Thursday, 7 June 2012

The Marshalsea Prison

Most of the Marshalsea Prison, off Borough High Street in Southwark on the south bank of the Thames, was taken up with debtors. In 1799 a government report stated that the prison had fallen into decay, and proposed its re-building, which was completed in 1811. The second Marshalsea had two parts, one set aside for Admiralty prisoners under court martial, and the other for debtors. In 1827, 414 out of its 630 debtors were there for debts under £20.  Charles Dickens' father, John, was sent there as a debtor on 20th February 1824, under the Insolvent Debtor's Act 1813; he owed a baker £40 and 10 shillings, a sum equivalent to £2,939 in 2012. He was released after three months.
The prison was notoriously cramped. A report in 1833 said there were "an average of more than four persons in each room  which are not ten feet square! I will leave the reader to imagine what the situation of men, thus confined, particularly in the summer months, must be." The Marshalsea was closed by an Act of Parliament in 1842, and the inmates were relocated to either another prison or the Bethlem hospital if they were mentally ill.

All that remains of the Marshalsea today is the brick wall that marked the southern boundary of the prison, now called Angel Place. It is just north of the junction of Borough High Street and Tabard Street.

(Nearest tube stations Borough High Street and London Bridge.)

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