History of the Fleet Prison, London the Anatomy of the Fleet

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The Fleet Prison is noteworthy for being one of the oldest of the English prisons, and one mentioned frequently in literature. This work explores the actual workings of the privately-owned debtors' prison, examining its earliest history from medieval times; the celebrated inquiry into the administration of the prison during the 1610s; the misuse of authority by the wardens in the 1680s onward; the infamous Parliamentary inquiry in 1729, based on the parliamentary reports, trial papers, etc,; to the closing by parliamentary legislation in 1842.


"The Fleet, London's prison for debtors, can be traced to 1189, but its notoriety dates from the later 17th century to its 1842 dissolution. Debtors were not criminals and thus not there for punishment. The warden bore the costs (and profits) of keeping the prisoners. This combination meant debtors of means lived well: they were allowed out for the day so long as they or their families could afford to pay the keeper that accompanied them. They could rent the best rooms, share them with their families, and treat the Fleet as a sanctuary from their creditors. Those without means lived a meager existence and were often the objects of charity. Statistics reveal prisoners from every social class; most had the means to live above the charity line (there were alternate, less desirable prisons for destitute debtors). More than 80 percent were there for less than three years, reaching accommodation with their creditors or availing themselves of Parliament's frequent insolvency acts. Brown's sources--legal disputes between warden and prisoners, parliamentary inquiries, and literary accounts--emphasize problems and scandal, but if the warden could maintain a prison of more than 300 debtors with only five employees, tensions cannot have been very great. Upper-division undergraduates and above." - CHOICE

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