Dave Hill | The Guardian: Marshalsea’s Mansions of Misery

Historian Jerry White has produced a penetrating micro-history of a time when ordinary Londoners’ lives were ruled by debt and fear of imprisonment

In 18th century London and the first half of the 19th, debt and its effects ate at the soul of society, as they do now. The difference was that in those days, debt was always personal. Those who owed did not fear credit card demands or banks, but people, streets and areas they knew. “It impacted on personal space,” explains distinguished London historian Jerry White. “People were moving around London all the time to avoid their creditors – moving rooms, avoiding certain streets or areas.” And failure to avoid could be disastrous: for want of as little as a few shillings, you could be thrown into a death pit of a jail.

The subject of White’s new book is that London’s most notorious debtors’ prison, the Marshalsea in Southwark. Mansions of Misery, his biography of the institution, which stood on two different sites on what is now Borough High Street, begins by describing London’s vast landscape of debt and its ubiquity in everyday life. Fearful debtors were everywhere. So were places for locking them up – London had more jails than any other city in Europe. Those dodging incarceration up could take refuge in The Mint, an area near the Marshalsea, which enjoyed an anomalous legal status protecting them from arrest.

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via Dave Hill | The Guardian http://ift.tt/2ekTAra

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