clothing if not deeper than that.
At one end of the desk, a clerk was perched on a stool, with quill and ink-pot at the ready, and a sheaf of papers to hand. Behind the desk sat a rubicund man in late middle age, with a long wig that had probably been fashionable 30 years before; the tailoring on his coat and florid waistcoat were also of an old cut.
“This is him as what got delivered over that poor cut up girl in the river last night”, the Gaoler snarled and gave Timon a shove forward. Timon stumbled thanks to his dizziness and the leg-irons and so bumped the desk, which caused a small ink spill on the clerk’s paper.
It dawned on Timon he was facing a magistrate. “My Lord…” Timon began and stopped as the magistrate glared right at him. Then the magistrate’s face relaxed.
“It is highly unusual for a prisoner to arrive, in the hands of what seems to be a mob, simultaneously with the complaint itself.” The magistrate looked to the clerk. “The complaint is of…?”
“Murder, your honour, of one Peggy Greendyke, come to the city last year from Glastonbury, 14 years of age or so; ’tis said.”
“Ah me. Well, I see he has come through the Lodge and into the Condemned Hold so fast that the practice of chummage seems to have been bypassed; for which small mercies God be praised.” The Magistrate shook his head then addressed himself to Timon. “You are..?”
“Timon Chiseldon…” Before Timon could say anything else, another voice was heard.
The Magistrate beheld a man of the middling sort, a man whose coat, waistcoat and wig suggested he was a well-off tradesman or merchant. The new arrival was missing his lower left leg and had come into the room with a crutch, and was wasting away with some ailment. The face had been handsome once, but was long-scarred by a blade, and the cut of the man’s coat suggested he had also once been a soldier.
“He is Timon Dexter Chiseldon, and has lived in my household since his mother died nine years ago in ’46. I know him to be fifteen years of age, and with no previous stains upon his character save that his parents were not married. He is a student at Whitmore’s on Tower Hill, where he has been learning his grammar, French, some Latin and mathematics, plus some fencing instruction.”
The magistrate looked at the old soldier. “You run that shop specializing in curiosities and old books upon the bridge. I further recall, Master Jack Reynolds, that you were once something of a swaggering rogue but got the King’s notice at Dettingen, and were down struck at Fontenoy. I will take it as a given that I need not ask about this youth’s father.”
The Magistrate thought for a second or two. Then he looked at Timon and beheld a scared looking youth, of about five feet and eight inches tall; neither skinny nor plump, and whose clothes – notwithstanding the ravages of his man-handling and a night in the worst cell the prison had to offer – seemed to have likewise been of good though simple quality. The boy wore no wig, but had sandy hair that otherwise might have been in a tidy queue. He had a broad forehead betokening a ready mind and clear blue eyes.
“Not quite a gentleman nor too much of one… and yet there is what you are accused of and the mob hopes to see you –or someone – swing for the crime. We shall wait upon the next Session of the Court.” The magistrate looked around once more. “Gaoler, in the capacity of your office, I would be thankful indeed if someone were not too rapacious in this case. One must hope for charity in even the most unchristian of hearts; hmmm?”
This brief interview was all that passed between Timon and the Magistrate. Timon and Master Reynolds had a moment to themselves, but Reynolds was in even less of a talkative mood than usual: “Boy, staying alive in here will cost as much as your school does… and the trial will be worse. Say nothing about poor Peggy, I know you well enough to know that much about you.” Before he limped away, he thrust a purse to Timon which, to the boy’s surprise, contained a number of Half-Crowns.
Instead of the airless, dark, fetid Condemned Hold; the Gaoler’s mates took Timon to a large room on the lower level with a window facing out to the court-yard. A couple of armloads of fresh straw were on the stone floor in an alcove by the window, but the ever-present smell of feces, urine, vomit and sewage from elsewhere in the prison never completely receded. Nor did the noise ever abate; the prison was never quiet.
Timon got two exorbitantly over-priced daily meals of bread, cheese, and beer; and the privilege of visitors for a shilling a day. Clean clothes and a blanket were sent by Master Reynolds. The room he was in had a floating population of 20-30 men, women and children, syphilitics on the edge of madness, petty criminals, counterfeiters and thieves. Most kept their distance as rumour had it that Timon was a dangerous killer.
