Social Life in the Reign of Queen Anne, taken from original sources, Volume II

Ashton, John



Dreadful condition of Prisons-Bridewell-Description of-Flogging-- Houses of Correction-Compters-Description of the Poultry compters - Garnish' - Newgate - Description of- Marshalsea - Queen's Bench-Fleet and Ludgate-Poor Debtors-Kidnappers-Country prisons-Bankrupts.


Dreadful condition of Prisons-Bridewell-Description of-Flogging-- Houses of Correction-Compters-Description of the Poultry compters - Garnish' - Newgate - Description of- Marshalsea - Queen's Bench-Fleet and Ludgate-Poor Debtors-Kidnappers-Country prisons-Bankrupts.



PERHAPS one of the foulest social blots in this reign was the loathsome pollution, moral and physical, of the prisons. It was not that public attention was not called to it. Every writer who touched at all upon the subject was loud in exposing their terrible condition, and the villanies practised in them, without effecting any amelioration in them; and so they continued until the time of Howard. They are a portion of the Social Life of the Reign of Queen Anne, and must be spoken of; but their description must be very modified, as the plain, unvarnished statements made by contemporary writers would not be held as exactly fitting for general perusal in these days.

' A Prison is the Grave of the Living, where they are shut up from the World, and the Worms that gnaw upon them, their own Thoughts, the Jaylor, and their Creditors. A House of Meagre Looks and ill Smells; for Lice, Drink, and Tobacco are the Compound . . . Men huddle up their Life here as a thing of no use, and wear it out like an old Shirt, the faster, the better; and he that deceives the time best, best spends it. It is the Place where Strangers are best Welcomed ; and their Joys are never greater than when they hear of the increase of their miserable Companions, because they are in hopes of a Garnish. This Place teaches Wisdom,


but commonly too late; and a Man had better be a Fool than come here to learn Wit.' [1] 

The prisons in London, in their alphabetical order, were as follows: Bridewell; Clerkenwell House of Correction; Clerkenwell New Prison; Counters, or Compters, in the Poultry and Wood Street; Fleet; Gate House, Westminster; Ludgate; Marshalsea; Newgate; Queen's Bench; Westminster House of Correction; and White Lyon Prison, Southwark; besides a sort of prison at Whitechapel, and one exclusively for debtors in the precinct of St. Catharine's Tower-a precinct which had the privilege of freedom of arrest for debt, except by an order of the Board of Green Cloth.

Bridewell, which had originally been a royal residence, was situated between Fleet Ditch and Bride Lane; and 'It is a prison and House of Correction for idle Vagrants, loose and disorderly Servants, Night Walkers, Strumpets &c. These are set to hard Labour, and have Correction according to their deserts, but have their Cloaths and Diet during their Imprisonment at the Charge of the House.' [2] 

Ward, of course, is in his element in describing Bridewell[3] ; but his account is not exaggerated. 'We then turn'd into the Gate of a stately Edifice, my Friend told me was , which to me seem'd rather a Prince's Palace, than a House of Correction; till gazing round me, I saw in a large Room a parcel of ill looking Mortals, pounding a Pernicious Weed, which I thought from their unlucky aspects, seem'd to threaten their Destruction. These, said I, to my Friend, I suppose are the Offenders at Work; pray what do you think their Crimes may be ? Truly, said he, I cannot tell you; but if you have a mind to Know, ask any of them their Offence, and they will soon satisfie you. Prithee Friend, said I, to a Surly Bull neck'd fellow, who was thumping as lazily at his Wooden Anvil, as a Ship Carpenter at a Log in the King's Yard at , What are you Confin'd to this Labour for ? My Hempen Operator, leering over his shoulder, cast at me one of his hanging Looks, which so frightened me, I step'd back, for fear he should have knocked me on the Head with


his Beetle, Why, Mr. Tickletail, says he, taking me, as I believe, being in Black, for some Country Pedagogue, I was committed hither by Justice Clodpate, for saying I had rather hear a Black bird Whistle [4] , or a Peacock Scream against Foul Weather, than a Parson talk Nonsense in a Church, or a Fool talk Latin in a Coffee House: And I'll be judg'd by you who are a Man of Judgment, whether in all I said there be one Word of Treason to deserve a Whipping Post.

