The Marshalsea was a notorious prison in Southwark, just south of the River Thames. It housed a variety of prisoners, including men accused of crimes at sea and political figures charged with sedition. But it became known, in particular, for its incarceration of the poorest of London’s debtors. The poorest faced starvation and torture with skullcaps and thumbscrews.
About Marshalsea in brief
The Marshalsea was a notorious prison in Southwark, just south of the River Thames. It housed a variety of prisoners, including men accused of crimes at sea and political figures charged with sedition. But it became known, in particular, for its incarceration of the poorest of London’s debtors. Over half the population of England’s prisons in the 18th century were in jail because of debt. The poorest faced starvation and, if they crossed the jailers, torture with skullcaps and thumbscrews. Much of the prison was demolished in the 1870s, although parts of it were used as shops and rooms into the 20th century. All that is left is the long brick wall that marked its southern boundary, recalled only by a plaque from the local council. The prison became known around the world in the 19th century through the writing of the English novelist Charles Dickens, whose father was sent there in 1824, when Dickens was 12, for a debt to a baker. In 1796 there were five prisons in Southark—the Clink, King’s Bench, Borough Compter, White Lion and theMarshalsea—compared to 18 in the whole of England as a whole. Before the Gaols Act 1823, then the Prisons Act 1877, they were administered by the royal household, and often maintained in filthy, often filthy, cellar rooms in a couple of rooms in the cellar of a house. Until the late 1800s, prisons simply held people for offences such as vagrancy until their creditors had paid or their fate decided by judges.
Options included execution, flogging, joining the military, joining the stocks, or transportation to America or Australia or Australia. In 1774, there were just over 4,000 prisoners in Britain, half of them out of a population of six million, and they were effectively lodging houses and often often filthy and often dirty, they might consist of a pair of rooms, a cellar or a cellar in a house, or even a room in a cellar. The MarshalseA was originally the name of the marshal, derived from the Anglo-French mareschalcie. Marshal originally meant farrier, from the Old Germanic marh and scalc, later a title bestowed on those presiding over the courts of Medieval Europe. From around 1290, it governed members of the household who lived within 12 miles of the king. From 1530 to 1698 the verge was usually 12 miles around the Palace of Whitehall, the royal family’s main residence, but the Marshalse a was an ambulatory court that moved around the country with the king, dealing with trespass, contempt and debt. It was built to hold those brought before that court and the Court of the King’s bench, to which Marshalseas rulings could be appealed. In 1729 a parliamentary committee reported in 1729 that 300 inmates had starved to death within a three-month period, and that eight to ten were dying every 24-hours in the warmer weather.