There were women that offered themselves for a share of one of his meals, but Timon had an idea that a beauty patch might conceal a syphilis canker, and any rate the memory of Peggy and his own shyness added more inhibitions. A couple of preachers with a covey of the curious in tow visited and attempted to argue that the bestial nature of his crime would be evident on his face and that his soul needed to be saved. Timon had enough self-presence to ignore them; although being the subject of public curiosity vexed him. This also held true when several schoolmates came to visit, largely for the dubious status of associating with him.
The first two weeks in prison also were occupied with his thoughts. Poor Peggy Greendyke was only a housemaid, but Timon managed to convince himself that he loved her, and that she loved him in turn. She hadn’t resisted his first trembling essay at a kiss and returned it before blushing away. Brooding over the loss of an unrequited love served another function… who might have done such a thing? His own memories of the evening were… well, they weren’t there… he had none.
Search as he might, Timon could remember coming home and there was a vague sense of an unwelcome but familiar presence, a brimming cup of rum, and nothing else.
After a couple of weeks, the monotony of his life was broken as he turned to his companions. His cellmates taught him dance measures, card games, lock-picking and how to ‘dip’ a pocket. Freeing oneself from the shackles was child’s play; but Timon also learned the ways to look for a concealed locking mechanism and to pick the latch and slide the bolt inside a lock. London was always rich in lore, and the world of the alleys and rookeries added another dimension to it. Then Master Reynolds turned up.
“Timon, the Clerk of the Sessions has brought your case up and the Grand Jury will consider it in two weeks. It is possible that you will have your trial before All Souls Day. When it comes time for your plea, remember you are literate – claim benefit of clergy – it might help.”
“But, father…” There was an awkward pause, Timon had never called him that before, and Reynolds had never acknowledged his paternity. “I didn’t kill Peggy, I don’t think I did, all I remember was coming home from school, and then I woke up here. That’s it.”
Captain Reynolds considered for a second, and Timon realized how old his guar… his father now looked. His face was shrinking closer to his bones and his complexion was grayer. “Son, all I know is that she was naked, violated, and floating in the river downstream from London Bridge with a slashed throat. So the Parish Constables came calling, I came with them and your brother William; and you were found in a stupor on the floor of her garret, her bed-clothes soaked in blood, with an empty bottle of rum beside you and a blood-smeared knife in your hand.”
“But…” Timon tried to interject.
“But nothing; I know you two were casting glances at each other like two moon-struck puppies. I’ve never known you to be drunk. You stand up for yourself when threatened, yet I’ve never known you to bully anyone. All of that will mean nothing to the court. What’s more I can’t even hire affidavit-men to lie for you.”
One thought occurred to Timon. “Was there no blood on me, I mean, if I killed her, wouldn’t I have her blood on my face and hands, on my clothes? You’ve seen enough battle to know that. I had puke and slime all over me when I awoke here in Newgate, but no blood.”
Reynolds pursed his lips and rubbed his chin. “Yes, that’s true enough.”
Another thought occurred to Timon, “And what was William doing here? I thought he was apprenticed to Dr. Mead since his return from Leyden.”
“Ah, well, Dr. Mead required a… ah… more prosperous look to his apprentices. William is now attending a course of lectures and is engaged in more study of anatomy, here in the city. In fact, he now lives at home once more. He was with me in the shop when the constables came.”
Timon had no love for his half-brother William, who was some five years older than him; fleshy and petulant; and the bully of his first days under Reynolds’ roof since Timon arrived after his mother, Anne Chiseldon, had died. It always outraged William that Timon had been born before Mrs. Reynolds had died. “And was he in the shop when Peggy went into the river?”
“Enough!” There was a flash of distemper in his father’s eyes. “William is no more capable of this crime than you are. Now, Timon, you should know your mother… helped later by me… had put enough aside in the Three Percents that you would be able to afford a Lieutenant’s Commission. I still have my old Captain’s commission from the 31st, and planned to sell it to get you enough to eke out your pay. However, it would seem I’m going to have to spend this to secure your future in… another way.”
