HOBS: Provincial Debtors' Prisons: Salop

Collusion, leading to the “utter Ruin of them, their Wives and Families”[1] is alleged against the Gaoler (a Mr. Cowper), Turnkeys, Under-Sheriff and Attorneys[2] by Pitt’s Salop correspondent, Robert Husbands, in a letter dated 25 October 1690. The consequences of the alleged fee collusion between the officials in the jail led, Husbands submits, to, “the setting at nought the Act of Parliament of the 23 of H. 6, chap. 10. to the utter impoverishing of several families”[3]. Debtors and felons were mixed in the gaol. Perhaps with some loss to their arguments of ‘ill usage’, especially when one considers the iniquities allegedly committee at other debtors prisons of the period. Husbands complains that debtors chambers are never swept or cleaned, “without their own pains and labour.”[4]

[1] Pitt, M. The Crye of the Oppressed being a true and tragical account of the unparrallel’d Sufferings of Multitudes of poor Imprisoned Debtors, in most of the Goa’s in England, under the Tyranny of the Goalers, and other Oppressors, lately discovered upon the occasion of this present Act of Grace For the Relief of poor Prisoners fr Debt, or Damages; some of them being not only Iron’d and lodg’d with Hogs, Felons , and Condemn’d Persons, but have had their bones broken; others poisoned and starved to death; others denied the common blessings of nature, as Water to drink, or straw to lodge on; others their Wives and Daughters attempted to by ravish’d; with other Barborous cruelties, not to be parallel’d in any History or Nation: All which is made out by undeniable evidence. Together with the case of the publisher. London, Printed for Moses Pitt and sold by Booksellers of London and Westminster, 1691, at page 13.

[2] The petty-fog Attorney, it is alleged by Husbands, were, “brought up from the dunghill”. On this species of legal practitioner see: Brooks, CW. Pettyfoggers and Vipers of the Commonwealth: The ‘Lower Branch’ of the Legal Profession in Early Modern England. Cambridge Studies in English Legal History, CUP, Cambridge, 1986.

[3] Ibid page 16.

[4] Ibid.