19 January 2013

Newspaper Clippings #7: The Loathsome Cellar

The final of seven images in A Rakes Progress, when Tom (left) is
incarcerated in a London debtor's prison. By William Hogarth. The debtor's
prison was a common punishment for those unable to pay their debts. 


By the 1840s there was strong critisism concerning the poor conditions of the debtor's prison which was articulated in a number of letters published in Aris's Birmingham Gazette, following are two printed in 1844. One of the main concerns was that the jailors and other prison workers were not paid, so earnt their living by charging the inmates for their food and other basic needs. This had been an issue discussed since the late eighteenth century but was by this time becoming less easy to ignore. The feelings of these anonymous letter writers are communicated through some of the terms they use, such as 'the loathsome cellar', 'the great evils of [the] court', and 'the miserable debtors'. Later the same year the debtors prison was shut down, the public feeling towards the establishment probably having some sway in the closure. It was not till the 1860s that the practice of imprisoning debtors was made illegal.

To find out more about the debtor's prison in Birmingham, and the Court of Requests that housed it, click here to see all previous posts.

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