Regency Debt and Prisons

First, let me wish all those of you in American a Happy Thanksgiving Day, though it is well nigh over.

I decided to continue on with this item because it caught my interest. The issue of imprisonment for debt seems so archaic, but it was long after the Regency era that it ceased. And debtors were considered just as much criminals as thieves who were also imprisoned in these places. In other words, owing someone money was like stealing. Remembering back to my parents attitude, debt was much feared, and it probably stemmed back to those times which after all were not so very long ago.

I talked about the Fleet in the last blog. In addition there were two other prisons primarily used for debt in London. One of these was the King's Bench in Borough High Street, Southwark. King's Bench was a much hated prison and had a reputation for being filthy and overcrowded that often resulted in outbreaks of typhus fever. As far as I can tell, all the prisons were the same. This first picture is of the main entrance. This picture of the inside looks little different to the picture of the inside of the Fleet, a mix of people wandering around, some games being played. I believe that the wall was noticeable high, however. Again, treatment very much depended on how much you could pay the jailor. Debtors had to provide their own bedding, food and drink. Those who could afford it purchased 'Liberty of the Rules' allowing them to live within three square miles of the prison. In these times the position of Prison Warder was purchased and the warders then earned their livings by charging their prisoners and therefore the less you paid the worse your lot.

This prison rebuilt after 1758 occupied a site of about 4 acres and contained at least 300 rooms, but was still very crowded in Regency times.There was a long range of four stories with a central chapel. The front rooms facing the yard were better those those around the back and there were also 8 superior rooms. Decent accommodations were much more expensive here than they were in Fleet Prison. Besides the rooms there was a kitchen, coffee house, stalls and public houses. The yard provided 3 pumps and racket grounds & fives courts. Women and children were excluded after ten o'clock.
Here is a description written by an inmate to his lawyer in 1817, one William Hone:
I have met with very little accomodation too at this place -- so that, though I am in general pretty adaptable to circumstances, no great comfort has been my portion.The prison is full and decent rooms not to be had but at an enormous price. I think I shall have one tomorrow which though dark & not very airy will be better than wandering in the area or idling in the coffee room without the power of writing in it. Like the Seer of old I shall get a table & a chair & a stool (& a few books withal)
While Mr. Hone was in trouble for popular liturgical parodies in this time of unrest, a time at which the Home Office was very concerned about public unrest, he also ended up a bankrupt. But I thought a personal if brief description of this prison brought it to life.

Well, I delved into the Kings Bench Prison in far greater depth than I intended so will leave the last Prison until next time, as I have found an interesting story about that one too.

Until next time, Happy Rambles.