'The Impudence of this Canary Bird so dash'd me out of Countenance, together with his unexpected Answer, I had nothing to say, but heartily wish'd myself well out of their Company; and, just as we were turning back, to avoid their further Sawciness, another calls out to me, Hark you, Master in Black, of the same colour of the Devil, can you tell me how many thumps of this Hammer will soften the Hemp so as to make a Halter fit Easie, if a man should have occasion to wear one? A third crying out, I hope, Gentlemen, you will be so Generous to give us something to Drink, for you don't know but we may be hard at work for you ? We were glad, with what Expedition we could, to escape their Impudence.

'Going from the Work room to the Common side, or place of Confinement (where they are Lock'd up at Night) through the frightful Grates of which uncomfortable Apartment, a Ghastly Skeleton stood peeping, that from his terrible Aspect, I thought some Power Immortal had imprison'd Death that the World might Live for ever. I could not speak to him without dread of danger, least when his Lips open'd to give me an Answer, he should poison the Air with his Contagious Breath, and Communicate to me the same Pestilence which had brought his infected Body to a dismal Anatomy: Yet mov'd with pity towards so sad an Object, I began to enquire into the Causes of his sad appearance, who, after a Penitential Look, that call'd for Mercy and Compassion, with much difficulty he rais'd his feeble Voice a degree above silence, and told me he had been Sick Six Weeks under that sad Confinement, and had nothing to comfort him but Bread and Water, now and then the refreshment of a little small beer. I asked him further what Offence he had Committed


that brought him under this unhappiness ? To which he answer'd, He had been a great while discharg'd of all that was charg'd against him, and was detain'd only for his Fees, which for want of Friends, being a Stranger in the Town, he was totally unable to raise. I ask'd him what his Fees amounted to; who told me -Bless me! thought I, what a Rigorous, Uncharitable thing is this.

'From thence we turn'd into another Court, the Buildings being like the former, Magnificently Noble; where straight before us was another Grate, which prov'd the Women's Apartments; we follow'd our Noses and Walk'd up to take a View of their Ladies, who we found were shut up as close

as Nuns; but like so many Slaves, were under the Care and Direction of an Over Seer, who walk'd about with a very flexible Weapon of Offence, to Correct such Hempen Journey Women who were unhappily troubled with the Spirit of Idleness. .... They look'd with as much Modesty as so many Saints, canonized at the ; being all as Merry over their shameful Drudgery, notwithstanding their Miserable Circumstances, as so many Jolly Crispins in a Garret . . .

'Being now both tired with, and amaz'd at the Confidence and Loose Behaviour of these Degenerate Wretches, who had neither Sense of Grace, Knowledge of Vertue, Fear of Shame, or Dread of Misery, my Friend reconducted me back


into the first Quadrangle, and led me up a pair of Stairs into a spacious Chamber, where the Court was sat in great Grandeur and Order. A Grave Gentleman, whose Awful Looks bespoke him some Honourable Citizen, being mounted in the Judgment Seat, Arm'd with a Hammer, like a Change- Broker at Lloyd's Coffee House-and a Woman under the Lash in the next Room, where Folding Doors were open'd, that the whole Court might view the Punishment; at last down went the Hammer, and the Scourging ceas'd; that I protest, until I was undeceiv'd, I thought they had sold their Lashes by Auction. The Honourable Court, I observ'd was chiefly Attended by Fellows in Blew Coats, and Women in Blew Aprons. Another Accusation being then deliver'd by a Flat Cap against a poor Wench, who having no Friend to speak in her Behalf, Proclamation was made, viz. All you who are willing E-th T--ll should have present Punishment, Pray hold up your Hands; Which was done accordingly; And then she was ordered the Civility of the House, and was forced to shew her tender Back and Breasts to the Sages of the Grave Assembly, who were mov'd by her Modest Mein, together with the whiteness of her Skin, to give her but a gentle Correction.'

