London of the eighteenth century was an explosive mixture. On the one hand, the rich, who could solve any problem with a wallet. Committed a crime and you are threatened by the gallows? It does not matter if you have money. On the other - the poor, who were sent in batches not a scaffold for the slightest offense. Luxurious gardens and mansions, palaces and columns, like a mask, they hid behind their pompousness the true face of London. And beneath it were the slums of Spitelfields and Shordich, where people struggled every day not even for life, but for a miserable existence.
The inhabitants of England at that time did not consider the death penalty to be something out of the ordinary. For them, it was a commonplace "bytovuha", so the corpses of pirates and robbers, swaying in the wind in the iron cells, caused no more interest than the rain after lunch. Moreover, any resident of London with an empty wallet on a subconscious level understood that sooner or later his body would also sway. After all, the slightest violation of the laws was punished in a simple but effective way - the death penalty. The judge did not care what the person had done. Steal an apple? Sorry, but you have to pay for it with your life. Did you get noticed in the gypsy camp? Here's a ticket to the next world out of turn. It is curious that not only adults were executed, they did not spare children.
And if the life of the poor reminded of the gutters, where the rain washed the impurities from the streets, then a completely different picture opened before the eyes of the rich. For example, Earl Mansfield, using his position in society, stole what is called "wagons". In the end, they had to deal with Parliament. True, further requests not to steal so much business did not go. Behind Mansfield stood patrons from the crowned family. Therefore, his son, who killed a person in a state of alcoholic intoxication, escaped with a fine, despite the fact that he was initially sentenced to the gallows.
Sometimes it came to absurdity. So, a certain John Russell, who robbed several people, was sentenced to death. But literally a couple of days before the execution of the sentence, he received a huge inheritance and ... he was pardoned.
It was in such a cruel world full of double standards that Jack Sheppard was born - one of the most famous robbers of England, who became the idol of all London beggars during his life.
Jack was born 4 March 1702, in a poor family. But unlike many of his peers, the boy was initially lucky. Despite the constant lack of money, the mother and father did not leave their child on the street and did not give up “for rent” to the market beggar. So Jack and grew up in one of the many slums of London without any hope of a bright future.
Everything changed after the death of his father. Mother was not able to contain children, so Jack was taken to a certain cloth merchant. And when the guy was fifteen, Sheppard went to another mentor - now he began to study the craft of a carpenter. His case was arguing. At the age of twenty, Jack was considered to be an experienced master, capable of fulfilling virtually any order in quality. Mentor was pleased.
Contemporaries described Jack as a pale, subtle, short guy (his height was just over one hundred and sixty centimeters), endowed with amazing physical strength and dexterity. By the way, these "jokers" Sheppard more than once used in street fights. None of the robbers or drunken teasers could not have imagined that the kid, resembling a blade of grass, was able to fight back. Although Jack’s life was not sugar, he constantly smiled, but his big dark eyes always remained sad. It was listed as Sheppard and another feature - the guy stuttered slightly, but in the taverns he was considered a clever and eloquent man.
Perhaps Jack would have lived his life without leaving a trace in history if it were not for the fateful meeting. In the Black Lion tavern, where the last pennies of apprentices were left from all over Drury-Lane, Sheppard met Elizabeth Lyon. The girl, like the entire contingent of the tavern, was a representative of the "lower classes". And she earned a living for herself just like most of the young beggar women - was engaged in prostitution. She was the one who got addicted to strong alcohol. In general, according to the researchers, it was Bess who spoiled the young carpenter. He fell head over heels. Like any boy of twenty, he wanted to impress his beloved. And how to do it, if your income is barely enough to make ends meet? Do not quit going to the taverns, honestly, Bess will not understand ...
Visiting high places and excessive alcohol consumption could not affect the work. More and more often, customers remained dissatisfied with Sheppard. The master, as he could, tried to influence the guy in order to bring him to feelings. Yes, to no avail. Sheppard tightened the tavern pool more strongly.
