London, Volume 4

Knight, Charles

1843

LXXVIII.-The Fleet Prison.

LXXVIII.-The Fleet Prison.

 

 

 

The earliest mention of this place carries us back to times as different in spirit as they are remote from those of the present day. In the year of the reign of Richard of the Lion Heart, we find that monarch confirming to Osbert, brother to Longchamp, Chancellor of England, and to his heirs for ever, the custody of his palace at and the keeping of his gaol of the Fleet in London: so that next to their own homes the kings of England in the century thought it a matter of the highest importance to take care of the homes of their enemies. In the year of John's reign we find a similar instance, when the Archdeacon of Wells received the custody of the palace and the prison, together with the wardship of the daughter and heir of Robert Leveland. And no doubt if the history of its narrow cells and subterranean dungeons could be opened unto us, we should perceive, in the ample use they made of it, sufficient reason for their anxiety as to its safe custody. But up to the century that history is little better than a sealed book. The burning of the prison by the followers of Wat Tyler seems to have been the only very noticeable event prior to the period mentioned. In the and centuries the records of the Fleet become suddenly filled with matters of the deepest interest, in connexion with the religious martyrs of the reigns of Elizabeth and Mary, and those who might almost be called the political martyrs of the Star Chamber in the reign of Charles I.

A manuscript referred to in the account of the in the

Beauties

of England and Wales,

which is stated to be in the , but which we have not been able to find, gives the

Names of all bishops, doctors, &c., that were prisoners in the Fleet for religion, since the

first

year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth, A.D.

1553

;

and in the list are comprised the names of bishops, doctors, and priests. The same manuscript also gives the names of all such

temporal men

as were in confinement for the same crime of worshipping God according to their conscience, and among these are some persons of rank and title. In the following reign we arrive at the history of of the most venerated of British martyrs, Bishop Hooper, whose connexion with the Fleet was altogether of an unusually curious as well as interesting kind. On the accession of Edward VI., or at least as soon as the struggles between the ambitious nobles of his court for place and power were decided, and the extensive insurrection which marked the early part of the reign had been put down, the Protestant party, now reinforced by the incalculable amount of influence belonging to a king sympathising with their opinions, became bolder in their attacks on the old religion; and, among other measures, Bonner, Gardiner, Heath, and Day, and other distinguished Catholic bishops, were deprived of their sees, and their places filled by the most eminent of their religious opponents. of the nominations made on the vacancy of the see of Gloucester was that of Hooper, in the year . But, to the surprise of every , Hooper, whose views may be characterised as resembling those of the Puritans of a later time, refused to wear a canonical habit during the ceremony of consecration. His friends-Cranmer and Ridley, Bucer and Peter Martyr-strenuously advised him to yield, but he would not; and hence his commitment to the , we might almost say by his own friends. For several months he persisted in his determination, but eventually a kind of compromise was made; he was to wear the obnoxious vestments during his ordination, and when he preached before the king, or in his cathedral, or any public place, but not upon less important occasions. He was then set free, ordained Bishop of Gloucester, and subsequently Bishop of Worcester: but it was not long before he returned to the Fleet, though under very different circumstances. In Mary became Queen, and before some months had elapsed, Cranmer, Latimer, Ridley, Coverdale, and a host of other distinguished Protestants were in prison on various charges, and also Hooper, whose commitment was for having a wife, and other demerits. This was his and final commitment to the Fleet, which he was only to quit for the stake and the fire, in the chief town of his diocese, Gloucester. His relation of his sufferings at this period is a most pathetic record, and illustrates in a forcible manner the misery which these struggles to decide the truth of opinions by force have inflicted on our country, as well as the utter incompetency of such influences to achieve the object desired. He says, on

the

first of September, 1553

, I was committed unto the Fleet from Richmond, to have the liberty of the prison; and within

five

days after I paid for my liberty

five pounds

sterling to the warden for fees, who immediately upon the payment thereof complained unto Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, and so I was committed to close prison

one

quarter of a year, in the lower chamber of the Fleet, and used very extremely. Then by the means of a good gentlewoman I had liberty to come down to dinner and supper; not suffered to speak

with any of my friends, but as soon as dinner and supper was done to repair to my chamber again. Notwithstanding while I came down thus to dinner and supper the warden and his wife picked quarrels with me, and complained untruly of me to their great friend the Bishop of Winchester. After

one

quarter of a year and somewhat more, Babington, the warden, and his wife, fell out with me for the wicked mass; and thereupon the warden resorted to the Bishop of Winchester, and obtained to put me into the ward, where I have continued a long time, having nothing appointed to me for my bed but a little pad of straw and a rotten covering, with a tick and a few feathers therein, the chamber being vile and stinking, until by God's means good people sent me bedding to lie in. Of the

one

side of which prison is the sink and filth of the house, and on the other side the town ditch, so that the stench of the house hath infected me with sundry diseases. During which time I have been sick, and the doors, bars, hasps, and chains being all closed and made fast upon me, I have mourned, called, and cried for help; but the warden, when he hath known me many times ready to die, and when the poor men of the wards have called to help me, hath commanded the doors to be kept fast, and charged that none of his men should come at me, saying,

Let him alone; it were a good riddance of him.