The Houses of Correction at Clerkenwell, White Lyon Prison at Southwark, and Westminster, were similar institutions. 'The new prison at Clerkenwell was simply a House of Detention, where the prisoners awaited trial, and was intended to ease Newgate.

Wood Street and Poultry Compters received not only 'debtors upon Actions in the Lord Mayor's and Sheriff's Courts, but such as disturb the Peace of the City in the Night.' Ward describes at considerable length a night spent in the Poultry Counter. He says, 'The Turnkey was so civil to offer us Beds, but upon such unconscionable terms, that we thank'd him for his Love, but refus'd his .' Afterwards he was put in the of the prison, and this is what it was like. 'When first we enter'd this Apartment, under the Title of the , the mixtures of Scents that arose from , foul Sweaty , Dirty , stinking , and uncleanly Carcases, Poison'd


our Nostrils far worse than a Ditch, a , or a Melting Room. The Ill looking Vermin, with long Rusty Beards swaddled up in Rags, and their heads, some cover'd with Thrum Caps, and others thrust into the tops of old Stockings; some quitted their Play they were before engag'd in, and came hovering round us, like so many , with such devouring , as if a Man had been but a Morsel with 'em all crying out , as a Rabble in an Insurrection, crying . We were forc'd to submit to their Doctrine of Non resistance, and comply with their demands, which extended to the Sum of Two Shillings each. Having thus Paid our Initiation Fees, we were bid Welcome into the , and to all the Privileges and Immunities thereof.'

We will not follow Ward through his night's experiences, which are far too graphically told-but in the morning, he says, ' Now I must confess, I was forc'd to hold my Nose to the Grate, and Snuff hard for a little fresh Air; for I was e'en choak'd with the unwholesome Fumes that arose from their uncleanly Carcasses: Were the Burning of Old Shoes, Draymen's Stockings, the Dipping Card Matches, and a full Close Stool Pan, to be prepared in one Room, as a Nosegay to torment my Nostrils, it could not have prov'd a more effectual Punishment.'

More than once we have come across the word Garnish. The following scene will assist us in thoroughly grasping its meaning:-

Scene-Newgate.The Lying Lover.

Storm. I defie the World to say I ever did an ill thing. I love my Friend-but there is always some little Trifle given to Prisoners, they call Garnish; we of the Road are above it, but o' t'other side of the House, Silly Rascals that come voluntarily hither. Such as are in for Fools, sign'd their own Mittinmus, in being bound for others, may perhaps want it: I'll be your faithful Almoner.

Bookwit. O, by all means, Sir. (Gives him Money.)

Storm. Pray, Sir, is this your Footman ?

Bookwit. He is my Friend, Sir.

Storm. Look you, Sir, the only time to make use of a Friend is in Extremity; do you think you cou'd not hang him, and save your self? Sir, my Service to you, your own Health.

(Gives it to next Prisoner.)

1st Pris. Captain, your Health.

2nd Pris. Captain, your Health.

Storm. But perhaps the Captain likes Brandy better. So ho ! Brandy there-(Drinks.) But you don't perhaps like these strong Liquors. Sider ho ! Drink to him in it-Gentlemen all. But Captain, I see you don't love Sider neither. You and I will be for Claret then. Ay marry! I knew this wou'd please (Drinks) you. (Drinks again.) Faith we'll make an end on't. I'm glad you like it.

Turnkey. I'm sorry, Captain Storm, to see you impose upon a Gentleman, and put him to Charge in his Misfortune. If a petty Larceny Fellow had done this-- But one of the Road !

Storm. I beg your Pardon, Sir, I don't question but the Captain understands there is a Fee to you for going to the Keeper's side (Bookwit and Latin give him Money) (Exeunt Turnkey, Simon following). Nay, Nay, you must stay here.

Simon. Why I am Simon, Madam Penelope's Man.

Storm. Then Madam Penelope's Man must strip for Garnish; indeed, Master Simon, you must.

Simon. Thieves ! Thieves ! Thieves!

Storm. Thieves'! Thieves! Why you senseless Dog, do you think there's Thieves in Newgate? Away with him to the Tap house. (Pushes him off.) We'll drink his Coat off. Come my little Chymist, thou shalt transmute this Jacket into Liquor, Liquor that will make us forget the evil Day. And while Day is ours, let us be Merry.