With that, Jack Reynolds left, having first replenished Timon’s supply of half-crowns. It was also a luxury to lease a ewer and pitcher sometimes and to wash behind the screen of his blanket. Rats, lice and fleas were plentiful in Newgate but Timon was fastidious and loathed their touch.
The weeks went by and the Sessions in the Old Bailey resumed. However, what Timon had not realized was that the Old Bailey heard all manner of capital cases from all across England. Moreover, many prisoners who had missed Assizes out in the Counties were sent to Newgate in the autumn. The number of people in the cell grew with every passing week. The prison’s legendary stench also grew apace. It became harder and harder to keep his nook and the quality of his benefits – thin as they were – grew worse. The Gaolers were now raking in money from so many other prisoners that his half-crowns seemed less important.
In early October, a fever visited the ward. Those who had it were racked with pains and a rash spread across their skin. The straw on the floor got foul, particularly as the ill vomited copiously. Timon did what he could for the dying and fretted about his own health.
A couple of weeks after the contagion broke out, Timon got another purse – containing 20 golden Guineas – and a fresh set of clean clothing. This was a gift from his father, but there was a note: His trial would be in two days – the Grand Jury had decided the case would go forward.
The day of his trial, Timon had another meal of the same old bread, the same old cheese, and the same old small beer. As the nearby bells tolled for eight in the morning, the Gaolers came. Timon had ensured his shackles were back in their proper place around his ankles when they came. A coffle of prisoners was already forming up in the courtyard, and they were arranged in line according to a list read by a clerk of the court. Timon was third.
There was a throng around the Old Bailey, and Timon soon found himself recognized and abused. The gaolers and some constables of the nearby parishes were around with staves to hold back the crowd. Timon didn’t get manhandled but it was clear that many people hoped to see him hang.
There was a waiting room, and it was alarming to see several people get lifted up outside so they could stare in at the prisoners. It also alarmed Timon that the first trial – a forger who had impersonated sailors to steal their wage tickets -- only took twenty minutes and from the baying of the crowd inside the Court they approved of the sentence. A gin-addled prostitute was next and took fifteen minutes… whatever happened in there resulted in several gales of laughter. Then it was Timon’s turn.
If it was empty, it would have been a large room but the Court was cluttered with wooden enclosures, galleries, and noisy spectators. Timon was nudged to the prisoner’s box in the room’s centre. Now he knew how a stag felt when the hunters and dogs closed from all sides – naked, vulnerable, and alone.
A clerk beside the seated judge asked Timon his name, and after Timon replied read out the charges of rape, indecency, and murder. Timon was aware that the bespectacled judge, who had a vaguely leonine cast to his face, was staring at him quite closely. Then Timon was asked by that judge for his plea.
“I am not guilty, your honour.” There was murmuring up in the gallery and the judge smacked his gavel to silence it.
“Anything else?” Timon got the sense he was still being closely inspected.
“I claim benefit of clergy, your honour.”
The judge settled back in his chair. A spindly black-clad lawyer stood and recited the case against Timon; it took about five minutes.
Then the judge asked the prosecutor. “Pray tell, Mr. Morris, was the blood of this unfortunate girl also pooled on the floor?”
The lawyer paused and skimmed quickly through a couple of sheets of paper. “No, your honour, but that is of no account…”
“Really? Was there blood on young Master Chiseldon’s clothing, or spattered upon him?”
“There must have been, your honour, and I can summon the Constables…”
“No need, Mr. Morris, no need. I just wonder if it were possible that some other party had done the deed, and then dragged an unconscious boy up, deposited him upon the floor, and stuck the blood-stained dirk in his hands. Of course, I also wonder why might a young man complete a rape and a murder, pitch the corpse of his inamorata into the Thames, and then drink himself insensible at the scene of his crime? O tempora, o mores… Please go on, Mr. Morris, do.”
“Your honour, I have presented the case.”
The judge had one more question for the lawyer. “Might I ask, Mr. Morris, who paid for your representation today?”
“Interested parties from the neighbourhood, your honour, sturdy and honest folk of our city who are outraged by this heinous cri…”
The Judge interrupted. “That will do, Mr. Morris.” The lawyer sat back down and Timor was asked if he had anything to say in his defence.
