Norman Heller Quaker Plays  


a second visit to Newgate Prison

Elizabeth Fry enters the Newgate Prison warden's office.  She is carrying a  large bundle in each arm.  The warden ("governor") is seated at his desk.  He looks up when the door closes.

Mr. Newman (MN):  "Ah...Mrs. Fry, isn't it?"  He stands up.

Elizabeth Fry (EF):  "Hello, Governor Newman."

MN:  "You’ve come to visit the women prisoners, I suppose?”

EF:  "Yes."

MN:  "We'll have to check those bundles, of course.  Prison procedures, you   
know.  It appears that you’ve brought clothes for the women."

EF:  "Quite right."

MN:  "Alfred!"  A young man appears by an inside door.  "Alfred is Quimbly's
son.  You remember the old gentleman who oversees the women's cells." 
Alfred nods to Mrs. Fry. "It's quite a task as you know.   We're up to 300
women now in those four little rooms. "

Alfred:    "Don't forget the children, Sir."

MN:  "Oh heavens.  Who knows how many children we've got now.  So many inmates  
are young mothers with no family to keep their kids.   Alfred, my boy,
check the contents of  these bundles.  Make sure none of the fasteners                
could be used as weapons."  Alfred begins to take out the clothes and to
      check them.

      "I see that your first visit was a bit too much for Mrs. Buxton."

EF:  "Oh, not at all.  I prefer to be by myself this time.  And I would like to
be left alone with the women.  To talk to them."

MN:  "Mrs. Fry, you've got more courage than common sense, I'm afraid.  The
women in this prison are beasts.  Just ask Alfred, here."

AL:  "They're shameless beggars, M'am, and any money they get they spend on
liquor. By this time of day, there's a constant roar of foul language
and children crying.  You'll have to shout to make yourself heard."


EF:  "Mr. Newman, why does the prison make alcohol available to the prisoners? 
I saw the tap when I  was here last.  It was quite appalling to see   
prisoners buying spiritous liquors."

MN:   Holding up his hand  "Don't ask me, M'am.  I just work here."

EF:     "But I'm glad Alfred mentioned the children because that reminds me.  I 
would like to suggest to the women that they organize some schooling
for their children.  The poor wretched lambs."

MN:   "Schooling!  Who would teach the brats?"

EF:     "Some of the women must be educated.  At least well enough to get the
Children started."

MN:    "There's not a woman in Newgate who's fit to teach anyone anything good!"

EF:      "Perhaps not.  But we won't know unless we give them a chance.  So,
with thy permission, I would like to try."

MN:    "Do what you like.  Alfred, did you find the clothing acceptable?"

Alfred:  "Seems fine, Governor."   He hands the bundles to Mr. Newman.

MN:     "All right, then.  We're ready to descend into hell.  Once again I must
warn you, Mrs. Fry, it's best to leave your watch here.  Those thieves
will reach right out and try to grab it."

EF:       "Thank thee for thy concern, Friend, but I'll take my chances."



When Mr. Newman and Elizabeth Fry enter the women's ward, the prisoners are shouting.  They are arguing over clothes and liquor jugs and the children are crying.  When they see Mr. Newman and Mrs. Fry, they rush to the rail, knocking each other out of the way.  They stretch their arms out and begin to beg loudly:

"Give us a penny.  Can you spare a penny?  How about a farthing, Governor?"

Charlotte, a large woman pushes her way to the front.
Charlotte:   To the other prisoners  "Shut up, ya drunken scum! "  The noise dies down.  "Hey Gov'na who's the propa' lookin' lady?"


Mary (another prisoner):  "Is she the one who was here before, Jenny?  The one
who brought clothing?"       
Jenny (third prisoner):  "Yeah, I think so.  Her and another one who called us
‘lost souls.'  They brung me this frock.  That was
before you and Charlotte  was locked up, Mary."

Charlotte:   "My, my.  Well, Gov'na what's she got for us today?  You got any
tobacco, Miss?"

EF:     "I'm here to talk to you about your future."

C:       Spreading her arms and looking about  "Not much to talk about!"

EF:    To Mr. Newman  "Thank thee, Friend.  I'll be all right now.  I'm sure
I've kept thee from thy duties long enough."

MN:  "You women must be civil to Mrs. Fry or there will be no meal this
evening." Then, to Elizabeth Fry   "Do be careful, M'am."  Exits by the
      same door.

C:      "So, Mrs. Fry, is it?  Come over here so we can get a good look at you."

EF:     Stepping closer  "Yes, my name is Elizabeth Fry.  And thine?"  to

C:      "You can call me Charlotte."  As Charlotte answers, she lunges forward
         and reaches for Elizabeth's watch.  Elizabeth jumps back just in time
         and clutches her watch to her chest.