And amongst many other times he did thus the

18th of October, 1533

, as many are witness. I paid always like [the same sum as] a baron to the said warden, as well in fees as for my board, which was

20s.

a-week, besides my man's table, until I was wrongfully deprived of my bishoprick, and since that time I have paid him as the best gentleman doth in his house: yet hath he used me worse and more vilely than the veriest slave that ever came to the hall commons. The said warden hath also imprisoned my man, William Downton, and stripped him out of his clothes to search for letters, and could find none, but only a little remembrance of good people's names that gave me their alms to relieve me in prison: and to undo them also the warden delivered the same bill unto the said Stephen Gardiner, God's enemy and mine. I have suffered imprisonment almost eighteen months; my goods, living, friends, and comfort taken from me; the Queen owing me by just account

80 pounds

or more,--she hath put me in prison and giveth nothing to find me; neither is there any suffered to come at me, whereby I might have relief. I am with a wicked man and woman, so that I see no remedy (saving God's help), but I shall be cast away in prison before I come to judgment. But I commit my just cause to God, whose will be done, whether it be life or death.

[n.35.1]  But it was not to be as the desponding prisoner feared; a death he esteemed a times more glorious was to be his. After some months' confinement he was examined several times and required to recant, and on his refusal condemned, on the very night after John Rogers had so bravely suffered in Smithfield, to tread the same fiery path to another world. He was told that was to be burnt among his own people at Gloucester, where accordingly he was brought to the stake on the , and burnt by . In reading of such transactions can scarcely avoid pausing to ask if it is really the acts of men that we are recording. But dreadful as were the torments, the courage to endure them was fully equal: and in this, as in numerous other cases, we have reason to be thankful that whilst

36

crimes of the deepest dye against humanity have been committed in the sacred name of religion, it is religion that has given to humanity a power to endure all extremes, to triumph in the endurance, to become, in a word, something more than human.

Turn we now from the victims of religious bigotry, to the sufferers from political oppression, as exercised through the medium of the memorable Star Chamber. The Fleet, as the King's prison, was no doubt from the earliest times the place to which this half secret and wholly irresponsible tribunal was accustomed to send the persons who fell under its displeasure; and this view is further confirmed by the circumstance that whilst during the reign of Charles I. we find it frequently used in this way, we do not perceive any intimation of the practice being then a new . The most interesting cases that belong to this part of the history of the Fleet, are those of Prynne and Lilburne. In a late number [n.36.1]  we have referred to the effect of Prynne's publication, the

Histrio-Mastix,

on the court, and the desire of the latter that the lawyers of the different inns might by the splendour of their Masque confute Mr. Prynne's

new learning.

Pity that the King was not satisfied with that and similarly legitimate modes of confuting. In the year following that of the Masque, Laud being then Archbishop of Canterbury, Prynne was brought into the Star Chamber for the publication of his notorious book, which, be it observed, had been written years before, and printed years. So little dignity was there in the prosecution, that the personal offence he had given was allowed to be made conspicuous. The accusation having stated he had compiled and put in print a libellous volume, added,

although he knew well that his Majesty's royal Queen [who was rehearsing a part herself at the time the contents of Prynne's book became

first

known at court], the Lords of the Council, &c., were in their public festivals oftentimes present spectators of some masques and dances, and many recreations that were tolerable and in themselves sinless, and so declared to be by a book printed in the time of his Majesty's royal father,

&c. He was also charged with aspersing the Queen, and with writing of the King in

terms unfit for so sacred a person.

Now there was no doubt that Prynne would have made the world and all living in it a gloomy piece of business, if his views could have been carried into practice, with all their legitimate deductions, and that Lord Cottington's remark upon his trial had as much truth as satire in it,--

If Mr. Prynne should be demanded what he would have, he liketh nothing: no state or sex; music, dancing, &c., unlawful even in kings: no kind of recreation, no kind of entertainment, no, not so much as hawking-; all are damned.

But what then? Such were the man's conscientious opinions; and those who thought them deserving of anything better than ridicule, whose weapons-wit and humour--have a kind of natural vocation to destroy all such ascetic philosophy, were perfectly at liberty to confute them by as big a book as that in which they had been expounded. But as Charles's ancestors had been convinced, beyond the power of anything to unsettle their conviction, that what was their religion they could also make the people's, so now did he and his counsellors act apparently on the firmest belief that they could, and therefore ought to destroy every opinion that did not harmonise with theirs on all other matters, from the greatest to the most trivial subjects, from the government of the country

37

down to the management of a holiday. This time the mistake was to be attended with fatal consequences. The trial of Prynne in the Star Chamber should be for ever memorable, as an example of the reckless disregard of law, justice, common sense, and humanity, which can be perpetrated by irresponsible judges, even though they have among them men distinguished in their ordinary public career or in private life for qualities of an opposite nature. The following extracts will give a sufficient idea of the course of the trial, and the mode of determining the sentence :--

