King's Bench Prison

Last updated

King's Bench Prison
Kings Bench Prison Microcosm edited.jpg
King's Bench Prison by Augustus Pugin and Thomas Rowlandson (1808–11).
King's Bench Prison
Location Southwark, London, England
StatusClosed
Closed1880 [1]
Notable prisoners

The King's Bench Prison was a prison in Southwark, south London, England, from medieval times until it closed in 1880. It took its name from the King's Bench court of law in which cases of defamation, bankruptcy and other misdemeanours were heard; as such, the prison was often used as a debtor's prison until the practice was abolished in the 1860s. In 1842, it was renamed the Queen's Bench Prison, [2] and became the Southwark Convict Prison in 1872. [3]

Contents

Origins

The first prison was originally constructed from two houses and was situated in Angel Place, off Borough High Street, Southwark – as with other judicial buildings it was often targeted during uprisings, being burned in 1381 and 1450. During the reign of King Henry VIII, new prison buildings were constructed within an enclosing brick wall. This was eventually demolished in 1761. [4]

New building

Locations of King's Bench Prison and Horsemonger Lane Gaol, c.1833. King's Bench Prison and Horsemonger Lane Gaol from 1833 Schmollinger map.jpg
Locations of King's Bench Prison and Horsemonger Lane Gaol, c.1833.
The King's Bench Prison in 1830. Image taken from page 669 of 'Old and New London, etc' (11188167595).jpg
The King's Bench Prison in 1830.

Its 1758 replacement was built at a cost of £7,800 on a 4-acre (16,000 m2) site close to St George's Fields (south of Borough Road, close to its junction with Blackman Street/Newington Causeway, and a short distance from Horsemonger Lane Gaol; today the site is occupied by the Scovell housing estate). Although much larger and better appointed than some other London prisons, the new King's Bench still gained a reputation for being dirty, overcrowded and prone to outbreaks of typhus. Debtors had to provide their own bedding, food and drink. Those who could afford it purchased 'Liberty of the Rules' allowing them to live within three square miles of the prison.

On 10 May 1768, the imprisonment in King's Bench of radical John Wilkes (for writing an article for The North Briton , that severely criticized King George III) prompted a riot – the Massacre of St George's Fields – in which five people were killed. [5] Like the earlier buildings, this prison was also badly damaged in a fire started in the 1780 Gordon Riots. It was rebuilt 1780-84 by John Deval the King's Master Mason. [6]

In 1842 it became the Queen's Prison taking debtors from the Marshalsea and Fleet Prisons and sending lunatics to Bedlam. Fees and the benefits they could buy were abolished, and soon after it passed into the hands of the Home Office during the 1870s, it was closed and demolished.

Literary connections

English dramatist Thomas Dekker was imprisoned in the King's Bench Prison because of a debt of £40 to the father of John Webster, from 1612 to 1619. In prison he continued to write.

In Charles Dickens' David Copperfield Mr Micawber is imprisoned for debt in the King's Bench Prison. Madeline Bray and her father lived within the Rules of the King's Bench in Nicholas Nickleby , while the prison is also discussed by Mr. Rugg and Arthur Clennam in Little Dorrit . [7]

In Herman Melville's Billy Budd, Sailor , King's Bench is referred to when Melville describes John Claggart as being possibly arraigned at King's Bench.

In his The Diary of a Prison Governor , James William Newham (1825–1890) makes reference to the period that his step-father, Henry Benthall, spent in the Queen's Bench Prison (c.1839) for bankruptcy, after running up debts to the tune of £15,000 following the failure of his business as a wine merchant in the Strand.[ citation needed ] Newham (at this time aged 14) recalls "staying over on occasions" with his mother, in Benthall's rooms at the prison, where such proceedings were winked at "for a consideration". On his release from the Queen's Bench, Benthall was to live within "the rules of the prison" (i.e., in the immediate neighbourhood).

It could be said that Benthall's eventful and troubled monetary situation, and its consequences on his lifestyle and social standing, along with some of his rather dubious business partners, are reflected in the writings and characters of Charles Dickens.[ citation needed ] Newham notes in his diary that he lived and worked for Benthall for a period at Cecil Street, the Strand. Coincidentally, Dickens also lived in Cecil Street at that time. It was 12 years later that the diarist, through connections of his step-father, secured a position as clerk at Maidstone Gaol, which in turn led to Newham becoming Assistant Governor of Maidstone, and Governor of St Augustine's Prison, Canterbury, in 1878.