And in 1723, what happened was what the talented apprentice mentor was so afraid of - Jack committed a crime. For the sake of easy money, he pulled two silver spoons into one of the many taverns (according to another version, kitchen utensils were stolen from a certain wealthy merchant who hired Jack). Sheppard spent the money, of course, on Bess. But the girl was not enough. She demanded gifts. Jack was well aware that on the earnings of a carpenter to satisfy the growing appetite of the ladies heart will not work. And then he began to steal and rob. Fear of losing Bess was much stronger than the instinct of self-preservation and common sense.
Pursuing robberies, Sheppard tried to hide it from all his acquaintances. Therefore, once again began to treat honest work in good faith. But still, someone passed it. There is an assumption that Jack told about the source of his income Bess, well, she let out to her friends and so on and so forth. In the end, the constables began an investigation. And Sheppard, having tasted easy money, began to become even more impudent. After a short time, considering himself elusive, he left apprentices and began to live only by robbery. But just to rob and rob the streets of the city was impossible. After all, night London had its king - Jonathan Wilde. Jack had to join his gang. But soon their paths diverged, Sheppard did not want to give most of the "salary" to an uncrowned monarch of thieves.
It was then that the former carpenter and the real problems began - the constables were hunting for him. Jack was in the role of a hunted beast. On the one hand, he was pursued by the guards of order, on the other - the people of Wilde were waiting for the right moment to get rid of the young and impudent thief who had risked defying everyone. Jack had to dodge. He did not want to be on the gallows at twenty-two years old. So the guy went underground. During the day he hid in the dirtiest and smelly cellars, fighting for a piece of bread with rats, and at night he went out to work. That's just not his luck. And when he learned that a solid reward was announced for his head, he realized that he was completely confused in the web of the law.
Wanderings could not go on forever. Some time later, the weakened and sick Sheppard was arrested by the constables. So Jack was behind bars for the first time. If he were an ordinary Londoner, he would humbly wait for a harsh sentence - the death penalty. But so early to leave this mortal world Sheppard did not want. As soon as the overseer's steps subsided, Jack began to check the ceiling of the chamber for reliability. It turned out that in one place the partition was rotting, so the young brigand was able to make a hole enough to get out. Slim body and small stature played a good service to Sheppard. Having tied up rags and blankets, Jack managed to come down from the roof and got to the church cemetery. The guard heard the noise coming too late from the cell too late. And while he picked up the right key to the lock, Sheppard managed to sneak away.
But Jack did not stay long. Already a few weeks later he was detained by vigilant constables in one of the taverns where the robber was still celebrating his escape.
The first time I taught the police nothing. Jack was again placed in a regular cell to await sentencing. Moreover, Bess was even allowed to go to him. Inspect the robber's girlfriend no one. And she, taking advantage of such carelessness, managed to hand over Jack a knife (according to other sources, a spear or halberd). She hid the “parcel” on the bottom of the basket, covering it with food. Within minutes, Jack and Bess were in the corridor. But here they were not lucky - they stumbled upon the guards. First, a sweet couple was locked in the basement, and later - transferred to the Clerkenwell prison. There, by the way, they were placed in one cell.
This time, the guards were more attentive. Fearing another escape from Sheppard, they put chains on him with heavy weights. Also it was forbidden to let visitors. And what about Jack? He still managed to escape. Using all the same knife (in the confusion of the robber forgot to search him), he managed to get rid of the shackles. Then he either sawed the bars of the lattice, or simply broke them, tied up an improvised rope made with improvised cloth and slipped free. As for Bess, the information about her future life diverge. According to some reports, the girl was released as a bait. On the other - she still served some time. In general, the situation is confusing.
Sheppard's second escape was an extraordinary and disturbing event for London. Beggars perceived him as a real hero who dared to challenge the system. But the authorities and constables held the opposite opinion. Because of the fugitive, almost all London law enforcement officers were put on their ears. And as the assistants in the search were chosen all the same poor. For any information about the location of Sheppard promised an impressive reward.