For the book,

said Richardson, the Lord Chief Justice,

I do hold it a most scandalous, infamous libel to the King's Majesty, a most pious and religious King; to the Queen's Majesty, a most excellent and gracious Queen, such a

one

as this kingdom never enjoyed the like, and I think the earth never had a better,

&c. Then followed quotations from the book, full of outrageous opinions on plays and players and dancing, and then the part of the sentence:

Mr. Prynne, I must now come to my sentence; although I am very sorry, for I have known you long; but now I must utterly forsake you, for I find that you have forsaken God,

[the whole tenor of Prynne's book was to lead men, , to draw nearer to God,]

his religion, and your whole allegiance, obedience, and honour, which you owe to both their excellent Majesties, the rule of charity to all noble ladies and persons in the kingdom, and forsaken all goodness. Therefore, Mr. Prynne, I shall proceed to my censure, wherein I agree with my Lord Cottington:

First

, for the burning of your book in as disgraceful a manner as may be, whether in

Cheapside

or Paul's Churchyard ...... And because Mr. Prynne is of

Lincoln's Inn

, and that his profession may not sustain disgrace by his punishment, I do think it fit, with my Lord Cottington, that he be put from the bar, and degraded in the University, and I leave it to my Lords the Lords Bishops to see that done; and for the pillory, I hold it just and equal,

though there were no statute for it

. In the case of a high crime it may be done by the discretion of the court, so I do agree to that too. I fine him

5000l.

, and I know he is as well able to pay

5000l.

as

one

-half of

1000l.

; and perpetual imprisonment I do think fit for him, and to be restrained from writing-neither to have pen, ink, nor paper-yet let him have some pretty Prayer-Book, to pray to God to forgive him his sins; but to write, in good faith I would never have him: for, Mr. Prynne, I do judge you by your book an insolent spirit, and

one

that did think by this book to have got the name of a Reformer, to set up the Puritan or Separatist faction.

So much for the Lord Chief Justice of England. Coke followed; and, with that exquisite inconsistency which characterizes all the arguments on which these monstrous perversions of the powers of government were founded, spoke of the necessity of mildness and toleration to the vices of society, whilst the intolerance of himself and his colleagues was determining on a sentence almost without parallel in their country for its cruelty and injustice. If could forget the object and occasion of Coke's speech, and of the Earl of Dorset's, who followed, there is something in them to admire: they here and there met Prynne's book with mingled ridicule and argument, which, uttered in a different place, might have convinced many minds wavering between the old and

new learning.

Here, such passages were worse than thrown away. Indeed, if there was mode more certain than another to make wit, and humour, and eloquence fail

38

to cause truth to be perceived as truth, and therefore to make its cause still more hopeless for the time, it was the employment of such influences in the uncongenial atmosphere of the Star Chamber. Among other passages of the Earl's speech was capital hit:--

My Lords, when God had made all his works, he looked upon them, and saw that they were good: this gentleman, the devil having put spectacles on his nose, says that all is bad.

But, immediately after this vein, comes a volley of vulgar abuse; and, lastly, from the lips of the gallant and accomplished courtier, an addition to the sentence which it would be scarcely right to attribute to the Earl on the authority of any less satisfactory voucher than his own words:--

Mr. Prynne, I do declare you to be a schism-maker in the Church, a sedition-sower in the Commonwealth, a wolf in sheep's clothing--in a word,

omnium malorum nequissimus

. I shall fine him

10,000l.

, [the Lord Chief Justice had been too

lenient

it seems,]

which is more than he is worth

, yet less than he deserveth. I will not set him at liberty, no more than a plagued man or a mad dog, who, though he cannot bite, he will foam. He is so far from being a sociable soul, that he is not a rational soul; he is fit to live in dent with such beasts of prey as wolves and tigers like himself: therefore do I condemn him to perpetual imprisonment, as those monsters that are no longer fit to live among men, nor see light. Now, for corporal punishment, my Lords: I shall burn him in the forehead, and slit him in the nose; for I find that it is confessed of all that Dr. Leighton's offence

Writing against the Queen and the Bishops in a book entitled An Appeal to the Parliament, or Sion's Plea against Prelacy.

was less than Mr. Prynne's-then why should Mr. Prynne have a less punishment? He that was guilty of murder was marked in a place where he might be seen, as Cain was.

Still not satisfied, the Earl added,--

I should be loth he should escape with his ears; for he may get a periwig, which he now so much inveighs against, and so hide them, or force his conscience to make use of his unlovely love-locks on both sides. Therefore I would have him branded on the forehead, slit in the nose, and his ears cropped too.

The whole of these almost incredible barbarities were inflicted: pillory, branding, mutilation of nose, and loss of ears; and then the unfortunate but firm unyielding man was remanded to his prison--the Fleet. Sir Simond d'Ewes, who may well say that most men were affrighted at this

censure,

visited him in prison shortly after, to comfort him. He

found in him,

he says,

the rare effects of an upright heart and a good conscience, by his serenity of spirit and cheerful patience.