Between 1857 and 1876, Newham oversaw the hanging of 24 inmates (all of them murderers) including that of Frances Kidder in 1868. Kidder (25) was found guilty of drowning her 12-year-old step-daughter, Louisa Staples, in 12 inches of ditch water. Following a change in attitudes and the law, she became the last woman to be publicly executed in England. Less severe punishments included flogging (usually up to 20 lashes applied) and solitary confinement, as well as the daily routine of a six-hour shift spent on the treadmill for those prisoners set to hard labour.

Walter Besant's 1899 novel The Orange Girl begins with its protagonist, William Halliday, a musician disinherited by his wealthy family, in the Rules of King's Bench Prison in London.

The part played by the prison in the life of the time is described by William Russell in his 1858 work “The Recollections of a Policeman”. From Chapter XIV, ‘The Martyrs of Chancery’:

In Lambeth Marsh stands a building better known than honored. The wealthy merchant knows it as the place where an unfortunate friend, who made that ruinous speculation during the recent sugar-panic, is now a denizen; the man-about-town knows it as a spot to which several of his friends have been driven, at full gallop, by fleet race-horses and dear dog-carts; the lawyer knows it as the “last scene of all,” the catastrophe of a large proportion of law-suits; the father knows it as a bug-bear wherewith to warn his scapegrace spendthrift son; but the uncle knows it better as the place whence nephews date protestations of reform and piteous appeals, “this once,” for bail. Few, indeed, are there who has not heard of the Queen’s Prison, or, as it is more briefly and emphatically termed, “The Bench!”[ citation needed ]

Notable inmates

See also

Related Research Articles

<i>Little Dorrit</i> Novel by Charles Dickens

Little Dorrit is a novel by Charles Dickens, originally published in serial form between 1855 and 1857. The story features Amy Dorrit, youngest child of her family, born and raised in the Marshalsea prison for debtors in London. Arthur Clennam encounters her after returning home from a 20-year absence, ready to begin his life anew.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fleet Prison</span> 12th-century prison in London

Fleet Prison was a notorious London prison by the side of the River Fleet. The prison was built in 1197, was rebuilt several times, and was in use until 1844. It was demolished in 1846.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">St George's Fields</span>

St George's Fields was an area of Southwark in south London, England.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Liberty of the Mint</span>

The Mint was a district in Southwark, south London, England, on the west side of Borough High Street, around where Marshalsea Road is now located. It was so named because a mint authorised by King Henry VIII was set up in Suffolk Place, a mansion house, in about 1543. The mint ceased to operate in the reign of Mary I and Suffolk Place was demolished in 1557. In the late-17th and early-18th centuries, the area was known for offering protection against prosecution for debtors due to its legal status as a "liberty", or a jurisdictional interzone.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Debtors' prison</span> Prison for people unable to repay a debt

A debtors' prison is a prison for people who are unable to pay debt. Until the mid-19th century, debtors' prisons were a common way to deal with unpaid debt in Western Europe. Destitute people who were unable to pay a court-ordered judgment would be incarcerated in these prisons until they had worked off their debt via labour or secured outside funds to pay the balance. The product of their labour went towards both the costs of their incarceration and their accrued debt. Increasing access and lenience throughout the history of bankruptcy law have made prison terms for unaggravated indigence obsolete over most of the world.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Thomas Curson Hansard</span> British printer

Thomas Curson Hansard was an English pressman, son of the printer Luke Hansard.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">St George the Martyr, Southwark</span> Church in London Borough of Southwark, United Kingdom

St George the Martyr is a church in the historic Borough district of south London. It lies within the modern-day London Borough of Southwark, on Borough High Street at the junction with Long Lane, Marshalsea Road, and Tabard Street. St George the Martyr is named after Saint George. The church is a Grade II* listed building.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Marshalsea Court</span> English court

The Marshalsea Court was a court associated with the Royal Household in England. Associated with, but distinct from, the Marshalsea Court was the Palace Court.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">John Dickens</span> Father of Charles Dickens, clerk in the Royal Navy Pay Office

John Dickens was the father of famous English novelist Charles Dickens and was the model for Mr Micawber in his son's semi-autobiographical novel David Copperfield.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Frederick Dickens</span>

