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  • Writer's pictureMarc Zakian

Jack Sheppard - The Most Famous Man in London

jack sheppard.   British History Podcast

This British history podcast tells the story of Jack Sheppard.

Three hundred years ago, Britain’s first celebrity was not a royal, not an actor, or aristocrat - but a petty thief.

Sheppard was born in London's Spitalfields in 1702. His parents named him after a deceased older brother John, but everyone knew him as Jack, Gentleman Jack, or Jack the Lad.

Jack had a second brother, Thomas, who turned to crime as a youth and was branded on the cheek.

Jack’s carpenter father died when he was young. Age six, his impoverished mum sent him to a workhouse school to learn a trade.

Four years later, he was working as a shop-boy for William Kneebone, a wool draper on The Strand - who also employed Sheppard's mother.

Kneebone taught Sheppard to read and write and apprenticed him to a carpenter – the appropriately named Mr. Wood.

He served five unblemished years of his apprenticeship, but then turned to crime.

Jack blamed his descent into thievery on the Drury Lane alehouses.

Despite a slight stutter, his wit made him popular in the taverns. It was here that he met Bess, a prostitute who became his partner in love and crime.

Jonathan Wilde.  British History Podcast

Jack regularly drank at Black Lion tavern, frequented by criminals such as "Blueskin" Blake - Sheppard's scarfaced criminal sidekick .

But the man who wanted Jack gone was the self-proclaimed "Thief-Taker General" Jonathan Wild, mastermind of a criminal empire across London, and Jack’s implacable enemy.

Petty thieving led him to prison on multiple occasions. He would have been unknown to history, but his skills as a carpenter made him a jailhouse Houdini - as he regularly broke free from the lock ups and clinks of London.

Newgate Jail.   British History Podcast
Newgate Jail

Jack’s escapes from Newgate Jail - the most terrible prison in London - made him a folk hero. His story was written up in the penny broadsheets - by no less than Daniel Defoe.

But with Jonathan Wild determined to collect the bounty on Sheppard, Jack had one more escape to make, from the Tyburn noose.

This British history podcast brings to life the story of how an East End criminal became so famous, that a third of London’s population took to the streets to see if he could escape death.

Listen to Jack’s story here:

Hear about Newgate Jail in this episode that tells the story of the prison.

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