It should be observed that, through the whole of the

trial,

Archbishop Laud was present. Indeed, it is said that Charles himself would not have taken that step against Prynne, but for the advice of Laud. He therefore was looked upon by the Puritans as the real author of the proceeding; and the circumstance should be borne in mind, in reading the particulars of the prelate's own fate, as having contributed, with Laud's subsequent conduct to Prynne, probably more than any other single fact, to make his judges so inexorable. Laud's attack on Prynne, when the remainder of his ears were hacked off, and he was sent to Carnarvon (but, unfortunately for the prelate's comfort, found his journey almost a triumphal procession), took place after the removal of Prynne into the Tower, so we pass on to another Star Chamber case.

39

 

Scarcely months had elapsed after the last-mentioned barbarities, when the Star Chamber, utterly reckless of the signs of the times, called before it John Lilburne (with his printer, Wharton), for the publication of libellous and seditious books, called

News from Ipswich.

The prisoners both refused to be sworn to answer the interrogatories of the court; and the principal, Lilburne, said no freeborn Englishman ought to take it, not being bound by the laws of his country to accuse himself: he became subsequently well known under a phrase borrowed from this reply, as Free-born John. They were both remanded to the Fleet for the present, but on the () were again brought up and pressed to re-consider their determination. Still inflexible, they were sent back to the Fleet under a fine of each, and with an addition in Lilburne's case of a remarkable punishment. Foiled in their attempt to break men's spirits by fines, imprisonments, brandings, slitting of noses, &c., another degrading punishment was now borrowed from the felon-code,--whipping.

To the end,

runs the sentence,

that others may be the more deterred from daring to offend in the like manner hereafter, the court hath further ordered and decreed that the said John Lilburne shall be whipt through the street from the prison of the Fleet unto the pillory, to be erected at such time and in such place as this court shall hold fit; and that both he and Wharton shall be set in the said pillory, and from thence returned to the Fleet.

The pillory was placed between and the Star Chamber, and Lilburne was whipped from the prison thither

smartly.

And how did he bear this mingled torture of the body and mind? Rushworth says,

Whilst he was whipt at the cart and stood in the pillory, he uttered many bold speeches against tyranny of bishops, &c., and when his head was in the hole of the pillory he scattered sundry copies of pamphlets (said to be seditious), and tossed them among the people, taking them out of his pocket.

The Star Chamber Council was sitting at the time, and informed of his last mentioned incident; when, consistent in their acts, they ordered him to be gagged immediately, which was done. Lilburne then stamped with his feet, and the people understood his meaning well enough, that he would speak if he were able. This was not all. At the same sitting of the Council an order was made directing that Lilburne should be

laid alone with irons on his hands and legs in the wards of the Fleet, where the basest and meanest sort of prisoners

were used to be, with other regulations in a similar spirit. This punishment also was carried into effect for a time, but ,ultimately brought to a summary conclusion through an accident in the prison.

Lilburne,

says Rushworth,

having for some time endured close imprisonment, lying with double irons on his feet and hands, and laid in the inner wards of the prison, there happened a fire in the prison of the Fleet, near to the place where he was prisoner, which gave a jealousy that Lilburne, in his fury and anguish, was desperate, and had set the

Fleet Prison

on fire, not regarding himself to be burnt with it ; whereupon the inhabitants without the Fleet (the street then not being

five

or

six

yards over from the prison door) and the prisoners all cried,

Release Lilburne, or we shall all be burnt!

and thereupon they ran headlong and made the Warden remove him out of his hold, and the fire was quenched, and he remained a prisoner in a place where he had some more air.

He continued in prison till , when the Long Parliament began, and then he was released, and

40

immediately applied to the for redress, who granted it in-the most satisfactory manner: not merely declaring his sentence and punishment most unjust and illegal, but ordering the erasure of the proceedings from the files of all courts of justice,

as unfit to continue on record.

On the breaking out of the Civil War, Lilburne fought bravely, we need not say on which side. He had a narrow escape in the war. He was taken prisoner, and would have been proceeded against as a traitor by Charles and hanged, but the Parliament arrested the act, that growing into a system would have made the war a times more terrible than it was, by immediately declaring they would retaliate. But Free-born John was of the most impracticable as well as courageous of enthusiasts; (Marten said of him, if there were none living but himself, John would be against Lilburne, and Lilburne against John;) and the Parliament pleased him little better than the King; so he wrote against them too, and was banished, upon pain of death if he returned. But Free-born John would and did return, and was immediately arraigned at the , where he was publicly acquitted,

which, for joy, occasioned a great acclamation of the people present.

He died a Quaker, and was buried in , citizens and other persons honouring his remains by following them to the grave. In

41

concluding our notice of the cases of Prynne and Lilburne, those important links in the history of the reign of Charles, we may observe that they embody in the most striking shape the principles of arbitrary power, which the King, with Laud and his other counsellors, strove to enforce upon the people of England, and to which they received for answer--the Civil War and the scaffold.

