Jack Sheppard entered London folklore owing to his prison-breaking exploits and his feud with the notorious thieftaker, Jonathan Wild. Sheppard, originally from Spitalfields, was arrested for burglary in 1724 at the age of twenty two. He was imprisoned in the roundhouse at St Giles-in-the-Fields but managed to escape through the roof. After his recapture he broke out of the New Prison at Clerkenwell, along with his girlfriend and accomplice, Elizabeth Lyon. Whilst at large Sheppard carried out a spree of burglaries and a highway robbery, which brought him to Wild's attention. Wild had Sheppard rearrested and sent to Newgate Prison.
On Wild's evidence, Sheppard was condemned to death at the Old Bailey in August. He escaped from Newgate days before his execution. He was recaptured and incarcerated in the 'Castle', the most secure cell in Newgate. Despite this precaution Sheppard succeeded in escaping in October before being apprehended for the last time in a gin shop on Drury Lane. Due to Sheppard's notoriety, his gaolers began to charge the public admission to visit him. James Thornhill paid one shilling and sixpence to visit Sheppard in his condemned cell where he made this sketch. Sheppard is depicted handcuffed and held in solitary confinement. He was finally hanged at Tyburn on November 16th. By the time of his death Sheppard's escapades had earned him celebrity status among Londoners and he inspired popular plays, prints and ballads.