Jack was far from a fool, so he knew perfectly well what his position was. He could not hide forever - sooner or later he would be beaten to death by starvation or some disease. Surrender to the authorities? Then there is only one way - to the gallows. And Jack decided to go all in. Simply put, he decided to play with death to the last. So he officially became a real robber, not submitting to anyone.
This choice led to the fact that he was again started hunting and the people of Jonathan Wilde. The king of London at night saw a rival in the boy and was afraid that in time he would be able to become the leader of some dangerous gang of similar rebels. Neither the constables nor the Wilde had new “characters” to anything.
According to one version, Bess “pops up” at this time. She did not tell the guards about the order where Jack was hiding. Either she simply did not betray her, or she herself did not know. But when Wilde’s people came to her house, she immediately split. Apparently, they had their own, "special" methods of interrogation.
The leader of all London criminals immediately shared information with the constables. And soon Sheppard was arrested. When the guards broke into the shack where the robber was hiding, he was drunk, so he could not resist. So Jack was in Newgate prison - the worst place in London at that time.
Hero of Legends
Newgate Prison has been known since the twelfth century. But perhaps it was built earlier. The building was repeatedly destroyed and rebuilt in order to become a real fortress, from where it was impossible to make an escape. Anyone there was doomed to a life full of horror and humiliation.
By and large, this prison was such a state in the state, with its own laws and procedures. For example, a new prisoner was obliged to drink his cellmates with alcohol. It was not difficult to find him, he was in the free market (the supervisors themselves were engaged in the implementation). The problem was something else - it was expensive. And if the unfortunate had no money, he would face beatings, humiliation and, most likely, death. After all, the jailers in prisoners did not see living people, but only a source of additional income.
Another thing is curious: in prison there was even a kind of price list in which there were “paid services”. For example, such a sum was demanded for loosening the prisoner's chains, another for warming up at the fireplace, and a third for fresh bread and non-swollen water. For a fee, one could even avoid physical violence from cellmates or jailers. Moreover, even when the sentence was coming to an end, it did not mean freedom. The guards demanded money to open the gate. And if the prisoner did not have them, he stayed there. It happened that forever ...
It is clear that a poor person was, by and large, simply doomed initially. So that the poor man did not occupy the place, he was completely stripped and thrown into the basement, where sewage from the whole prison flowed. It was in such a “paradise” that Jack found himself.
The jailers tried to protect themselves. Therefore, so that Sheppard did not attempt to escape, he was prudently fettered. But the robber could not just wait for death. He began to act - tried to persuade several cellmates to escape. But they were waiting for pardon, so they did not risk it. And though Sheppard did not find accomplices, but he managed to get hold of a file. Jack was in a hurry, because he understood that royal favor did not shine to him.
I must say that in the afternoon in Newgame it was noisy, very noisy. Somewhere there were regular repair works, someone was hitting someone, women and children were crying, men were fighting ... In general, life was boiling in its own way. Taking advantage of this feature, Sheppard began to cut the bars of the lattice, which blocked the way to the corridor. He was lucky, the guards did not hear anything and did not suspect anything.
A couple of days before the execution of the sentence to Jack, Bess looked in. She came to repent before the robber. But her visit Sheppard used for personal purposes. He talked to the girl loudly, laughed even louder, and he, meanwhile, continued to cut a metal bar. Bess was also able to imperceptibly hand over a woman’s outfit to him.
Soon the rod burst. Jack climbed out of the cell, dressed, and, taking Bess's arm, slowly moved out of prison. None of the guards paid attention to the two young women. And when they realized it was already too late. Sheppard and his girlfriend literally disappeared into a huge city.
How many criminals were looking for - is unknown. In the end, patience ran out of power, and she again appealed for help to the leader of the London gangsters. Wilde personally took part in the search for a young criminal. He took his behavior as a challenge. Jonathan even managed to find Bess, but this time she didn’t say anything. Most likely, the girl really did not know where Sheppard was. Jack just disappeared, realizing that the only way he would be able to protect his girlfriend.
