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Insolvency Law

Expert guidance on all aspects of corporate and personal insolvency

16 MAR 2010

HOBS: Provincial Debtors' Prisons: Appleby, Westmorel and

We have examined the Metropolitan debtors' prisons and introduced Pitt's work on provincial debtors' prison. We can now examine the later in more depth along with some other secondary source materials. Writing in April 1808 James Neild, as part of his work for the Society for the Discharge and Relief of Persons Imprisoned for Small Debts throughout England and Wales, gives a vivid depiction of Appleby debtors’ prison in the County of Westmoreland. Neild describes the prison layout, which was used for imprisoning both felons and debtors. The debtors had fireplaces in their ‘three good rooms’[1] and a day room where divine service was performed. There was only one courtyard in the prison which meant that men and women prisoners could mix ‘promiscuously together in the day-time’[2]. The debtors had no kitchen and had to prepare their meals on the stone steps leading up to their quarters. No allowance was made for the debtors, but there was a pump in the courtyard.

A description of the gaol published one hundred and seventeen years previously describes the gaol as being, “but eight yards long, and four and a half in breadth, without any chimney, or place of ease”.[3] Pitt’s tract includes a copper plate of some prisoners in Appleby ‘starv’d others poysond’ and Pitt’s correspondents allege that one seventy year old prisoner, John Watson, had no sustenance for several weeks save for bread and water. Such poor nutrition and lack of sanitation may have led to the suffering of the residents of Appleby gaol. Records in relation to Appleby gaol are scant and only one record remains in relation to a debtor[4].

[1] 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 67.

[2] Ibid.

[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 12. Pitt’s exposition is drawn from a letter dated October 30 1690, from two resident debtors at Appleby gaol, William Raisbeck and John Watson, at preface.

[4] Cumbria Record Office, Carlisle Headquarters, Kendal, Records of Cumberland Quarter Sessions, Ref. WD RY/BOX 34 – date 1678 – Petition, debtor, with note of debtors granted certificates to appear at Appleby.

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