“No your Honour, except that I remember returning home from school, and the next thing I knew I was in Newgate. I have a hazy recollection of a drink being put in my hand… but by whom or for what purpose I do not know.”
“Not much of a defence, boy, but the fact remains that you – insensible or not – were found at the murder scene with a knife in hand. Moreover, justice must be seen to be done. Accordingly…” The judge waved away a hastily proffered black cap from his clerk. “… damn it, Archie, put that thing away. “
There was a rumble from the crowd when they saw the judge refuse the cap which tradition demanded be worn when a sentence of execution was awarded. Their protest was gavelled into silence. “Transportation to Virginia, ten years indentured service, and count yourself lucky.” There was a chorus of boos and hisses from the galleries, and the gavel cracked down on the table several times more. “Master Chiseldon, we also offer our sympathies on learning of the death of your father last night from his long illness. Next!”
Timon sank back down on the prisoner’s stool and buried his face in his hands, but two strong hands seized him and dragged him out of the box. His thoughts and heart were in turmoil: Relief at being spared the noose, grief at his father’s death; apprehension and disgrace at a conviction. His eyes filled with tears, and he only briefly looked up in the gallery, but could barely make out any faces… although just for a second he thought he saw that his half-brother William was up in the gallery.
Then it was back to the waiting room, and late that afternoon when all 20 prisoners had been tried, it was back to Newgate. Three prisoners went down to the Condemned Hold to await the journey to Tyburn, and five had their chains struck off and were released. Timon found himself with four others all consigned together to one of the crowded cells on the ground floor.
“You’re lucky”, one of their Gaolers told them. “Normally transportation ain’t until the spring, see, but we’ve got forty five of you now, so you’re off to Blackfriars Stairs first thing in the morning.”
The cell was crowded and thickest around the door where many of the other prisoners bound for Transport had family and friends calling on them to say goodbye – with many bitter tears being shed. Timon felt completely miserable too and slumped against the wall. He had no visitors.
In the morning, the day of his father’s funeral, the prisoners remained in their leg shackles and were marched down to the Blackfriars steps. Two lighters awaited them and their irons were removed before they boarded the boats. After that came two ordeals for Timon: The trip past so many familiar sights of his city, and the fearsome passage through the rushing water underneath London Bridge itself. Timon, however, had eyes only for his father’s house on the bridge. Then the Lighters went past the Tower and down river to wait off Frying Pan Stairs where the Snow-Brig ‘Gander’ waited to carry them to Virginia.
The ship’s carpenter and his mate were still busy in the hold, so the prisoners were settled up near what Timon was told was the ‘Foxhole’, this latter turned out to be how sailors pronounced ‘Forecastle’. Other sailors swayed up supplies for the voyage, crates of crockery and silverware for Virginia plantations, and baggage for a handful of passengers. Late in the afternoon, when the prisoners were being shepherded down into the hold, the first of the passengers boarded… and Timon was startled to see the stout figure and fleshy face of his half-brother. Whatever funeral observances had been held for their father, it was obvious they had been kept to a scant minimum.
The hold of the ship was not, quite, as bad as Newgate had been. It was damp and there was a thick fug of unwashed bodies, of sickness, and of sewage (the prisoners were not allowed out of the hold when they pleased and a ‘honey bucket’ barrel awaited their ‘necessaries’). Rats, fleas and lice were common in Newgate; the hold had the added refinement of cockroaches. The timbers were damp, and the bilges below added their own flavour to the stench.
On the credit side of their affairs, the prisoners were no longer shackled and a crewman of the Gander let it be known that it was in the Captain’s interest to see to their welfare: “See, he gets £3 for each of you as what makes it alive to Norfolk and a small share of whatever price you fetches when you get there. It ain’t as profitable as blackbirding, mind, but ain’t as dangerous neither.”
So Timon had a wooden shelf to sleep on, a blanket, and the reasonable prospect of two hot meals a day. They were five days out of London when the prisoners were finally allowed on deck. They had no choice, as the Captain believed a regular fumigation of the hold with tobacco and sulphur would prevent disease; but the middle of the English Channel is seldom pleasant in late October.