Gloomy as our theme must continue the course of our narration. Hitherto the sufferings and horrors we have described have had no further connexion with the than that that edifice was the place of confinement of the prisoners in question during the execution of their respective sentences; now we have to deal with the horrors of the prison-house itself. And if in the process of that gradual extinction of all such places, for debt at least, which the spirit of the times promises to effect, we could be reconciled to the preservation of any , as a kind of visible record and warning of the atrocities that were once perpetrated in them, the Fleet should be that place: it in every way deserves .such a bad pre-eminence. It appears that this prison was used for the confinement of debtors from the century at least, probably from the earliest period of its existence: a petition from John Fraunceys, a debtor in the Fleet, A.D. , is still preserved.[n.41.1]  The document in point of time that gives us any accurate idea of the state of the prison is a complaint of the prisoners, in , to the Lords of the Council. They state therein that the warden had let the victualling and lodging of the prisoners to

very poor men,

who, having

neither land nor any trade to live by, nor any certain wages of the said warden,

and

being also greedy of gain, lived by bribery and extortion.

The essential evils were pointed out as clearly in these few words in , as they could be in the appalling facts which were discovered by the famous committee of : and what a fearful amount of human suffering might not have been spared, by the simplest of remedies at that earlier time--that of making the warden and all his servants perfectly independent, as to the amount of their emoluments, of those under their care. Almost every atrocity (we do not know, indeed, that an exception can be found) perpetrated in the in the beginning of the eighteenth century may be traced directly to the operation of the passion-thirst for gain. This will appear clearer as we proceed. Numerous abuses and oppressions had of course been set on foot at the period to which we have referred by these

very poor men,

and which are pointed out by the prisoners in their petition; but as we shall meet with every of them in a much darker shape at a later period, we need not here dwell upon them. Some temporary kind of relief seems to have been granted in answer to this complaint; in the same year a commission or order having been granted, which the Recorder, Fleetwood, at the desire of the Archbishop of Canterbury, abbreviated and explained. In the prisoners again endeavoured to obtain effectual redress by a bill in parliament; and it was high time, if we may believe their allegations, for now they attribute and other misdemeanors to the deputy warden, Joachim Newton. Nothing of importance seems to have followed this application, and another century of suffering passed over the unhappy tenants, shut out from the world, and subjected, without the possibility of redress, to extortions, indignities, and privations of every kind, chequered only by

42

brutalities of a deeper and occasionally fatal nature. Still there was moving among society a kind of uneasy consciousness that all was not as it should be behind those grim and lofty walls; the tender-hearted sighed as they passed, and dropped some piece of money into the grate, which most probably would never reach, or but partially, those for whom it was intended; the philanthropist again and again made some new effort to stimulate inquiry, which the legislature or minister perhaps promised, but forgot to instigate; but still years rolled on, generation after generation of prisoners mourned, and despaired, and died, and nothing was done. In new hopes were excited; a committee of the was appointed, and for the time positive evidence was acquired and made public. From the Report of that committee it appeared the custom with regard to the warden's underletting the Fleet was continued; that a Mr. Geary, who appeared before the committee, had agreed to pay per annum to the warden for it, on the understanding that there were then prisoners, whose payments would bring in twice the amount of the rent. We learn from the same Report that there were then about prisoners enjoying the privileges of the Rules, that is, a permission to live outside the prison, but within certain precincts adjoining.[n.42.1]  years after appeared another Report, we presume from the same committee, in which it is stated that

by the Fleet books it appeareth that

1651

prisoners had been charged from the

28th of April, 1696

, to the

1st of December

last,

whereof but were discharged by regular procedure, the rest having been allowed to escape for bribes. A resolution at the same time was unanimously agreed to, that the management had been very prejudicial to personal credit, and a great grievance to the whole kingdom. Even yet the poor prisoners seem to have had little of the parliamentary attention or sympathy; and it is not improbable that the cruelties and outrageous extortions of which we have now to speak as occurring during the period between the sitting of this committee and that of the next in , were in a measure brought on by the resolution of : the officers of the prison might fear from its tenor that the duration of their power was limited, and so, in their way, determine to make the best use of it while they could.

The year was a memorable in the history of prisons; then it was that the enormity of the system of their management came fully before the public: and indescribable was the excitement and horror it caused., The poet Thomson has given permanent record to the feelings of the time in a passage of his which appears to have been written immediately on the publication of the Report of the Parliamentary Committee:--

And here can I forget the gen'rous band,

Who, touch'd with human woe, redressive searched

Into the horrors of the gloomy gaol,

Unpitied and unheard, where Misery moans,

Where Sickness pines, where Thirst and Hunger burn,

And poor Misfortune feels the lash of vice.

Oh! great design! if executed well,

With partial care, and wisdom-temper'd zeal.

Ye sons of Mercy, yet resume the search:

Drag forth the legal monsters into light,

Wrench from their hands oppression's iron rod,

And bid the cruel feel the pangs they give.

