I reckon pretty much everyone has heard of the Artful Dodger, a character in Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist, but how many of you have heard of Jack Sheppard many people believe he was the inspiration for the Artful Dodger, don’t know if he was or not because hell I wasn’t alive back then but anyway I have be inspired to tell you a little about him.
He was born on the 4th March 1702 into a poor family, he scored an apprenticeship as a carpenter and by 1722 after 5 years of apprenticeship he was an accomplished craftsman and it is believed he had only a year left of his training when he embarked on a life of crime.
He was only a small man said to be about 5’4” tall and of slight built which was one of the reason he was able to escape so easy from prisons and shackles. He is said to have a quick smile, charm and a personality that made him popular in the taverns of Drury Lane, this is where he fell in with bad company and where it is said he met a prostitute called Elizabeth Lyon better known as Edgworth Bess.
The first recorded crime he committed was petty shoplifting in 1723 he was, however, arrested and imprisoned five times between 1723-24 but escaped four of those times which made him notorious and popular especially amongst the poor.
His first escape was in 1723 from a new prison in Clerkenwell where he was sent after being detained in St Anne’s Roundhouse where he was being held for pick-pocketing and where when she visited him Bess was recognised and also arrested. They spent a night there but the next morning he filed of his restraints made a hole in the wall and removed an iron bar and wooden bar from the window, then tying bedding together the pair lowered themselves on to the ground. They then climbed over a 22 foot-high wall to make good their escape, wow what a feat remember Jack wasn’t a big man and Bess was quite a large woman.
The following year after being convicted of burglary Jack found himself under sentence of death and was in Newgate prison in those days there was a hatch with a large iron spikes opening into a dark passage that led to the condemned cell. Jake filed away one of the spikes so that it would easily break off and in the evening when Bess and another prostitute came to see him they distracted the guard while he removed the spiked climbed through and made his escape with the help of the women.
He was not free for long though, he may have found it easy to escape but he also found it just as easy to get caught.
His last escape was thought to be is most famous escape, again it was an escape from Newgate prison it was sometime between the hours of 4pm and 1am on the 15th October 1724, he managed to slip off his handcuffs and picked the padlock securing his chain to the floor. It is believed that after forcing several locks he was able to scale a wall and reach the roof using his blanket from his cell he slide down the roof onto a neighbouring roof. He climbed into the house and escaped through the front door still wearing leg irons, he managed to convince shoemaker to remove his leg irons but he was caught again two weeks later.
On the 16th November 1724 he was hung at the gallows at Tyburn it is believed he had planned one more escape but his pen knife that he intended to cut the ropes was found by a prison guard shortly before he was taken from his prison for the last time.
A joyous procession passed through the streets of London, the occasion was as much a celebration of his life and there is reported to have been up to 200,000 people. The procession halted at the City of Oxford tavern so Jack could have a pint before his death.
His slight build had aided his escapes but it went against him with his death he was condemned to a slow death by strangulation, he had planned for his friends to take his body and try to revive him but as it turned out the crowd pressed forward to stop his body from being removed thus preventing any attempt at reviving his body. His badly mauled remains were recovered and buried in the churchyard of St Martin’s in the Fields later that evening.