Newgate Prison beam, London, England, ca. 1780

Newgate Prison beam, London, England, ca. 1780

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The demolition of London’s notorious Newgate Prison might have passed without notice had it not been for the work of Charles Dickens. As architecturally impressive as it was bleak, Newgate’s high-walled squalor appeared in Dickens’s earliest reporting on London’s social conditions, collected in Sketches by “Boz” (1836), and as a setting in his novels—notably, Oliver Twist (1838) and Barnaby Rudge (1841). The popularity of Dickens’s works on both sides of the Atlantic led readers to seek out the places described in his books. After his death in 1870, a flood of transatlantic tourists made their way to “disappearing Dickensland,” as one traveler described the vanishing London sites.
When Newgate closed in 1903, Dickens fans eagerly collected bits of it. London Police Constable William Fulcher obtained this piece of an oak beam from the chapel, which had burned during the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots of 1780 that Dickens dramatized in Barnaby Rudge. Fulcher carried it with him to the British pavilion at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1905, and from there he wrote to the secretary of the Smithsonian, offering to donate it as a gift.
Gift of P.C. William Fulcher, 1905
Object Name
beam fragment
associated date
associated place
United Kingdom: England, London
United States: Missouri, St. Louis
United Kingdom: England, London, Newgate Prison
Physical Description
wood (overall material)
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
William Fulcher
See more items in
Political and Military History: Political History, General History Collection
Souvenir Nation
Government, Politics, and Reform
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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