Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Newgate Prison

If any place should be haunted, a prison is a likely candidate. Newgate, dating to Roman times, was torn down in 1901 to create room for the Central Criminal Court. Newgate was said to be haunted by a Black Dog, of which the first written mention is dated 1596, though it was known in folklore long before that time. An indistinct, yet horrifying, shape was seen to crawl along the wall (also dating to Roman times) that once separated the prison from Amen Court. On the side of the wall where Newgate once stood, a narrow pathway led from the prison to quicklime pits, where the bodies of the executed were buried. Not surprisingly, it was dubbed "Dead Man's Walk".

A Mr. Scott, once Chief Warder of Newgate, had a grim story to tell of a haunting in the prison. He was one of those present at the hanging of Amelia Dyer on June 10, 1896. Mrs. Dyer was a "baby farmer", a woman who offered to take care of children born out of wedlock so that their mothers could escape disgrace. A fee was involved for this "service", and Dyer insisted on full payment up front. She then murdered the babies entrusted to her care; she avoided detection (despite many close calls) for many years before her crimes caught up to her.

As Mrs. Dyer was taken to the scaffold, she looked at Mr. Scott and said in a low voice, "I'll meet you again, sir."

Not long before Newgate was closed permanently, several of the warders gathered to share a bottle of whiskey, celebrating the end of their employment in the prison. The room where they held the little party was next to the Women Felons Yard. A door, with a window in it, led to the yard. Scott became aware that someone was watching him, and the words "Meet you again some day, sir," echoed through his head.

He looked towards the door, and saw Mrs. Dyer's unmistakable face in the window. She looked at Scott for a moment, then left. Scott quickly opened the door, and saw nothing... except a woman's handkerchief, which floated to the ground at his feet.

There were no female prisoners at the prison at that time, and there had been none for several years.

When Scott was photographed outside the execution shed, Mrs. Dyer's face appeared over his shoulder in the print.

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