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Insolvency Law

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26 MAR 2010

HOBS: Provincial Debtors' Prisons: Lincoln

The story of the seventeenth century[1] debtors’ experience in Lincoln[2] debtors Gaols (Castle Gaol, City and County Gaol) is possible to recount using Pitt's work. Lincoln Castle was first used as a debtors’ prison in about 1790.[3] In the late seventeenth century, debtors were confined in Lincoln Castle and in 1690 were some thirty or forty in number[4]. One imprisoned debtor, William Follet, obtained some six pounds two shillings capital, with which he planned to purchase leather as stock to help maintain himself whilst confined. It is alleged that the six pounds two shillings was stolen from him by order of the “Inhuman goaler,(sic) William Smith”[5]. When Follet complained he was dragged in his coach by his heels[6], ‘suffering his head to beat on the hard stones…by which ill usage the said Follet is become not altogether so well in his intellects as formerly.’[7] It is further alleged that William Smith encouraged felons to mistreat debtors, for example, causing one Robert Slinger (a felon) to nearly knock out the eye of a debtor (Stephen Turrington). When Turrington sought restitution from William Smith he was, ‘entertain’d with nothing but Scoffs and Laughter’[8].
[1] On Lincolnshire during the seventeenth century see: Holmes, C. Seventeenth-Century Lincolnshire. Vol.VII of History of Lincolnshire, Lincoln, 1980.
[2] On the history of Lincoln generally see: Anonymous. Memoirs illustrative of the History and Antiquities of the County and City of Lincoln, communicated to the annual meeting of the Royal Archaeological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, held at Lincoln, July, 1848 with a general report of the proceedings of the meeting and a catalogue of the museum formed on that occasion. London, MDCCCL.
[3] Neild’s exposition of Lincoln Castle gaol (page 328) relates to the gaol built in about 1790. See: 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.
[4] 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 6.
[5] Ibid page 7.
[6] See the depiction of William Follet’s rough treatment at the hands of the gaoler and his ‘ruffians’ in Lincoln Castle debtors prison.
[7] Pitt page 7.
[8] Ibid page 7.

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