EF:     "Thee likes my watch, I see, Charlotte."  Elizabeth sounds somewhat

C:       "I'd like it a lot better here in me fist, lady!"  Charlotte shouts,
          shaking her fist.  There is a pause.  Elizabeth bows her head for a
          moment and closes her eyes as if praying briefly for strength.

EF:      "If thee would sit, now, Charlotte, I will tell all of thee a story
about this watch."

C:        Charlotte plops on a bench and the others join her.  She turns to
          Mary, seated beside her.  "What's this 'thee' and 'thy' business?"

M:        "She's a Quaker.  Didn't you notice her plain clothes?"

C:        "I just figured she was dull."

EF:      "Now, then.  My dear husband Joseph was rather a shy suitor.  He
asked my father for my hand in marriage, but he could not bring
himself to approach me."

C:        "Couldn't pop the question, 'ay?"  The women laugh and elbow one

EF:       "Well, yes. Fair enough, Charlotte.  Anyway, Joseph bought this watch
and told my family that he would leave it on a  particular seat in
our garden."

M:         "He’d think twice before leaving a watch lying around where I come


EF:        "It was agreed that if I took the watch, I accepted Joseph's marriage
proposal.  If I left it there, then my answer was 'No.' All day long
the watch sat in the garden while I made up my mind."

J:         "Rich people have so much time."

EF:        "Well, I was the first one in my family to consider marriage.  I was
only twenty years old.  My seven sisters each hid behind a shrub in
the garden to see what would happen."

M:         "I think the ending of this story is a little obvious."

EF:        "That's true.   I finally took the watch and I have kept it close to
me for sixteen years."

M:         "So, you're thirty-six."

EF:        "Right, Mary.  I think that thee has had the benefit of some

C:          "You don't get ten years for embezzlement without knowing a one from
a two."

M:         "Shut up, Charlotte.  It wasn't embezzlement.  It was petty theft. 
You're the one who makes money disappear."

C:         "I was framed!"

M:         "That's what they all say."
Jenny is quietly weeping.

EF:        "Jenny, what's wrong?"

J:         "They claim I’m guilty of 'for-gary'"

M:         "’Forgery,’ Jenny.  You better learn to say it right.  You know what
that means, Mrs. Fry?” Mary puts her hand near her throat and
           and pretends to pull on an imaginary noose.

EF:        "Yes, I'm aware.  I know forgery is dishonest, but the 
punishment seems far too excessive for the crime. There, there,
Elizabeth strokes Jenny's hair.

J:         "I was tricked into signin' that paper, Mrs. Fry."

M:         "She's not smart enough to have thought up the scheme herself."

J:         "What will become of my dear Charlie?"  Charlie, a small boy in rags,
           comes close to Jenny and she hugs him.  Elizabeth bows her head again
           for a moment and then speaks quietly.

EF:        "I have another story to tell thee."

C:         "I hope it's better than the first one."

EF:        "There once was a man who owned a vineyard."

J:         "A what?"

M:         "A vineyard--where grapes are grown."

EF:        "Each day, he got up early to hire day laborers to work for him.  One
day, he could find only a few workers.  He hired them each and
promised them one penny for the day. Later, he saw some men standing
idly in the market place.  He needed more workers, so he hired them
for one penny each.  He continued hiring men for the same wage right
through the eleventh hour."

M:         "Wait a minute.  Are you saying that the men who worked an entire
day got paid the same as the ones who worked one hour?”

EF:        “Yes, Mary.”

M:         “Wouldn’t that cause a riot?”

EF:        "When the work was finished,  the men who had  worked from dawn till
night complained because they were paid the same as the men who had
just been hired.”

C:         "Complained?  They just complained?  I would have done a lot more
than that!"

EF:        "The owner replied, 'Why should thee be upset by my generosity?'  In
this story, the vineyard owner is God.  We are the laborers, and our
payment is entrance to God's kingdom.  Now, who would have told this

M:         "Probably Jesus."

J:         "'Probably Jesus.'   What a peculiar name!"

M:         "Not 'Probably Jesus'--Jesus Christ.  For heaven sake, Jenny!  Were
you raised in a pickle barrel?"

EF:        "Thee has never heard of Jesus Christ, Jenny?"

J:         "I don't know no grape growers, M'am."

M:         "He wasn't a grape grower!  He was God's son.  Why do you think we
celebrate Christmas?"


J:         "Is Jesus related to Father Christmas?"

M:         "Child, you are more than I can tolerate!"

EF:        "The birth of Jesus Christ was God's greatest miracle and God's
greatest gift to humankind.  Jesus has the power to forgive all the
bad that we have done and to help us to live good lives."

C:         "Why should we care to do that?"

EF:        "If we follow the teachings of Jesus, we can become citizens of God's
kingdom--a kingdom of peace, joy and love."