The

Sons of Mercy

did execute their task well; the legal monsters were dragged forth into light; nor was retribution wanting, though it came in a different shape from what might have been justly expected.

The committee, in the commencement of their Report, observe, that at the passing of the act which abolished the Star Chamber, in the year of Charles I.'s reign, the prison became a place of confinement for debtors, and for persons committed for contempt from the Courts of Chancery, Exchequer, and Common Pleas; and that at the same time the fees previously payable by archbishops, bishops, temporal peers, baronets, and others of lower degree, or the power of putting in irons, or of exacting fees not to do so, ought to have ceased. Instead of which, however, the Warden

hath exercised an unwarrantable and arbitrary power, not only in extorting exorbitant fees, but in oppressing prisoners for debt, by loading them with irons, worse than if the Star Chamber was still existing.

The melancholy details which follow more than bear out this assertion.. We shall now endeavour to show, in as clear and succinct a manner as possible, from the materials provided by the Committee, the general workings of the system. Its grand leading principle was extortion--the agents, force and cruelty; and can scarcely avoid a species of admiration at the ingenuity, perseverance, and unfailing energy with which-unappalled by the sight of any suffering, however great, insensible to any sense of shame, however infamous the cirucmstances--the object and the means were steadily developed to the utmost. Let us suppose Mr. Bambridge (the warden) and his myrmidons to have just received a prisoner, not of the poorest class, and observe his treatment of him. The prisoner, to his surprise, discovers that, instead of being introduced into the prison, he is carried to a spunging-house attached to it on the exterior, of such places, all belonging to the Warden, and kept, in the present instance, by of his tipstaffs. His day's bill explains their proceedings, and the alarmed prisoner, who sees that a few days of such expenses will beggar him, asks to be permitted to go into the Fleet, where, at least, there are legal regulations as to moderation of price. The tipstaff has no objection, on receiving the customary fee--a heavy --for the simple permission. Indignant at the demand, the prisoner probably refuses, and a few days more pass on, his bills growing daily in magnitude, till, in despair, he acquiesces, and is removed into the Fleet; or, on the other hand, if his determination be very great indeed, why, he is shifted into a garret, put with a couple of other prisoners in the same bed, and perhaps ironed till the same result is obtained. Well, he is in the Fleet, or at least he will be, on payment of the prison fees: the best idea we can give of these is to transcribe his bill; supposing that actions or detainers are lying against him, every action being paid for separately:--

44

 £s.d.
For four surrenders-at the judge's chambers, to his clerks9116
To the tipstaff, four fees220
To the warden, ditto16120
Subtotals2856
To which add the previous fee for turning into the house;10100
Including, perhaps, some occasional liberty to leave the spunging-house, if he has behaved well, or, in other words, bled freely ; but in that case he must have taken up his security-bond for the enjoyment of the Rules660
Making a total of4516Fees actually paid by a prisoner, as proved before the Committee.

By this time Bambridge has become quite satisfied of the prisoner's ability to bear all that, in his moderation, he wishes to enforce upon him; so, after the enjoyment of the Rules for some time, it is intimated to the prisoner that a present will greatly help the memory of the officers as to his really having obtained the right of enjoying them: the present is given. Shortly comes a similar application; again, again, and again, the demand is submitted to; but at last, weary with the attempt at impossibilities--to satisfy the insatiable,--or moved by remorse at the conviction that all this money belongs to his creditors, the threat of Corbett's spunging-house ceases to avail; he steadily and determinedly refuses. That very day he is again at Corbett's, and the entire system of extortion is once more before him, and must be passed through. But a virulent disease, enhanced by the disgraceful state of the worst apartments of the spunging-house, is raging there: the small-pox is in the house. The unhappy man, half frantic at the danger, implores the Warden to remove him into another spunging-house, or into the Fleet, for he has not had that (under such circumstances) most fatal malady, and the very dread of it will assuredly kill him. The tipstaffs, for once, forget their vocation, and his petition; but Bambridge, great man! is firm: the prisoner dies, his affairs in extricable confusion, and a wife and numerous family of young children in the deepest distress. Such, with or slight exceptions drawn from other cases, is the history of Mr. Robert Castell, a gentleman, a scholar, and an artist,[n.44.2]  whose misfortunes brought him into the hands of the officers! and such is a fair illustration of the principal branch of the system. We must add to it another highly profitable source of emolument. This was, keeping prisoners on the books, as being in the enjoyment of the Rules, who were actually entitled to a legal discharge. The previous Warden, Mr. Huggins, after the appointment of the committee, suddenly discharged of such cases, and acknowledged to more that ought to have been discharged, some of them so far back as , , and so on. Our readers may not, perhaps, see at once the effect of the manoeuvre; it was simply this :--Whenever the Warden, or his deputy, felt any very strong desire for money, an escape

45

warrant was issued, that is, they declared the man-who, having been in effect legally discharged, was quietly pursuing his avocations-had escaped, or run away from the Rules; accordingly he was arrested, lodged safely at Corbett's, and kept there till he had purchased another temporary freedom. We may have some notion of the profits obtained in this way from the list of persons enjoying the Rules, which was obtained by the committee, who had paid in year , and whilst it appeared to the committee that the prisoners for the greatest debts had not signed the book. It was also shown that the gratuity to the Warden for the Liberty of the Rules was exacted in proportion to the greatness of the debt; and if all paid, the account would be times the before-mentioned sum.