As the Snow-Brig tacked close-hauled down the Channel, cold spray periodically showered the deck and the prisoners shivered in the breeze. The ship’s movement was easy, however, and Timon marvelled at how steady it seemed. Then a sailor plucked the sleeve of his coat and conveyed him aft to the foot of the companionway leading up to the quarterdeck. There, huddled out of the wind, was William Reynolds. Timon was pleased to see his half-brother and hoped this meant his salvation.
“So Timon, can you guess why I am here, you little foundling bastard?”
This was not what Timon needed to hear. He shook his head and started: “William, what’s…”
A slap buffeted him. “Sir! You call me sir! Actually, the reason why I am making this ungodly voyage is so that for a time, you will call me ‘Master’. Can you guess why?
It all came clear. “Peggy, the rum, that was you…”
“Yes you little shyte.”
Timon grabbed his half-brother’s coat: “You ogre! You fiend… you…” and paused as he felt a sharp prick in his gut. He looked down to see a dagger in his brother’s hand and the tip was against Timon’s skin.
“And you’re a convicted murderer while I am a physician. Let go of me.”
Timon did as he was bidden and studied his half-brother’s face closely. The mocking leer was everything he had hated when he was six and William was a bully of eleven… The only jarring element was the greenish tinge to William’s cheeks, and he kept a hand on the companionway for balance. Timon had sea-legs, William did not. Ill with a touch of mal de mer or not, the snarling and gloating tone of William’s next words were undiminished.
“My father loved your temptress whore of a mother more than my mother… and he loved his bastard foundling more than the son of his own marriage. I’ve waited for this a long time and once I understood how to use Sydenham’s Laudanum effectively… well it all just came together. A big enough dose and you go to sleep permanently, as my father did.” William’s stress on ‘my’ was another small cruelty piled neatly atop a larger one.
“No small mercies for you, alas. You took so much from me; but having your little Mort and keeping you from ever sampling her quim was just the start. My father sold his commission to arrange your pardon already… did you know that? Filled out before your trial, unfortunately, but I still have it right here.” William tapped his breast pocket. “It will never be delivered and I am going to buy your Indenture when we get to Norfolk. Then I’ll see to making the rest of your life short and miserable.”
Timon was shoved away, and when he regained his balance, two sailors were already taking him forward to join the other prisoners. William stood and smirked, and then retreated back inside to his cabins.
For the next three days the prisoners remained in their hold and Timon brooded. He was powerless but the desire for justice for both Peggy and his father grew within him. Then came resolution; if William could long harbour a plan, then so could Timon – and long exposure to the occupants of Newgate had taught him much. The cadence of the groaning of the ship’s timbers and the roll changed. Obviously, the ship had left the English Channel and was out in the great deeps.
The next day, the motion of the ship became alarming, and air in the hold grew worse as the Honey Bucket was not removed and many prisoners succumbed to sea-sickness. No hot food arrived, only ship’s biscuit and water. There would be no cooking on a ship caught in an early November gale. The dampness increased, as more water worked in between the ship’s timbers and the cold grew even in the stink of the hold.
This made it easy for Timon to volunteer. The next time water and biscuit was delivered, Timon secured an interview with one of the mates and reminded him that the prisoners had a stake in the survival of the ship, and there was no reason for any of the healthy ones not to be used as untrained Landsmen up on the deck. The offer was accepted.
It was an ordeal, but better than being cooped up in the hold. Most of the other prisoners worked the pumps, but Timon and a couple of other hale prisoners worked on the deck. For their work and the convenience of the ship they were moved to the crew’s quarters before the mast.
For Timon, despite being soaked and cold, and bone-tired from the work, it was a joy to be doing something and to be unconfined. It was also a chance to look for the opportunity to save himself and bring an accounting for the deaths of Peggy and his father. Even in the howling north by northwest wind and the sheeting rain, with the ship pitching and rocking, Timon could see his half-brother make regular trips out of the aft cabins to the lee rail to ‘cast his accounts’ over the side.