Perhaps the best contemporary account of Newgate is in a pamphlet, published in , called 'MEMOIRS of the Right Villanous ,' etc.; and this is the scene attending the initiation of a prisoner into the :-

'Those Scholars that come here have nothing to depend on but the Charity of the Foundation, in which Side very exact Rules are observ'd; for as soon as a Prisoner comes into the Turn Key's Hands Three Knocks are given at the Stair Foot, as a Signal a Collegian is coming up; which Harmony makes those that stand for the as joyful as One Knock, the Signal of the coming every Morning, does those poor Prisoners, who, for want of Friends, have nothing else to Subsist on but Bread and Water: And no sooner are the Three Strokes given, but out jumps Four Trunchion Officers from their Hovel, and with a sort of ill mannerly Reverence receive him at the Grate; then taking him into their Apartment, a couple of the good natured


Sparks hold him whilst the other Two pick his Pockets, claiming Six Pence apiece, as a Priviledge, belonging to their Office; then they turn him out to the , who hover about him for , which is Six Shillings and Eight pence, which they, from an old Custom, claim by Prescription Time out of Mind for entring in the , otherwise they strip the poor Wretch, if he has not wherewithal to pay it.

'Then comes to him for Three pence for dressing the Charity Meat, which charitable disposed Persons send in every , whereon Earthen Dishes, Porringers, Pans, Wooden Spoons, and Cabbage Nets, are Stirring about against Dinner Time, whilst the Cook sweats in Porriging the Prisoners, who stand round him like so many poor Scholars begging at the Kitchin Door for College Broth.

'But yet the caged Person is not clear of his Dues, for next, Two other Officers, who have a Patent for being , demand Three Half pence apiece more for clearing the Gaol of its Filth, which requires the Labour of , and is never to be ended. Then at the signal of the Woman, which is between Seven and Eight, he is conducted down Stairs, with an Illumination of Links, to his Lodging, and, provided he has a Shilling for Money, may lye in the , which (to give the Devils their due) is kept very neat and clean, where he pays One Shilling and Four Pence more to his Comrades, and then he is Free of the and .'

The was a shocking place, as was also a 'large Room call'd , which next to the , is the nastiest place in the Gaol. The Miserable Inhabitants hereof are Debtors.' There was a large room, called , for recreation, and a cellar where liquors were sold, in unlimited quantities, to moneyed prisoners. We can imagine the effects of drink among this depraved lot, and the fearful brawls and fights that took place; but, were the riot very serious, then two pulls of the big bell, which hung over the stairs, would bring the turnkeys, who stood no nonsense among that unruly crew, and the ringleaders were ironed and thrown into dark dungeons.

The press-room, where non-pleading criminals were


pressed, and a room where the hangman seethed the quartered limbs of rebels and traitors in a mixture of pitch, tar, and oil, were among the apartments in Newgate. When the fettered prisoners were tried, if they did not give the gaolers half a crown to be put in the , they were put, men and women together, into the , where a singular custom prevailed of a prisoner exacting a shilling apiece from the youngest for ; and were any one lucky enough to be acquitted, he had to spend a for their delight.

Of the Marshalsea Prison Hatton says: 'It is now the County Gaol for Felons, the Admiralty Gaol for Piracy and other Offences committed at Sea, and is the Gaol to the Marshals court for Debt and Damage.' It was in Southwark; and another contemporary[6]  says it 'is situated on such a Cursed Piece of Land, that the Son is asham'd to be his Father's Heir in't. It is an infected Pest house all the Year long; and may well stand upon these Doors.'

The Gate House, Westminster, 'is the chief Prison for the City of Liberties, not only for Debt but Treason, Theft and other Criminal Matters; the Keeper has that place by Lease from the Dean and Chapter of .'

The Queen's Bench Prison had 'its Rules of a considerable Extent and Allowance, somewhat better than in the Common Gaols, for which reason many Debtors elsewhere confin'd, do by remove into this Prison, which is the proper place of Confinement in all Cases tryable in the , whether for Debt, Dammage, Treason, Murther, &c.'

