Monday, June 17, 2019

London Prisons: A Gentleman's Tour

From OUP:
At just nineteen William was arrested by his creditors for debt and conveyed to Number 9 Fleet Market – a deceptively innocuous address that debtors’ used to conceal the fact they were actually residing within the Fleet prison. Visitors to the prison were so numerous that the guards memorised the faces of new inmates on arrival, so they could not walk out with the crowds. The range of accommodation a prisoner was offered depended on an assessment of “his rank and condition”. Rooms could be had on the Common side for poorer men or on the Master’s side for the wealthier, but there was a vibrant trade amongst officers and longer-term inmates eager to rent out rooms, or sub-let beds in them to new “chums” (so called because they had to pay “chummage” to the Warden). William’s accommodation tended to reflect the state of his finances. His father paid him a guinea a week which could provide lodging in a private room on the Master’s side, but when his funds ran low he was reduced to sharing a room without furniture on the Common side, or sleeping on a table in the taproom. He wanted to live outside the prison in an area known as “the Rules”. But it was an expensive privilege that required payment of securities to prevent prisoners crossing the invisible (and elastic) boundaries that ran down the middle of streets and buildings around the Fleet. An additional £5 would procure day release, ostensibly to sort out financial business, but it was more commonly known as “showing you my horse”, a phrase which reflected the more sociable activities made possible by such day trips. (Read more.)

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