See caption
Illustration of child murderer Thomas Hunter (executed August 1700) from the Newgate Calendar (1774)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

T he Newgate Calendar was a genre of publications, much like the True Crime publications popular during the 1930s and ’40s, chronicling the crimes and punishments of notorious criminals.[1] The first books carrying the title appeared in 1774,[a]Some accounts say 1773.[2] a five-volume series dealing with crimes from 1700 onwards, each entry accompanied by “crude” woodcuts illustrating the crime or the execution. The lawyers Andrew Knapp and William Baldwin published a second Newgate Calendar in four volumes in 1824, and the six-volume New Newgate Calendar in 1826. C. Pelham’s Chronicles of Crime: or, The New Newgate Calendar (1886) was the last of the series.[3]

Critics feared that books such as The Newgate Calendar would inspire copycat crimes, and glamorise crime as a way of life. Indeed certain featured characters such as the highwayman Dick TurpinEnglish highwayman whose exploits were romanticised following his execution in York for horse theft. In the popular imagination he is best remembered for a fictional 200-mile ride from London to York on his horse Black Bess. and the notorious burglar Jack SheppardJack Sheppard (1702–1724) was a notorious thief in early 18th-century London, wildly popular with the poorer classes., remain familiar today.[4] The novelist William Makepeace Thackeray was one of the genre’s most vehement critics; in a letter to his mother, dated December 1839, he wrote that at one theatrical adaptation of Jack Sheppard he had seen people in the lobby selling “Shepherd-bags”, containing “a few picklocks … a screwdriver and iron lever”, adding that “one or two young gentlemen have already confessed how much they were indebted to Jack Sheppard who gave them ideas of pocket-picking and thieving [which] they never would have had but for the play”.[5]

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Citations



Bibliography


Birch, D. “Newgate Calendar, The.” Oxford Companion to English Literature, Online, Oxford University Press, 2009, https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780192806871.001.0001/acref-9780192806871-e-539.
Brennan, Stephen. Murderers, Robbers & Highwaymen. Ebook, Skyhorse, 2013.
British Library. The Newgate Calendar. 2022, https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/the-newgate-calender.
Harden, E. A William Makepeace Thackeray Chronology. Springer, 2003.
Ousby, I. “Newgate Calendar, The.” The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English, Cambridge University Press, 2000.