Regency and Research

Newgate: Clarifying the picture

Newgate Chapel. From my research and familiarity with the era, I know that Newgate was one of the most notorious of the prisons during the Regency Period. So, take a look at this etching, originally from The Microcosm of London. What do you think is happening?

Source: Wikipedia, public domain, source: Microcosm of London, 1810
Source: Wikipedia, public domain, source: Microcosm of London, 1810

If you’re like me, you see that it looks like a chapel and people praying around the coffin – obviously someone died.

And then you read the explanatory notes.

I was fortunate enough to receive a tiny, abridged 1943 edition of The Microcosm of London, originally by T. Rowlandson & A.C. Pugin. What’s neat about this edition is that it explains things that Rowlandson and Pugin’s contemporaries would have known – but which we modern readers miss. John Summerson provides the following explanation of the picture:

“… Pugin and Rowlandson show us the chapel (plate V), planned by a great architect, George Dance, for the hideous ceremony which took place on the Sunday preceding an execution. In the centre is the pew in which the condemned sit or kneel round a symbolic coffin. A crowd of other prisoners enjoys the rich spectacle of men and women faced with prospects worse than their own. The Governor and his wife are lodged securely in their corner pew: the chaplain prays lustily as he stares across his congregation of the damned to the painted Ten Commandments, which stare back vindictively from the squat altar-piece. Shortly he will ascend the pulpit and preach the ‘condemned sermon.'” – J. Summerson

A bit different than you expected, hmm?

Have you found something interesting like this before in your research? Care to share? Did you know when you first looked at the picture what was going on in the picture?

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