HANGING ON FOR DEAR LIFE
Just south of Clerkenwell are two places with gruesome pasts. Smithfields, still a meat market, was once the abattoir of London and also the site for the slaughter of various human animals – including William Wallace / Braveheart / Mel Gibson. Further on, and now under the watchful eye of the central criminal court’s Recording Angel, was another execution ground at the entrance of what was Newgate Prison.
For hundreds of years Newgate would have made Abu Ghraib seem like Disneyland. Tales of its horrors are legion. In its day hangings were saved for public holidays and although intended by the city’s fathers to be a warning to wrongdoers, in fact turned into something like the Notting Hill Carnival. It is said that 200,000 citizens, half the city’s population, turned out to see their hero Jack Shepherd finally get his comeuppance. (The bounty hunter who turned him never got chance to enjoy his reward, meeting his own end at the hands of Jack’s many friends.)