But this was nothing to the magnificent soul of a Huggins or of a Bambridge; so they exerted themselves to make the sum total of profit a much more respectable affair; and the different irregular modes adopted show their inventive powers in a flattering light. , there were a great many prisoners who had no chance whatever of paying their debts, from the magnitude of the amount, or who, having the means, had still an invincible disinclination to do so: and both classes agreed in a common desire to get out of the prison, and in being able and willing to pay well for their keepers' assistance. Escapes, accordingly, occurred with marvellous frequency. Huggins confessed to the Committee, that so many had occurred during his wardenship,

that it was impossible to enumerate them.

There was no difficulty attending such escapes generally, as the officers would take care previously to make them pay well for Rules and everything else. But in case, that of Boyce, a smuggler, charged at the King's suit with a demand of upwards of , it appears Bambridge, then Huggins's deputy, actually made a door through the prison-wall, dismissed the prisoner through it, and . Large emoluments evidently must have been derived from this source. Next comes the mode illustrated in the case of Thomas Dumay. This man, a prisoner in the Fleet, was allowed to make several voyages to France, where he bought wines, some of which were delivered to Huggins, and for which he paid by drawing bills on Richard Bishop, of the tipstaffs of the prison: these bills, on presentation, were accepted, and when due properly paid. Credit was thus established, and precaution relaxed. Dumay then drew for a further, and no doubt much larger sum (we do not find the amount stated), and obtained the goods; but, on presentation, Mr. Bishop declined accepting any more bills for Dumay. The merchants in alarm sought for Dumay--there he was, back in the Fleet, snugly ensconced as prisoner, laughing with Bishop and Huggins at the success of the trick, and settling no doubt their respective shares. Lastly, to show their condescension we presume, for no very great sums could have been thus derived, the officers laid their hands on the miserable pittances which charity had bequeathed to the poorer prisoners, or dropped into the

box

they were accustomed to send round. Whether the box at the grate, behind which prisoners were accustomed to stand till within the last few years, was similarly laid under contribution does not appear; from a curious incident mentioned in the Report, we should think it was not :--

Thomas Hogg, who had been about

three

years a prisoner in the

Fleet Prison

, and was then discharged by order of court, about

eight

months after such discharge, passing by the door of that prison, stopped to give charity to the prisoners at the grate,

and being seen by James Barnes,

one

of the said Bambridge's accomplices, the said Barnes seized and forced him into Corbett's spunging-house, where he hath been detained ever since, now upwards of

nine

months, without any cause or legal authority whatsoever.

The only explanation we can venture to offer as to the cause of the somewhat incomprehensible rage of Barnes and his master, is, that as the poor prisoners, who were in technical phrase

on the grate,

were enabled by its means better to submit to the discomforts of the Common side (that is, where the prisoners are placed who cannot pay for their lodging), and so escape the extortions of the officers, the latter felt indignant accordingly at all who aided and abetted; or else it may be that they hated the very sight of poor prisoners, and of all, and everything belonging to, assisting and comforting them. Alas! for those poor prisoners: their case was indeed deplorable. If they had a little money, they were suspected of having more, and they were tortured to make them produce it; if they had none, why even hope was denied. The subject makes heart-sick, and our readers will no doubt feel it a relief to escape from the contemplation; but the best security against such things happening in the future will be the making indelible the memory of the past. It is that consideration makes us conclude our notice of the matters disclosed in the Report with a passage from the statement of the case of Jacob Mendez Solas, a Portuguese, and of the poorer prisoners, who was confined for months in a filthy dungeon, manacled and schackled.

This committee themselves saw an instance of the deep impression his sufferings had made upon him; for on his surmising, from something said, that Bambridge was to return again as Warden of the Fleet, he fainted, and the blood started out of his mouth and nose.

The result of the committee's labours was the committal of Bambridge, Huggins, and some of their servants to Newgate, an address to the crown praying for their prosecution, and the introduction of a bill to remove Bambridge and newly regulate the gaol. The prosecution was a strange affair. On reading the evidence adduced on the trial of these wretches for different murders, it seems amply sufficient in a legal sense to have insured conviction, and in a moral sense there cannot be a doubt of the guilt of the parties; yet all escaped by a verdict of Not guilty! Retribution, however, as we have before intimated, was not to be escaped. The painters, like the poets, made them immortal in their infamy. Hogarth, in the picture of which the engraving in the last page is a transcript,[n.46.1]  has shown us Bambridge (who is under examination, whilst a prisoner is explaining how he has been tortured) so vividly, that, whether we pass from it to his known conduct, or from the conduct to this portrait, we are equally struck by the fitness of the to each other--there is no questioning that this is the man. years after, it is said, Bambridge cut his throat.