Frederick William Dickens was the son of John and Elizabeth Dickens and was Charles Dickens's younger brother, who lived with Charles when he moved on to Furnival's Inn in 1834. He was the inspiration for two different Freds in his brother's books: the jovial nephew of Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol and the dissolute brother of Little Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Alfred Lamert Dickens</span>

Alfred Lamert Dickens was an English railway engineer, and was the younger brother of the Victorian novelist Charles Dickens.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Marshalsea Road</span>

Marshalsea Road is a major street in Southwark, south London, England. At the northwest end is the Southwark Bridge Road. At the southeast end is Borough tube station on Borough High Street. Continuing across the street are Long Lane and Great Dover Street. At the northeast corner is the historic St George the Martyr church, where the Charles Dickens character Little Dorrit was married in Dickens' book of the same name. The area around Marshalsea Road has many Dickens associations.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Marshalsea</span> Former prison in Southwark, London

The Marshalsea (1373–1842) was a notorious prison in Southwark, just south of the River Thames. Although it housed a variety of prisoners, including men accused of crimes at sea and political figures charged with sedition, it became known, in particular, for its incarceration of the poorest of London's debtors. Over half the population of England's prisoners in the 18th century were in jail because of debt.

Moses Pitt was a bookseller and printer known for the production of his Atlas of the world, a project supported by the Royal Society, and in particular by Christopher Wren. He is also known as the author of The Cry of the Oppressed (1691), an account of the conditions in which imprisoned debtors lived in debtors' jails in England.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lant Street</span>

Lant Street is a street south of Marshalsea Road in Southwark, south London, England.

Little Dorrit's Playground, named after Little Dorrit, the eponymous Charles Dickens character, is a public playground and small park just north of Marshalsea Road in Southwark, south London, England.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dickens's London</span>

Charles Dickens's works are especially associated with London which is the setting for many of his novels. These works do not just use London as a backdrop but are about the city and its character.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Debtors Act 1869</span> An Act of Parliament from the United Kingdom in 1869

The Debtors Act 1869 was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland that aimed to reform the powers of courts to detain debtors.

The City Marshalsea was a debtor's prison in Dublin, Ireland. Debtors were imprisoned there by order of the Court of Conscience and Lord Mayor's Court of the county of the city of Dublin. The maximum debt was £10 in the Lord Mayor's Court, and 40s. (£2) in the Court of Conscience.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Four Courts Marshalsea</span> Former prison in Dublin, Ireland

The Four Courts Marshalsea was a prison in Dublin, Ireland until 1874. The keeper of the prison was the Marshal of the Four Courts, a role filled after 1546 by the Constable of Dublin Castle.

References

  1. David Brandon; Alan Brooke (15 August 2011). Bankside: London's Original District of Sin. Amberley Publishing Limited. pp. 82–. ISBN   978-1-4456-0962-1.
  2. Mitchel P. Roth (2006). Prisons and Prison Systems: A Global Encyclopedia. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 152–. ISBN   978-0-313-32856-5.
  3. The American Philatelist. American Philatelic Association. January 2006.
  4. "Additional Information (South): King's Bench". Crime & Punishment. UK: London Footprints.
  5. "King's Bench Prison". Spartacus Educational.
  6. Dictionary of British Sculptors 1660-1851 by Rupert Gunnis p.129
  7. Dickens London Archived 2013-01-23 at the Wayback Machine
  8. Todd, Janet, M. (1987). A Dictionary of British and American women writers, 1660-1800. United States: Rowman & Littlefield. p. 40. ISBN   0-8476-7125-9 via The Internet Archive.
  9. Tedder, Henry Richard (1890). "Hansard, Thomas Curson"  . In Stephen, Leslie; Lee, Sidney (eds.). Dictionary of National Biography . Vol. 24. London: Smith, Elder & Co. p. 308.
  10. Memoirs of Daniel Mendoza
  11. Tedder, Henry Richard (1896). "Pitt, Moses"  . In Lee, Sidney (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography . Vol. 45. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  12. "Episode 1". A House Through Time. Series 3. Episode 1. 26 May 2020. BBC One . Retrieved 30 May 2020.
  13. "[no title]". Whitehall Evening Post . 28 November 1758.{{cite news}}: Cite uses generic title (help)

Coordinates: 51°29′59″N0°05′52″W / 51.4998°N 0.0979°W / 51.4998; -0.0979