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Travelogue G19

January 19, 2016

I rose from my bench and continued my circuit of St. Sepulchre, of which only the walls, tower and porch had survived the Great Fire. I had read on another panel before the garden that the area had a reputation for dark stories as the city gate, Newgate, which gave its name to neighborhood and St. Sepulchre-without-Newgate, bordered a squalid prison likewise bearing its name. The story related by the panel told of a 16th century scholar sent to Newgate not for debts but for witchcraft. Within those walls, he met an unexpected sentence: slain and eaten by half-starved inmates before he could even sit trial.

Shortly thereafter, so the story continued, a black dog appeared several nights before the men and severed limbs from joints. Maimed and whole alike despaired. Knowing what awaited them in the nights to follow, the ablebodied surprised, overpowered and murdered the guards on their rounds. Free of the prison, the convicts could not say the same of the beast. Indeed, it continued to pursue them beyond the walls, presumably until the end of their days, long or short as they might have been, as per the fell contract concluded between dog and scholar.

Although one might believe the story to reach its natural conclusion there, it seemed that the Black Dog of Newgate, whether having seen the prisoners to their death or having left them with what little sanity remained, returned to Newgate where it made its presence felt, at unspecified intervals, in a narrow passageway behind the prison. In that alley used to convey the condemned, the curious might even today come upon a black shadow lurking and detect its distinctive odor and dragging footsteps.

By mere association, I foolishly thought to find the aforementioned passageway on the grounds and so circled behind the church. There, I confirmed that, while absent of any slithering dog-shadows, the passage’s lighting did not lend itself well to documentation and that there was perhaps a grain of truth in the tale. My later research showed that the passage forms, in reality, part of a court some distance farther south. Still, human faculties had doomed me like others to see what flattered the imagination and to give the tale continued life in one form or another.

So it was that, mistaken but unaware, I exited the church grounds to rejoin my companions, for the morning was drawing to a close. Coming down the steps, I made use of my dwindling moments to inspect a shrine of sorts installed the other side of the red railings at one corner of the churchyard. There, I took in a red granite arch and columns, backed by a lighter stone, from which a spigot stuck out. Below the spigot lay a basin with what appeared two metal stoppers or weights at its bottom.

The words worked in arch and backing made clear that I stood before a metropolitan public drinking fountain, although some scuffing made it difficult to decide whether it had been the first or last of its kind. Regardless, its life proved shorter than its donor had likely foreseen in 1850 as the building of a nearby viaduct in 1867 soon eliminated the need for a public fountain, due to its lower flow, as I might guess. Though decommissioned, the fountain nonetheless enjoined me to replace a cup which was nowhere to be found but which I would have been all too happy to restore.

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