Tuesday, February 28, 2023

The Black Dog of Newgate.

The remains of Newgate Prison, photo by L Wall, 2023

Exiting the tube station at St Paul's, I immediately regretted not bringing my scarf and hat; it was bitterly cold. While not a long walk from the station, I still managed to get lost twice, even with the help of Google Maps. My destination? An unassuming and overlooked lane, inaccessible to the public and hiding an interesting piece of London's history. At the end of the lane, tucked away behind lush greenery and the bins, is an old wall. The last remaining wall of the infamous Newgate Prison. And, of course, it's haunted.

Opened in 1188 and closed in 1902, Newgate resulted from Henry II bringing in new legal reforms in 1166. Unfortunately it was poorly maintained and run, a place where you were likely to die of some horrible disease before you reached your trial date. Rich or poor, innocent or guilty, Newgates doors were open to all. Some of its more well-known inmates included Captain Kidd, Daniel Defoe and (briefly) Oscar Wilde.

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while, or have even been following me on Twitter and Instagram, know I'm a sucker for a Black Dog story. So it should be no surprise that when I came across this gruesome tale my interest was peaked. Not your typical spectral hound, the story of the Black Dog of Newgate hits a bit differently. Rather than being an omen of doom to all who see it, this pooch was only interested in one thing, revenge.

Our story starts during the reign of Henry III, amid a terrible famine. People were struggling and suffering from the lack of food, but the situation was especially dire for those locked in Newgate Prison. As criminals they just weren't a priority when it came to supplies and had been getting so little that some had resorted to cannibalism. Despite being aware of this, the authorities were still sending people to the jail, and one of these unfortunates was an unnamed Scholar. The starving inmates of Newgate took the phrase "fresh meat" to a whole new level when they attacked and devoured him. Had they known that the Scholar had been sent to prison on charges of sorcery, they probably would have left him alone, but he was weak, and they were desperate. Little did they know that this monstrous act would come back to haunt them.  
First, prisoners reported seeing the Scholar himself wandering the prison, but man's true vengeance would manifest in the form of a ghastly black hound. The beast had glowing red eyes, and gore dripped from its tooth-filled maw as it stalked the corridors of Newgate. While the sight of it alone was enough to make a few of the weaker men drop dead of fright, others faced a much more terrifying fate. The hound turned vicious when it got bored of toying with the prisoners. It would appear in locked cells, then tear the men inside to shreds before vanishing. Imagine the horror of the prisoners as, night after night, their cells were filled with growls, blood-curdling screams and the sounds of men being torn limb from limb. 
Horrific as the attacks were, one thing soon became apparent. The Dog was only attacking those responsible for the Scholar's murder, hunting them down in the jail's darkest corners, hell-bent on wiping them all out. 
Upon realising this, the surviving murderers panicked. Together they organised a jailbreak, killing some of the prison guards in their desperate scramble for freedom. They would have been hung if they had been re-arrested, which would have been a mercy. Unfortunately for them the Scholar's wrath wasn't limited to the walls of Newgate, and you can't outrun four legs on two. All of the killers were hunted down and slaughtered. When its task was completed, the Black Dog returned to Newgate Prison, where it seems content to lurk up to this day. 

This gruesome tale could easily be the plot of a horror movie, but allegedly it's a true story. Our first written account of the Back Dog of Newgate was from a pamphlet (or chapbook.) published in 1596 by a highwayman named Luke Hutton. This was likely a pen name with a false backstory attached as an attempt to boost sales, as books written by criminals were popular even back then. The story might pre-date publication, but we don't have the original version as proof, which would have been told word of mouth. It's doubtful that it resembled the fantastical story that was published. If it was a pre-existing tale, then it's more likely that it became exaggerated over time till it became the horror story we know today. But one fact remains, true or not, people claim to have seen the hound. There have been sightings of a shadowy, dog-like thing slinking around the remaining wall. Reports include a terrible smell*, not unlike that of death, and the sound of footsteps. The area itself is meant to have a strange atmosphere. 

While certainly not one of London's most well-known ghost stories, I'm pretty fond of this tale of revenge from beyond the grave. I came across the story by chance, on Tik-Tok of all places. I got curious and had to look into the tale more. After that I couldn't resist a visit to the location. Sadly, as I've said previously, the site is not accessible to the public, so I couldn't get any closer than I did in my photo, and even that was zoomed in a bit. 

Have you ever been to this location and witnessed something strange or supernatural? I love to hear your stories! Tell us about them in the comments section below, or tag me in a Tweet!

The Black Dog of Newgate

* The wall is near some bins, so they might have been responsible for the Terrible Smell in more modern times. Either that or it's terrible dog breath, and we need to break out the paranormal pedigree dentastix.