Marshalsea Prison

place and prison

Closed aged c. 513

The Marshalsea (1373–1842) was a notorious prison in Southwark (now London), just south of the River Thames. It housed a variety of prisoners over the centuries, including men accused of crimes at sea and political figures charged with sedition, but it became known, in particular, for its incarceration of the poorest of London's debtors. Over half the population of England's prisons in the 18th century were in jail because of debt. Run privately for profit, as were all English prisons until the 19th century, the Marshalsea looked like an Oxbridge college and functioned as an extortion racket. Debtors in the 18th century who could afford the prison fees had access to a bar, shop and restaurant, and retained the crucial privilege of being allowed out during the day, which gave them a chance to earn money for their creditors. Everyone else was crammed into one of nine small rooms with dozens of others, possibly for years for the most modest of debts, which increased as unpaid prison fees accumulated. The poorest faced starvation and, if they crossed the jailers, torture with skullcaps and thumbscrews. A parliamentary committee reported in 1729 that 300 inmates had starved to death within a three-month period, and that eight to ten were dying every 24 hours in the warmer weather. The prison became known around the world in the 19th century through the writing of the English novelist Charles Dickens, whose father was sent there in 1824, when Dickens was 12, for a debt to a baker. Forced as a result to leave school to work in a factory, Dickens based several of his characters on his experience, most notably Amy Dorrit, whose father is in the Marshalsea for debts so complex no one can fathom how to get him out. Much of the prison was demolished in the 1870s, though parts of it were used as shops and rooms into the 20th century. A local library now stands on the site. All that is left of the Marshalsea is the long brick wall that marked its southern boundary, the existence of what Dickens called "the crowding ghosts of many miserable years" recalled only by a plaque from the local council. "[I]t is gone now," he wrote, "and the world is none the worse without it."

Wikidata Wikipedia

Commemorated on 1 plaque

Beyond this old wall is the site of Marshalsea Prison, closed in 1842. This sign is attached to a remnant of the prison wall. Charles Dickens, whose father had been imprisoned here for debt in 1824, used that experience as the Marshalsea setting for his novel Little Dorrit.

Tabard Street Gardens, SE1, London, United Kingdom where it sited