Jack Sheppard

by William Harrison Ainsworth

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 666

*Newgate Prison

*Newgate Prison. Famous London prison featured in the novel; named after the city’s fifth gate, which was added in the twelfth century. The prison in this novel was the latest (but not the last) in a long series, replacing one destroyed in the great London fire of 1666. The famous court of the Old Bailey was established nearby for convenience. Chapter 9 of the novel’s third part includes an elaborate description of the prison’s architecture, in order to give due credit to Jack’s two escapes, first from the Condemned Hold and then from the Stone Hold—allegedly its most terrible dungeon—where he is visited by painters anxious to obtain portraits of the notorious felon. (This, the most celebrated of Sheppard’s escapes, is lavishly illustrated by George Cruikshank’s steel engravings.) When Jack is sent back to Newgate for a third time, he is weighed down with inescapable fetters in the Middle Stone Ward. The other significant setting within the prison is the Press Room, where Blueskin is tortured. Jonathan Wild lives opposite the prison’s main gate, next door to the Cooper’s Arms.


*Moorfields. Site of London’s Old Bethlehem Hospital, erected in 1675, allegedly modeled on the French king Louis XIV’s Tuileries Palace, and popularly known as Bedlam. Mrs. Sheppard is confined here, a short distance to the north of Newgate. The “New Prison” in Clerkenwell, from which Jack escapes after the Dollis Hill robbery, is farther to the north.


*Southwark. District south of the River Thames connected to the City of London by Old London Bridge. When King Charles II obliterated “Alsatia,” the thieves’ kitchen which had taken advantage of the ancient sanctuary of Whitefriars, its inhabitants took up residence in Southwark, in the so-called Old Mint. Ainsworth’s story begins here, in Mrs. Sheppard’s dismal lodgings in Wheeler’s Rents. The Cross Shovels, an inn used as a base by “Baptist” Kettleby, the so-called Master of the Mint, is also featured. Old London Bridge was the city’s only bridge in 1703: an extraordinary edifice covered with houses and shops, with arched gateways at either end whose spikes were adorned with traitors’ heads. The pier of each arch was protected by a spur called a starling, one of which enables Owen Wood to save Thames Darrell from the storm and Rowland Trenchard’s murderous intentions.


*Wapping. Port district east of the City of London where the ship on which Thames Darrell is abducted is anchored. By the time Thames returns to England, Southwark’s Old Mint has been purged of its underworld on the instructions of George I and a “New Mint” has been established in Wapping between Artichoke Lane and Nightingale Lane, Baptist Kettleby having replaced the Cross Shovels with the Seven Cities of Refuge.


*London. Other principal settings in the novel are distributed along an arc extended westward and northward from the City of London. Owen Wood’s home and workshop are located immediately to the west in Wych Street, Drury Lane; William Kneebone’s drapery, which subsequently moves into Wood’s premises, is initially situated in the Strand, opposite St. Clement’s Church. Westminster Hall, from which Jack begins his last journey, and the scaffold at Tyburn where it terminates, are arranged along a route curving away to the northwest, as is Southampton Fields, where Lady Trafford’s Elizabethan Mansion is located. Although it is now part of Greater London, Willesden was then a country village even farther to the northwest; this is where Jack is caught stealing for the first time and makes the first of his many escapes from the constable’s cage. Jack and his mother are eventually buried in...

(This entire section contains 666 words.)

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Willesden Churchyard. Dollis Hill, to which Owen Wood’s family retires, is nearby.

Ashton Hall

Ashton Hall. Stately home near Manchester, in the north of England, from which Mrs. Sheppard was allegedly stolen by gypsies, and to which Rowland Trenchard retires after his denunciation by Wild.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 199

Chandler, Frank W. The Literature of Roguery. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1907. Provides a very detailed overview of Jack Sheppard.

Hollingsworth, Keith. The Newgate Novel, 1830-1847: Bulwer, Ainsworth, Dickens, and Thackeray. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1963. The best study of the tradition of stories about criminals. Places Jack Sheppard in that tradition, showing how Ainsworth is indebted to eighteenth century picaresque writers for many of his themes, images, and techniques. Contrasts that novel with Dickens’ Oliver Twist.

Sanders, Andrew. The Victorian Historical Novel, 1840-1880. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1979. The best recent study of the historical novel in the nineteenth century. Explains the literary techniques that made Jack Sheppard Ainsworth’s best novel.

Sutherland, J. A. Victorian Novelists and Publishers. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976. Includes Ainsworth’s literary output as a major example in his well-written, thoughtful, and detailed examination of how business relationships between novelists and publishers affected the novels. He shows how Jack Sheppard propelled Ainsworth’s career.

Worth, George J. William Harrison Ainsworth. New York: Twayne, 1972. The only book-length critical study of Ainsworth’s career. Describes the ways in which Jack Sheppard set the pattern of Ainsworth’s writing style for the rest of his career.


Critical Essays