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Jack Sheppard (1702-16 November 1724) was a notorious English robber, burglar and thief of early 18th century London. He was as renowned for his crimes as he was for various attempts to escape justice.
A carpenter's son, John Sheppard (better known in life as Jack Sheppard, even 'Gentleman Jack') was born in London's Spitalfields area in 1702. Although his father died while Sheppard was young and the boy spent time in a workhouse, he entered into the same trade as his father, but he fell into bad company and began to augment his day-to-day earnings with the proceeds of a series of break-ins and thefts.
Even when arrested, Sheppard was able to escape from St Giles Prison by sawing through a timber ceiling, and he escaped from Newgate Prison no less than three times during 1724.
The first time, he filed through his manacles, made a hole in the wall and used bed-clothes to descend to ground level. The second time (30 August) saw Sheppard (already sentenced to death) escape by cutting a spike from a window used when talking to visitors. Despite being confined to a strong-room known as the 'Castle', his third escape (14 October) involved use of a nail (to unlock his chains) and an iron bar (previously used to block a chimney) to break through doors and walls, after which he again used a blanket to reach the roof of a nearby house from which he could make good his escape.
He remained at liberty for just two weeks before being re-arrested. However, he planned at least one more escape, a pen-knife (intended to cut the ropes binding him on the way to the gallows) was found by a prison warder shortly before he left Newgate for the last time.
After a joyous procession through London which was as much as anything a celebration of his life, Sheppard was hanged on the gallows at Tyburn and buried in the churchyard of St Martin's-in-the-Fields.
His exploits were recalled in (among other places):
- a melodrama by W.T. Moncrieff Jack Sheppard the House-breaker (1825)
- a novel Jack Sheppard by William Harrison Ainsworth (1839) (later the same year adapted into a successful play by John Buckstone)
- a British costume drama Where's Jack? (1969) director: James Clavell, with Tommy Steele in the title role
- a book The Thievesí Opera by Lucy Miller (1999)
- a 2001 film Jack Sheppard and Jonathan Wild with Tobey Maguire and Harvey Keitel (directed by Ben Ross, who also wrote the screenplay)