J:         “But I can't go to no kingdom because they're keeping me locked up

EF:        "God's kingdom is right here within thy heart.  Jesus can turn thee
from darkness to light.  Thee just has to believe in Him and to
follow His leadings."

M:         "How can anyone go through life and never have heard of Jesus?"

EF:        "How can anyone know all about Jesus and not be touched by Him?  How
can one be given the opportunity to know the Truth and then turn away
with a hardened heart?  Whose loss is greater--the person who never
hears the Word of God or the person who hears but does not obey its

C:        "What difference does it make?  It's too late for all of us!"

EF:       "No, Charlotte.  Remember:  the vineyard owner hired laborers until
the eleventh hour.  Even those who are convinced on their death beds
are given the chance to  enter God's kingdom."

J:        "Would that make dying easier?  I'm powerful scared of dying, Mrs.

EF:   "Yes.  Jesus can ease all of our burdens."

M:    "Stop dwelling on death, Jenny.  Look, I think I can help you."

J:    "How?"

M:    "My uncle is a judge."

C:    "Good heavens, girl.  If your uncle is a judge, what on earth are you
doing in jail?"

M:    "Oh, he's written off my old man and all his kin.  We're an embarrassment
to the name of Connor, you see.  But, Uncle is a kind man.  He'll listen
to Jenny's story.  I'll write to him, and he will do what he can.  And I'm
certain he'll help Charlie."

J:    "Thank you, Mary!" Jenny hugs Mary and then says to EF  "I won't be
needing Jesus' help now, M'am."

EF:   "But, Jenny, thee has already received His help.  Jesus works through us,
His faithful.  He has answered thy prayer through Mary."

J:    "Well, don't that beat all."

EF:   "I am called to do something for Charlie, too.  For Charlie and all of the
other little ones.  I would like to bring thee materials to start a

J:    "Oh, how wonderful!"

C:    "Are you going to come here and teach?"

EF:   "I cannot be here as often as I'd like, so we'll need one of you to be the

C:    "Mary's had the most schooling."

J:    "Won't you be teacher, Mary?"

M:    "I guess I would."

EF:   "Then it's settled.  All that's left for me to do now is to hand out
clothing."  EF begins to look through the bags.  Enter Mr. Newman and
      Alfred.  They put one hand to an ear and listen and then turn to each
      other in astonishment.

MN:   "Mrs. Fry, what have you done with the prisoners?"

EF:   "Oh, hello, gentlemen.   Would thee care to help me hand out clothing? 
Here, Alfred, this bag is for the children."  She hands Alfred a bag. 
"This should suit Charlotte."  She hands a dress to Mr. Newman who gives
      it to Charlotte.

C:    "Thank you, Govna'."

Alfred:   "Come here, lads.  Let's see what we've got for you."  He begins to
          hand out clothing to the children.

EF:     "Mary, a shawl for thee."  She gives a shawl to Mr.  Newman who gives
        it to Mary.

M:      "Thank you, Mrs. Fry."

EF:     "And warm slippers for Jenny."  She hands the slippers to Jenny

C:      "What do you youngin' say to Mrs. Fry?"

Children:  "Thank you."  Elizabeth pats each one on the head and then hugs

J:      "Mrs. Fry, today is just like Christmas!"

EF:   "In God's kingdom it's always Christmas, for the true meaning of Christ's
birth lives in our hearts each and every day."


     Elizabeth Fry first visited Newgate Prison with Anna Buxton in 1813.  The account of this visit is revealing in regard to English prison conditions.  The
prison provided no beds, bedding or toilet facilities.  The women were dirty and uncontrollable.  They were drunk from alcohol which they purchased from the prison.  Their children were starving and dressed in rags.  Mr. Newman, the warden, or "governor," seldom visited the women's quarters because of the vile language.  He advised Anna and Elizabeth to leave their watches in his office, but they declined.
The second visit in 1816 was more historic in terms of Elizabeth Fry's life work. She was left alone with the prisoners and preached to them at length.  She related the parable of the vineyard and emphasized the meaning of the Eleventh Hour.
Some of the women had never heard of Jesus.  During that visit, Elizabeth introduced the subject of education for the children.  Her suggestion was joyfully received.  Mary Connor, who had been imprisoned for stealing a watch, was chosen to be the teacher.
For these facts, we are indebted to the First Volume of THE GURNEYS OF EARLHAM, written by Augustus JC Hare in 1895.  
We hope that you enjoyed our production.  Our dialogue was fictional.  The story of Elizabeth Fry's watch is true but it is doubtful that she told it on this occasion.  Otherwise, we have tried to be as faithful to historical fact as possible.  Our objective was to share some of the ministry of this inspired Friend.    


Norman Heller Quaker Plays