On the fifth straight night of the gale as Gander beat its way full-and-by on a port tack, struggling to make enough westering to clear Cape Finisterre, Timon finally had his chance. He was aft alone to tend the trysail mast aft by the companionways when William staggered out of the passenger cabins, ready to spew his guts out once more. In the wet and pitching dark, he had no chance of seeing Timon as he went to the lee railing.
As William retched helpless, one deft hand reached inside his coat pocket and plucked out the thin bundle of documents there. Just as deftly Timon heaved his half-brother up and over the side. William went head-first into the cold dark Atlantic. If he surfaced aft of the ship in the waves, nobody up on the quarterdeck would have heard him cry for help. Timon resumed his station and looked around; his vengeance had gone unnoticed. Cold, wet and exhausted, one thing warmed Timon completely… true justice had been served by one righteous bastard.
Notes to Chapter 1.
Newgate Prison was London’s main prison for many centuries – and usually held both those awaiting trial or those awaiting the application of their sentences. It was renovated 25 years after the events of this story, but was still too much of a hell-hole for the Victorians and was extensively renovated again. Prisoners of every age and crime were pitched in, and women were often jailed together with men. In the 18th Century, prisoners were normally robbed (’Chummage”) when first placed in the Lodge – the holding cell for new arrivals. All prisoners had to rely on family and friends for money to bribe the guards for meals and comforts. The prison had a notorious stench and it was not unusual for as many as 40 percent of the prisoners to die of some disease while awaiting trial. Prisoners whose crimes had really shocked the city, and those who hadn’t yet bribed the guards, found themselves in the Condemned Hold down in the cellars.
18th Century Criminal Trials: An accused criminal could be arrested by anyone and delivered to a prison. As soon as it was possible, a magistrate heard the accusations and determined if a trial should go ahead. The Clerk of the Courts decided when a trial would be held. The judges would hold their courts in two sessions – in the late winter and spring, or in the autumn. In the summer, they usually dispersed throughout England to hear other cases. Whoever laid the complaint would usually pay for a lawyer to prosecute the case, it would be another 20 years before someone first hired a lawyer to defend them. There were, however, ‘alibi men’ and other professional witnesses waiting outside the court to be hired by the defendant. Trials could be quick, especially if the prison was too full. Jury trials were common too, but if feeling in the city was too strong for or against a defendant (and the crime associated with Timon would have been a horrifying one), the clerk usually saw to it the case was tried by a judge alone. For centuries, literate people could claim ‘Benefit of Clergy’ in the hope of a lesser sentence.
London Bridge: There had been a series of wooden bridges across the Thames for centuries, but construction began on a stone bridge in 1176, and this was the famous ‘London Bridge’ of song and story. It was solidly constructed, so much so that most of the span was covered by buildings atop the bridge – some of which were as high as seven stories. This meant that crossing the bridge involved passing through two stone gate-houses and under a dozen or more archways of tightly packed housing – with shops lining both sides of the bridge. Traffic on the bridge got so congested that it was decided to remove all the buildings on it – work didn’t begin on this until 1758, but an astute man like Jack Reynolds would have known this was coming. The bridge rested on 19 piers, which channeled the flow of the river between them and this could make for a dangerous boat ride if the tide had backed the river up.
Sydenham’s Laudanum: This was an early form of liquid opium and very powerful. A big swig of it – perhaps loaded in a strong drink of rum – could knock a man out for many hours. It was also very common for someone to lose their short term memory of what happened to them just before the drug took effect. It was also very dangerous in a large dose although Timon was strong enough to withstand it. A similar large drink would kill a sick man in his sleep, as seems to have happened to Timon’s father. Under the effect of that much opium, Timon would have stayed unconscious as he was hustled off through the streets by an angry procession of Londoners and dumped in Newgate.
Transportation and Indenture: Until the American Revolution, many convicted British prisoners were sent to the Caribbean or the American colonies as indentured servants. In effect they were slaves as long as their sentences lasted although they then automatically became free. Other indentured servants were volunteers who accepted a short term of service in exchange for passage to the New World, but the prisoners with Timon would have their indentures bought from the captain who shipped them over and would be worked on plantations. These convicts often worked alongside African slaves and were often treated even worse.