Bankrupt and Behind Bars

Bankrupt and Behind Bars

8th October 2014

The ‘Debtors’ Prison Registers, 1734-1862’ collection details the shocking conditions that faced inmates held in the debtors’ gaols of Georgian and Victorian London and convicts detained in King’s Bench, Fleet and Marshalsea prisons. Charles Dickens’s father John Dickens and painter George Morland are among famous inmates. John Dickens was sent to Marshalsea after falling into debt to a local baker. His son later included reference to the prison in his literary works, with one of his famous fictional characters, Amy Dorrit, also having a father in the gaol.  George Morland – known best for his paintings of rustic scenes and animals – was arrested for debt in 1799, but discharged from King’s Bench and allowed to live in the area outside the prison (known as ‘the Rules’). Here, he continued to paint – with critics arguing that it was during this time he produced some of the best work of his career. Crimes of inmates ranged from vagrancy to sedition, but these establishments most commonly held men and women charged with insolvency. Run privately for profit, all inmates were required to pay standard prison fees while detained – on top of their existing debts. Those whose families could afford these fees were lucky. Not only could they eat, drink and socialize in the bars and restaurants surrounding the prison (the Rules), but, crucially, they were allowed to seek employment in daytime hours – allowing them to pay back what they owed and earn their release. Those without support from outside dependants soon drowned in debt. Digitized by Ancestry.co.uk from original records held at The National Archives in Kew, the ‘Debtors’ Prison Registers, 1734-1862’ collection contains over 70,000 criminals’ records. Visit www.ancestry.co.uk  Return to News

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