HOBS: Provincial Debtors' Prisons: Leicester

The County gaol in Leicester[1] which was first inhabited by prisoners in 1793 (the town gaol was also completed in 1793), as Neild opines, “without, looks as it should do: it has a prison-like appearance.”[2] In a letter dated 13 November 1690 from Jer. Heggs to Pitt, the conditions for debtors imprisoned in Leicester gaol are described.[3] Heggs describes the gaoler as a ‘Tyrant’ who places debtors who refuse to use his beds (and pay the requisite charge) in, “a low moist Dungeon, where Felons should Lodg”[4] threatening to “knock them in the head.”[5] The debtors and felons cohabitated.

[1] On the history of Leicester generally see: Skillington, SH. A History of Leicester. Edgar Backus, Leicester, 1923. See also: Simmons, J. Leicester – Past and Present – Vol.One: Ancient Borough to 1860. Eyre Methuen, London, 1974.

[2] Neild, J, Account of Persons confined for Debt, in the various prisons of England and Wales, ... with their provisionary allowance during confinement; as reported to the Society for the discharge and relief of small Debtors. London, 1800, at page 320.

[3] 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 24.

[4] Ibid. See the picture to the right of this blog entry. Pitt’s correspondent further opines, “We are seven of us Lodg Nine Foot deep in a Dungeon already, and he [the gaoler] wisheth God may Damm his soul, if he do not cause a Pitt 12 Foot deeper to be digged to put men in” (page 26).

[5] Ibid.