The Fleet and Ludgate were purely for debtors, in contradistinction to the others, which accommodated not only debtors but criminals. Imprisonment for debt has not very long been done away with-indeed, it now exists, under the name of 'contempt of court'; and what renders it more illogical and oppressive, is that people can only be imprisoned for owing small sums, the debtors who operate on a larger scale having perfect immunity from restraint. However, in


Anne's time large and small were taken indiscriminately; the smaller debtors, as being the weaker, naturally getting the worst of it; their chances of ever getting out being very remote. We have seen in Newgate that was the worst place but one in the gaol. 'The Miserable Inhabitants hereof are , who put what sorry Bedding they enjoy upon such an Ascent where Soldiers lye when on Guard at the . But in this Apartment lye, besides , such as are call'd your ; who, having for satisfy'd the , by being Burnt in the Face, or Whipt, which is no Satisfaction to the wrong'd Subject, their Adversaries bring an Action of against them, and keep them there till they make Restitution for Things stolen. . . here is a lightsome Room call'd , so nam'd from such unfortunate Men lying there, where every Man shews like so many Wrecks upon the Sea; here the Ribs of £20, here the Ruins of a good Estate, Doublets, without Buttons, and a Gown without Sleeves; and a pair of Stairs higher lye Women that are and , thinking like their suffering Companions below them, every Year Seven till they get abroad.'[7] 

The Warden of the Fleet must have made a good thing out of the necessities of his victims. If they had any money at all, he got it out of them. If their nature revolted at the moral and actual filth of the , they could rent a small room of him, the lowest price being about 8s. per week. This accommodation entailed paying besides is. . a week to the chamberlain, and a double fee of . to the chaplain. 'There are some who lie on the , or , without Beds allowed to them, who pay but 1s. 2d. per week, and 34s. 4d. Commitment Fee, and 2d. per week to the Parson; but that place in the is Dark, Unwholesome, and is a Curb upon the rest to pay those Great Rates the Gaoler Exacts; he unmercifully threatning all for , with Dungeons and Irons, not distinguishing between a Criminal and a Debtor.'

Ludgate was more comfortable, and rather more aristocratic; it was 'purely for Insolvent Citizens of ,


Beneficed Clergy, and Attorneys at Law. Fees at Coming in from the Counter-1s. 2d.; at going out-3s. 2d.; and to the Turnkey-1s. For their being here they pay on the Commons Side 1s. 2d. per Week, and on the Master's side- 1s. 9d. They have among the Prisoners a sort of Government, as a Steward chosen the 1st Tuesday in every Month; also 7 Assistants.'[8] 

But both here and at the Fleet, in spite of charitable bequests, there were some of the prisoners in a state of absolute destitution. To aid these, the prisoners took it in turns to perambulate the rules, and solicit help in money or kind, whilst another had to stand at the window-grating, rattling a box, and chanting the monotonous wail of 'Pray remember the poor Debtors !'

' Passing under , the other Day, I heard a Voice bawling for Charity, which I thought I had somewhere heard before. Coming near to the Grate, the Prisoner called me by my Name, and desired I would throw something into the Box. I was out of Countenance for him, and did as he bid me, by putting in half-a-Crown.'[9] 


Once in a debtors' prison, almost all hope had to be given up-even the release offered by Government on condition of joining the army or navy was limited to debtors of small amount, who must have been six months in prison; and, besides, it was only going to other privations, and, in the army, almost certainly meant wounds or death. No wonder, then, if, when a man was in difficulties, he sometimes adopted the desperate resource of selling himself for a time in bondage to one of the Plantations. Poor wretch! he knew it was bad to do so, by common report; but he had to find out what the life of a 'Redemptioner' really was, by bitter experience.


First, a little money advanced for his outfit; then, on his arrival at his destination, his body would be seized for his passage money, which had been promised him free; and then he must be sold to Work for so many years, to some one who paid his debt for him. Put on the same footing, as to food and government, with the convicts, his life was awful, whilst his master always managed to keep him sufficiently in debt for clothes and tobacco, &c., so that he never could free himself.

