WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ The Old Start

The Old Start (noun)

Newgate. “He is gone to The Old Start.” Also sometimes shortened to The Start. Cant.

Symptoms of the Finish of Some Sorts of Life in London - Tom, Jerry, and Logic in the Press Yard at Newgate, by Pierce Egan, 1823, courtesy British Library.

Symptoms of the Finish of Some Sorts of Life in London – Tom, Jerry, and Logic in the Press Yard at Newgate, by Pierce Egan, 1823, courtesy British Library.

Built in 1188 and demolished in 1904, Newgate stood at the intersection of Newgate Street at Old Bailey. It was the prison where all felons languished in some manner or other while awaiting trial: the filthier Common area for the poor and the State area for those who could afford to spend their incarceration in varying degrees of comfort.

Rioters burn down Newgate Prison during the 1780 Gordon Riots.

Rioters burn down Newgate Prison during the 1780 Gordon Riots.

The prison was badly damaged in the Gordon Riots of 1780, where followers and supporters of The Protestant Association of London protested the lessening of restrictions of Catholics under the new Papist Act of 1778. What began as a march on Parliament – the source of the hated Act – quickly grew to encompass foreign embassies with Catholic chapels and the Moorfields section of London, inhabited by poor Irish Catholics. As tempers flared further and restraint was wholly abandoned, the mob moved its attack to Newgate Prison, The Bank of England, The Fleet, and even the home of Lord Chief Justice, William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield. According to the message scrawled on the outer wall of Newgate, the inmates had been freed (many never to be recaptured) by “His Majesty, King Mob.”

George Dance was commissioned to redesign and fix the damage, which was completed in 1782. The new Common and State areas were further divided into areas for debtors and felons, and men and women/children. The gallows were moved from Tyburn to Newgate at this time as well, making the prison the final destination for those headed for the noose.

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Cant term and definition for The Old Start taken from 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.
Further information of the Gordon Riots can be found here.
Information about Newgate Prison culled from Knowledge of London.

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