The execution of Sheppard had to be postponed indefinitely. But Jack helped the sleighs himself. He was so proud of his runaways that he started walking through the taverns to listen to stories about himself. After all here, drunk men greatly exaggerated his mind and cunning. Sheppard loved it. And once he was captured.
Newgate again. Only this time, the robber was first placed in a death cell, and then transferred to a “special” cell. It was believed that escape from there is impossible. Before that, Sheppard was given a whole placer of heavy “jewelery”. And for greater reliability, he was put on a chain attached to the wall. The inhabitants of the slums of London at that time continued to sing the praises of their hero. True, no one believed that Sheppard would manage to avoid the gallows this time. And these pessimistic moods did not come from scratch. The fact is that in the entire history of English justice no one has ever guarded so reliably and vigilantly. There was no such thing that anyone could escape from Newgate, and twice.
Jack Sheppard was the first.
Despite a thorough search of all visitors of the camera with the robber, the guards still goof. Someone managed to pass a nail to Jack. Well, then - the matter of technology. On the night before the trial, he managed to remove his handcuffs and chains, keeping the cherished piece of iron in his teeth. The guards were fast asleep, because no one could imagine that a man, entangled in chains like a Christmas tree, would try to escape. Sheppard’s underestimation was only to his advantage. But he didn’t have enough time to get rid of the shackles on his legs. But Jack managed by his own "trinkets" to break through the wall into the next chamber and, opening the lock with a nail, broke free. More precisely so it seemed to him. But it was still very far away. Going down the stairs, the fugitive ran into the door leading to the chapel. Somehow coping with her (and she was closed on a metal stake on the back!), Jack was inside. From there, he managed to get into the death row, in which he had already been to. Standing on the lid of the coffin (this "attribute" reminded the prisoners of their imminent demise) Sheppard knocked out the bars of the lattice and moved into the next cell. There was another door waiting for him. Getting out, the fugitive went up the stairs and soon found himself on the roof. But the height was too big to jump. It was too late to surrender; nevertheless, not so much for Jack to overcome so many obstacles. So he turned around and headed for his blankets in the same route. He was phenomenally lucky. Supervisors slept. Soon Sheppard returned to the roof and, with the help of bound blankets, sank several floors below. There he found the stairs and went downstairs, but the jailers that appeared scared the fugitive away. Therefore, he returned to the roof again and, falling exhausted, fell asleep. In the morning, Jack, taking advantage of the opportunity, mixed with the huge and motley crowd of prison visitors. So he was free.
For several days Sheppard slept in an abandoned barn on the outskirts of London. Then, having regained his strength, he began to go around the taverns in order to listen to what people were talking about. Of course, all the talk was only about the clever and cunning Jack Sheppard, who managed to escape from prison. The fugitive listened and consoled his vanity. This one killed him. In one of the cereal establishments, the guy was recognized and immediately reported to the police. The guards did not take long to wait. Just a few days after the virtuoso escape, he was again in the Newgate prison. This time the court did not hesitate. The fugitive was quickly convicted and again sentenced to death. Surely, Jack again tried to escape from the death row, but failed.
On the morning of November 16, 1724, he was executed. More than twenty thousand people gathered in Tayben to look at Sheppard's death. The crowd shouted and whistled, thus expressing support for the robber. Whether the fatal Bess was among them is unknown. Jack was holding himself decently and calmly. According to legend, when the priest blessed him, Sheppard said: "One file would be more necessary for me than all the bibles of the world."
In the silence of Jack hanged ...
By the way, the day before the execution, Daniel Defoe came to Sheppard. The writer himself had to go to Newgate as a prisoner, so a long and heartfelt conversation took place between him and Jack. Thanks to that meeting, Defoe wrote several books about the legendary robber from London: "The story of all the robberies, escapes of Jack Shepard" and "The story of the wonderful life of Jack Shepard."
The poor people of London have kept the memory of their hero. In numerous taverns, for a long time, almost every day, they read out plays and poems about Sheppard, a man who was not afraid to go against London all by himself.