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The Black Dog of Newgate

4 min read

If you could travel through time and visit something from some different eras of history, there are some places that would be like to visit and others that you’d definitely want to avoid.
For example, 17th century English prisons definitely fall into the latter category, as these institutions were notorious for their horrible living conditions.
So it comes as no surprise that one of worst of these prisons, Newgate Prison, spawned some really dark folktales.

The present building that now is the Central Criminal Court, more commonly known as the “Old Bailey” and opened in 1907, stands on the site of the former Newgate Prison, a gaol notorious for its appalling conditions and general wretchedness.
As the 18th century writer, Henry Fielding once decribe it, it literally was a “prototype of hell”.
Tucked behind Newgate was a narrow alleyway known as ‘Deadman’s Walk’, so called because the passageway was used to convey condemned criminals as they were led towards their execution.
Today, it is known as ‘Amen Court’, and it’s just a quiet courtyard off of Warwick Lane.
However, despite the far gentler renaming, Amen Court is home to one of London’s most fearsome ghosts, the so-called Black Dog of Newgate.

The Black Dog of Newgate is a spectre that supposedly haunted the building.
He was a very large wild dog, literally with saucer-like eyes that shone like lamps, and carried iron chains around his neck.
Illustrations of this creature from the 17th century sometimes depict the creature with snakes coming out of his head, like Medusa, but this might be just an artistic choice and not intended to be taken literally.
Either way, in the 17th century, a man named Luke Hutton published a pamphlet about this creature, claiming that the story was told to him by a strange, very thin man.
The booklet is written like the author is trying to warn the reader about this dangerous supernatural creature, yet it does contain a disclaimer that the story is most likely fiction, with the remark that in reality there is only one black dog in the prison, and it is a statue.
In any case, it nevertheless gained a position among the local folktales and cryptids.

The story goes like this, and it is said to have originated in 1596 when a chap was thrown into Newgate for dabbling in sorcery.
Unfortunately for this peculiar man, this happened during a time of great famine which had struck London and, during an uprising, some starving inmates overpowered him.
Starving to death, some prisoners within Newgate had turned to cannibalism, in what was a nasty turn of events which the sorcerer quickly fell victim to, gruesomely slaughtered by his cell-mates.
Because the guards did not care enough about the prisoners to interfere, they managed to kill the man and eat his corpse.
Unsurprisingly, the sorcerer was a bit peeved at being made dish of the day and, with his dying breath, he cast a powerful curse on his assailants.
It is said that this wild creature tore into Newgate several nights in a row, ripping limbs off of prisoners and causing others to perish from pure fright.
Far-fetched of course, but it seems that something around this time did indeed cause considerable panic, because a number of guards were murdered by desperate convicts who wanted to escape before the beast returned.
Several of those who managed to flee were guilty of snacking on the sorcerer and, once they’d broken out of Newgate, were promptly slain by the fearsome beast.
Apparently, once all of those implicated in the sorcerer’s death had been dealt with, the dog’s nocturnal rampaging came to an end.

Though the prison was demolished over a century ago, there is still an urban legend about a shapeless black shadow that roams the Amen Court area, with numerous accounts reporting that its ghost appears slithering along walls and giving off a hideous odour. Whenever it appears, witnesses often state that the visitation is accompanied by the sound of dragging footsteps.
Why not pop along to Amen Court one night and take a look around?

Images from web – Google Research

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