An act of parliament, passed in the course of the present year, has directed the abolition of both the Fleet and the Marshalsea as prisons, and for the last months no new prisoners have been admitted into the former. These are now sent to the Queen's Bench, or, as it is henceforth to be called, the Queen's. The prisoners at present in the Fleet, about in number, are also to be removed thither. As closely pertaining to our subject, we may add that the Act

47

also abolishes all kinds of fees or gratuities, and the privilege of the Rules, which was an unjust privilege, as being only allowed to those who could pay for it. From the circumstance here stated it is most probable that the building itself is doomed, and that before any very great length of time passes the Fleet will be a thing of memory only. The present building was erected after the burning of the older in the Gordon riots of , when the mob were polite enough to send notice to the prisoners of the period of their coming, and, on being informed it would be inconvenient on account of the lateness of the hour, to postpone their visit to the following day. That former building also dated its erection from the period of a fire; its predecessor having been destroyed in the great conflagration of . As we now enter the prison, and passing through the porch, and its small ante-room on the left, where sits the keeper, and reach the area, we are struck by the desolate aspect of everything: a deeper melancholy than its own seems to have fallen upon the place. Few prisoners are to be seen, and these are huddled listlessly together in a corner, ruminating perhaps on the classification which is to take place in the Queen's-a feature by no means palatable, we find, to those concerned. Skittles and rackets are alike without worshippers. The coffee-room is altogether disused, and sole guest at the tables sits the tipstaff, its owner, and we can see that the promised compensation is but a poor medicine for all his ills. The romance of his life has departed; no more for him will there be

Golden exhalations of the Chum!

Fortunate they to whom that word is unknown; who have never in themselves, or through their relations and friends, had cause to investigate the mysteries involved in the words chum, chums, chummed, and chummage. For their information we explain them. The prison chiefly consists of long brick pile, parallel with , and standing in an irregularly shaped area, so as to leave open spaces before and behind, connected by passages round each end. This pile is called the Master's Side. The interior arrangements are very simple :--On each of stories, a long passage from extremity to the other, with countless doors opening into single rooms on each side. If a prisoner did not wish to go to the Common Side (a building apart, and to the right of the Master's Side, where he was put with several other prisoners into a common room, divided within only by a kind of cabins, for which he paid nothing), he had the choice of going down into Bartholomew Fair, the lowest and sunken story, where he paid per week for the undisturbed use of a room, or up to some of the better apartments, where he paid the same rent, but was subject to the operation of the system known as chummage. Supposing him to have obtained an empty room at , whenever all the rooms became occupied, he had, in common with his fellow-prisoners, to submit in rotation to a new prisoner being put into his room, or chummed upon him; and such new-comer could only be got rid of by a payment of r. per week, to enable him partially to provide for himself. The latter would immediately go to some of the prisoners, who made a business of letting lodgings (fitting up sometimes or beds in the room), and make the best bargain he could. There are prisoners who are said to have accumulated hundreds of pounds by such use of their room, in the course of a few years. We need not add, that their occupation, too, is now gone;

48

and, for the time, they are probably beginning to think it would be as well to try to get out of prison, A volume as interesting as a romance might be written oh the characters and lives of some of the chief prisoners for debt in the Fleet, at almost any period of its history; and now, in its decline, the place is not destitute of such interest. In the group we have just passed, for instance, are a well-known northern anti-poor-law agitator, who is here for a debt to his former master; a lord; a barrister, who seems to have been thoroughly convinced of the truth of the old proverb--

Faint heart never won fair (nor rich) lady

--and has made himself notorious accordingly; the son of who was at a certain period of the great leviathans of the Money-Market; and, lastly, a gentleman whose misfortunes, in connection with the Opera House, have engaged so deservedly the public sympathy. In conclusion, it is perhaps hardly necessary to add that none of the horrors of the last century survived the disclosures then made, though it has been reserved for the present to get rid of a few still remaining abuses by the Act referred to. We have now, it is to be presumed, made our prisons for debt tolerably perfect; and, as in the story of the medicine prepared with so much care, to be---- thrown out of the window when done, there remains but to get rid of them altogether,--a task which the tenor of recent legislation promises to effect very speedily.

 
 
 
Footnotes:

[n.35.1] From Fox's Martyrs, folio ed. in three vols., vol. iii., p. 1369.

[n.36.1] Ely Place, vol. iii., p. 372.

[n.41.1] Rot. Parl., vol. i., p. 47.

[n.42.1] The Rules extend from the prison entrance to Ludgate Hill, both sides o Ludgate Hill up to the Old Bailey, both sides of the Old Bailey as far as Fleet Lane, both sides of Fleet Lane, and so back along Farringdon Street to the entrance,

[n.44.2] His profession was architecture, and he had just finished a translation of Vitruvius.

[n.46.1] The faces are all portraits, and the entire scene, no doubt, an exact representation of the reality.