Men were ever on the prowl, about London, to catch the miserable. 'Those fine Fellows who look like Foot men upon a Holy day, crept into cast Suits of their Masters, that want Gentility in their Deportments answerable to their Apparel, are Kidnappers, who walk the Change, and other parts of the Town, in order to Seduce People, who want Services, and young Fools crost in Love, and under an uneasiness of Mind, to go beyond Seas, getting so much a head of Masters of Ships, and Merchants who go over, for every Wretch they trapan into this Misery. Those Young Rakes, and Tatterdemallions you see so lovingly herded, are drawn by their fair Promises to sell themselves into Slavery, and the Kidnappers are the Rogues that run away with the Money.[10] 

Bad as the prisons where debtors were confined were in London, they were infinitely worse in the country; indeed, one can scarcely credit the treatment they received. There is, however, a most interesting little book, called 'The Cry of the Oppressed,' which goes minutely into the details in many of the country prisons, and the engravings alone show the cruel treatment debtors had to endure: catching mice for subsistence; being dragged on hurdles, dying of starvation and malaria; covered with boils and blains; imprisoned in underground dungeons; assaulted by the gaolers; having to live with the hogs, with wooden clogs chained to their legs; having to herd with condemned criminals; and being tortured with thumbscrews, etc.

Nobody ever seems to have bothered their heads about itit was not their business. Luttrell says,' 3 Nov., . This


day ordered a Bill to be brought in for regulating the 'King's Bench and Fleet Prisons,' but nobody took sufficient interest in it, and it never became an Act.

Arrest for debt was so common in those days that we find that even the sacred person of an ambassador was not exempt. ' Saturday, 24 July, . Thursday, the Muscovite envoy, who is leaving this kingdom, was arrested in his Coach in the Haymarket for a debt of £360, which he has since paid, but complained to her Majestie of the affront, who ordered the officers to be prosecuted, and promised him all possible satisfaction. 27 Jul. The Queen has ordered the persons who caused the Muscovite ambassador to be arrested to beg his pardon upon their knees.'[11] 

In the , Oct. 11, , is a most pathetic appeal from a bankrupt to his creditors. 'To the Creditors of James Folkingham, late of London, Merchant. The Mottos of Sic transit Gloria Mundi, and Hodie mihi, cras tibi, have been frequently made use of to express the uncertainty of Humane Affairs in all their Divisions, even from the greatest Monarch, to the Meanest Peasant, so I may occasionally lay Claim to them. This premised, I shall not entertain you Gentlemen, my Creditors, with the Number, Variety, and Severity of my Misfortunes, nor how far my folly, want of Judgment, Inadvertency, &c. may have contributed thereto; but rather plead Guilty to the Indictment of having Injured you, unwillingly, of a great deal of Money, and my own near Relations of as much, and throw myself on your Mercy; in order to entitule me to which, I promise upon Oath to resign all I have, and shall be required by the Persons deputed, directly or indirectly; provided I may be forthwith set at Liberty, with a Security not to be molested hereafter. That my all is no more, is matter of Concern to me, as well as Disappointment to you. If God Almighty ever permit me to be able, my generous, honest Temper will oblige me to make you farther Satisfaction, for to Digg I will endeavour, tho' to Begg I am ashamed. 'Your Disconsolate Debtor and Humble Servant, 'JAMES FOLKINGHAM'

In one case, that of Thomas Pitkin, a bankrupt linen draper, who absconded, an Act of Parliament (3 and 4 Anne, cap. 11 ) was passed for the relief of his creditors, and for his apprehension, and he was afterwards captured at Breda in Holland.

The Act of 4 and 5 Anne, cap. 4, 'to prevent Frauds frequently committed by Bankrupts,' gave liberty to a large number, the of June 6/10, , having as many as forty-six bankruptcy petitions, whereas formerly seven or eight was an average.


[1] Hickelty Pickelty.

[2] Hatton's New View of London, 1708.

[3] London Spy.

[4] See Appendix.

[6] Smith's Lives of Highwaymen.

[7] Hall's Memoirs.

[8] New View of London.

[9] Spectator, 82.

[10] London Spy.

[11] Luttrell's Diary.