Newgate Prison was an impregnable jail in the centre of 18th Century London. But prisoner Jack Sheppard, born on 4 March 1702, managed to escape twice!
In 1724, just four days before his execution, Sheppard sawed through one of the iron bars of the cell, squeezed through the gap, and made his way to the prison reception area where he walked out through Newgate’s main entrance.
His second escape was even more remarkable. This time he was shackled and handcuffed but still freed himself. He removed a bar blocking the chimney and climbed up it. He picked the locks of various doors and made his way up onto the roof. Realising that he needed something to lower himself down, he returned to his cell via the same route and collected his blanket. Once on the roof again, he let himself down onto the roof of a house backing on to the prison. Climbing through a garret window, he made his way down through the house and walked out of the front door!
However, it wasn’t long before he was caught and taken back to Newgate. Sheppard’s exploits made people curious to know what he looked like. The artist Sir James Thornhill visited him in his cell just before his execution, and made a drawing which was made into a popular print. You can see a copy on display at the Museum of London.
The site of Newgate Prison is now occupied by the Old Bailey, the Central Criminal Court of England and Wales.