Victorian London - Prisons and Penal System - Prisons - Horsemonger Lane

see also James Grants - Sketches in London Chpt.II  - click here

The Surrey County Gaol, Horsemonger Lane, is a massive brick building, erected in 1781, surrounded by a strong wall. It is appropriated to the confinement of felons and debtors. The keeper has a handsome house on the west side of the building. Criminals sentenced to death here terminate their existence; the place of execution being a temporary erection on the top of the northern lodge. Here Colonel Despard and six of his associates were hanged for high treason, in 1803.

Mogg's New Picture of London and Visitor's Guide to it Sights, 1844

Victorian London - Publications - Humour - Punch - cartoon 61 - The Great Moral Lesson at Horsemonger Lane Gaol, Nov. 13.

WE was havin a kevarten wen BILL, he says, says he, 
"To-morrow is the hanging-match; let us go and see."
I was game for anything: off we set that night; 
Ha! the jolly time we spent until the morning light.

Neath the timbers whereupon the conwicts wos to die,- 
(And ugly black the gallows looked atween us and the sky)- 
More than thirty thousand on us shouted, yelled, and sung, 
Chaffin about murder, and going to be hung.

Each public-house was all alight, the place just like a fair;
Ranting, roaring, rollicking, larking everywhere,
Boosing and carousing we passed the night away,
And ho! to hear us curse and swear, waiting for the day.

At last the morning sunbeams slowly did appear,
And then, ha, ha! how rum we looked, with bloodshot eyes and blear:
But there was two good hours at least afore the hanging yet,
So still we drained the early purl, and swigged the heavy wet.

Thicker hacked the crowd apace, louder grew the glee,
There was little kids a dancin, and fightin for a spree;
But the rarest fun for me and BILL, and all our jolly pals,
Was the squeakin and squallin and faintin of the gals.

"Time s up!" at last cries BILL. "Why, sure, it ain't to be a sell!
Never. It can't be, I should think. All right! There goes the knell!
See, here they come, and no mistake, JACK KETCH and all his crew
The Sheriffs, Parson, and - that's them! Hats off in front, there, you!

"Quick, JACK'S about it. There he s got the fust beneath the beam;
And now, the other! Not a start, a tremble, or a scream!
All a ready. There they stand alone. The rest have gone below.
Look at him - look - he's at the bolt! Now for it! Down they go!"

Twas over. Well, a sight like that afore these eyes of mine
I never had - no sort of mill, cockfightin, or canine.
Hurrah! you dogs, for hangin, the feelins to excite;
I could ha throttled BILL almost, that moment, with delight.

But, arter all, what is it P A tumble and a kick!
And, anyhow, tis seemingly all over precious quick,
And shows that some, no matter for what they've done, dies game!
Ho, ho! if ever my time comes, I hope to do the same!

Punch, Jul.-Dec. 1849

In 1859 this gloomy pile received upwards of 3200 prisoners of whom 717 were females. Criminals sentenced to death are executed on the top of the prison. The Governor's house is on the west side.

Cruchley's London in 1865 : A Handbook for Strangers, 1865