New Prison plays a part in my 2015 release of The Prosecution of Mr. Darcy’s Cousin: A Pride and Prejudice Mystery. I thought I might share a bit of information. Unlike the more widely known prison of the day, Newgate Prison, the New Prison had a less stellar past.
Located in the Clerkenwell area of central London, New Prison was used between c.1617 and 1877 (it should not be confused with the New Gaol, another name sometimes applied to Horsemonger Lane Gaol in Southwark, south London). [New Prison]
The court system of the day used New Prison to house prisoners committed for examination before the police magistrates, for trial at the sessions, for want of bail, and occasionally on summary conviction. [New Prison] Such is the reason I chose to use New Prison as the facility to hold Darcy’s cousin, Major General Fitzwilliam. I made an assumption that New Prison would likely provide a bit more freedom than would Newgate, and I need for Darcy to be able to meet often with his cousin as a plot point leading to the trial scene.
The building was rebuilt three times: in 1773, 1818 (after being burnt down in the Gordon Riots of 1780), and in 1847. At this time it was renamed the Clerkenwell House of Detention, also known as Clerkenwell Prison. Next-door was another prison, the Clerkenwell Bridewell for convicted criminals, built in around 1615. This closed in 1794, being superseded by nearby Coldbath Fields Prison.
Modern Use of Building Remnants
During the Second World War part of the basement was altered to form a bomb shelter. Today, the site of the New Prison and the Clerkenwell Bridewell is occupied by the former Hugh Myddleton School (1893-c.1960), in Bowling Green Lane. A number of the original underground spaces and cells remain and are used for office space or storage. A 2007 adaptation of Oliver Twist used these spaces for filming in the July 2007. [New Prison]
Fitzwilliam Darcy is enjoying his marital bliss. His wife, the former Elizabeth Bennet, presented him two sons and a world of contentment. All is well until Darcy receives a note of urgency from his sister Georgiana. In truth, Darcy never fully approved of Georgiana’s joining with their cousin. Major General Edward Fitzwilliam for Darcy assumed the major general held Georgiana at arm’s length, dooming Darcy’s sister to a life of unhappiness.
Forced to seek his cousin in the slews of London’s underbelly, at length, Darcy discovers the major general and returns Fitzwilliam to his family. Even so, the Darcy’s troubles are far from over. During the major general’s absence from home, witnesses note Fitzwilliam’s presence in the area of two horrific murders. When Edward Fitzwilliam is arrested for the crimes, Darcy must discover the real culprit before his cousin is hanged for the crimes and the Fitzwilliam name is marked by shame.
Matlock’s butler admitted him without question, and Darcy entered his aunt’s favorite sitting room just as the high constable informed the major general of the officer’s purpose in coming to Lockland Hall. The countess gasped and collapsed against the loose pillows lining the settee while the earl rose quickly to his feet in protest, but it was Edward’s look of acceptance, which brought Darcy up short.
“You wish this?” he asked into the noisy silence.
Edward’s eyes remained locked on Darcy’s.
“It is part of God’s plan.”
Darcy ignored the earl’s rising ire. He stared at his cousin in stunned disbelief.
“You mean to make a sacrifice? You mean to permit the authorities to take your life as you have taken others?”
Yet, Edward said nothing more. He stood straight and tall: a trained military leader.
“You will not remove my son to Shadwell!” Matlock insisted.
The high constable stood his ground. “I have my orders, Your Lordship.”
“I will go, Father,” The major general said with a strange sense of finality.
Edward adjusted the line of his jacket.
Matlock’s cheeks turned a beet red. “You will do no such thing! I will speak to Lord Sidmouth at the Home Office. This is a mockery of justice!”
Despite his nerves being oddly tense, Darcy spoke with authority.
“We should permit the High Constable his due, Uncle. If Lord Sidmouth agrees with you, the major general can be released in short time.”
“You speak nonsense, Darcy,” Matlock blustered.
As he was the only member of his family aware of the third murder, Darcy assured, “Trust me, Uncle. In this matter, the high constable has his reasons.”
Shock crossed the major general’s countenance.
Darcy kept his eyes on his cousin.
“A third incident,” he explained, and before his uncle could lodge his protest, Darcy added, “I explained to the high constable you were at Darcy House when the attack occurred.”
“Then there is no reason I will be kept in custody.”
Darcy noted the tight fear in Edward’s voice.
“It is best, Father, that no scene is made. I will go with the gentlemen and trust the British judicial system to recognize the truth.”
The earl’s coloring blanched white, and he swayed in place, but he stepped from the way to permit the major general’s exit.
“Darcy, protect Mrs. Fitzwilliam. I want no more shame delivered to her door.”
“I will do my duty by my sister.”
With that, Edward gestured to the high constable to lead the way. Within seconds, the sound of the door’s closing behind his cousin could be heard echoing through the silent halls to where he and his aunt and uncle remained unchanged.
“You should not have permitted Edward to depart with those men,” the countess sobbed. “What will they do to my son?”
“It is a dire situation, Aunt,” Darcy spoke with gravity.
Matlock recovered some of his composure.
“What do you know that we do not?”
He gritted his teeth and strove to explain.
“I attended Mr. Cowan when he examined the latest scene. There are many similarities among the three incidents.”
The countess asked the obvious, “How could Edward be involved in this…this madness if he were at Darcy House?”
His aunt wrung her hands with worry.
“I spoke to the high constable of the major general’s being in his bed when I departed Darcy House; however, I did not confide the fact my cousin was absent from his bed for nearly three hours in the night’s middle.”
Darcy released a frustrated breath and attempted to rein in his unruly thoughts.
Matlock’s gaze narrowed.
“How can you be certain of Edward’s absence?”
Darcy scrubbed his face with his dry hands to drive away the exhaustion creeping into his veins.
“Georgiana woke to discover Edward missing. My sister feared he chose to desert her again. I searched the house for my cousin or a note of farewell. The major general returned through the servants’ entrance while I searched the lower level.”
“Where in the bloody…?” The earl caught himself before his wife.
“My cousin claimed to have gone for a walk.”
“A walk?” Matlock demanded in incredulity.
Blast his cousin: Edward’s stubborn streak created a living nightmare.
“The major general claimed the need to be free of our forced imprisonment.”
The countess observed, “If the authorities learn of this walk, Edward’s freedom will no longer be so easily earned.”