Preparations for the Plank maps are proceeding apace. I have marked up a handful of London maps – one for each book – for my “map man”, and he is going to start work on the base map that will be adapted each time. He’s obsessed with architecture, I’m obsessed with Sam, and so together we’re really getting into what a French businessman I once knew called “the nitties and the gritties”. And, as with almost every area of research you can imagine, I am having to be extremely careful.
Take, for instance, Newgate prison (or gaol, as it was more commonly called). This is going to be on the base map, as Sam is always trotting along there to speak to a prisoner or to have a chinwag with the keeper, and the map man thinks he might draw a little picture of it. Simple, you might think: just find an old drawing of it and there you go. But no. The original Newgate was part of the wall surrounding London, and was built in 1188 – it was a gatehouse with cells for housing ne’er-do-wells awaiting trial. This original gatehouse was extended piecemeal – including by adding an extra tower for women prisoners – until it was pulled down and fully rebuilt in 1422. It burnt down in 1666, during the Great Fire, and was rebuilt in 1672. In 1770, work began on a new enlarged and modern prison with attached sessions house (courthouse), but during mob riots in 1780 it was badly damaged and so not actually finished until 1782. In 1783, London’s main site of execution was moved from Tyburn (near modern-day Marble Arch) to Newgate Street, just outside the prison. And in 1858, they divided up the interior of Newgate into individual cells – up to this point, only wealthy prisoners had any privacy. Newgate was finally shut down in 1902 and demolished in 1904 – it is now the site of the Central Criminal Court, or Old Bailey.
As you can imagine, every incarnation of Newgate has been recorded in words and pictures. And when Sam is describing it, or I am choosing a picture to serve as a model for the map, I have to be scrupulous about picking the right Newgate. Now, don’t even get me started on the Marshalsea prison (two iterations) or the Fleet prison (four).