Charles Dickens’ Barnaby Rudge, Bound in Original Newgate Prison Wood

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We sold this item at auction for $2,400
 in May, 2023.

Chapman and Hall Specially Bound Copy of “Barnaby Rudge”

This 1901 edition of Charles Dickens’ classic novel “Barnaby Rudge” is bound in a truly unique cover. Sold at auction by Britannic Auctions for $2,400 in May 2023, this special copy of “Barnaby Rudge” bears a presentation label on the pastedown, revealing its extraordinary origin:

“The wood of which this cover is made is cut from one of the oak beams over the main gateway of Old Newgate Prison. The beams were externally charred by the fire lighted by the Gordon Rioters in 1780. When the gate was burnt down I purchased the beams at the demolition sale at Newgate on the 4th of February 1903. (Roslynn Court, Hampstead. 1st May 1903)”

The Significance of Newgate Prison

Newgate Prison, which was located at the corner of Newgate Street and Old Bailey Street in London, stood as a symbol of punishment and confinement for over 700 years, from 1188 to 1902. Throughout its history, Newgate was notorious for its harsh conditions and public executions, which were eventually moved inside the prison grounds.

Newgate Prison was a dark place Charles Dickens visited and used as a setting in several of his works.

In “Barnaby Rudge,” characters like Hugh, Dennis, and Barnaby find themselves imprisoned at Newgate, reflecting Dickens’ firsthand experiences with the prison. He also witnessed at least one public execution there, which no doubt colored his writings as they incorporated the grim realities of Victorian-era justice.

Bound in Wood Taken From the Prison

The binding of this particular copy of “Barnaby Rudge” is actually crafted from oak beams salvaged from the main gateway of Old Newgate Prison.

The wood, charred by the fire ignited by the Gordon Rioters in 1780, offers a tangible connection to the events depicted in Dickens’ novel. From the textured bricks to the coarse nails and splits of the prison door, every detail of the cover evokes the atmosphere of Victorian-era London.

“Barnaby Rudge”

Charles Dickens’ “Barnaby Rudge” is a literary masterpiece that holds a significant place in the author’s oeuvre.

Serialized in the pages of Master Humphrey’s Clock from February 1841 to November 1841, the first edition of the novel was subsequently published as a standalone work by Chapman & Hall in 1841.

Set against the backdrop of the Gordon Riots of 1780, “Barnaby Rudge” weaves together elements of historical fiction, social commentary, and intricate character studies. The novel follows the titular character, Barnaby Rudge, a simple-minded young man with a pet raven named Grip, as he becomes embroiled in the events surrounding the riots and their aftermath.

Dickens’ vivid portrayal of 18th-century London, complete with its bustling streets, colorful characters, and simmering social tensions, captivates readers and immerses them in a world teetering on the brink of chaos. From the squalid slums of St. Giles to the opulent halls of power, Dickens’ keen eye for detail and his gift for storytelling shine through in every chapter.

Despite receiving mixed reviews upon its initial publication, “Barnaby Rudge” has since earned its place as a classic of Victorian literature.

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