The Distribution of Debtors’ Prisons, 1712

Debtor prisons in England & Wales, 1712

Using the lists of debtor prisoners applying for release under the 1712 act, as published in the London Gazette, here’s a map of the places in which they were incarcerated. For the most part it’s places, not actual prisons, that are mapped, due to difficulties with the data. Sometimes it’s unclear how many places had multiple prisons; sometimes the same building seemed to have housed more than one gaol; a single prison may be referred to by numerous names.

So there’s all sorts of problems with the data. Hence this simplification to places that had one or more gaols, save for London where each prison is noted. In total, there are 164 markers. I estimate that there are about 200 prisons holding debtors in all, including some that, for whatever reason, didn’t have debtors apply under this act.

What this map indicates is the national comprehensiveness of the carceral system. Whilst it is unsurprising that every county had a lock up, similarly every major city, there are seven in Cornwall alone. The London urban area has ten*, four of which are in Southwark. At the time, prison sentences for crime were rare, and the main role of imprisonment was to hold the condemned until execution or transportation. This map shows an infrastructure directed primarily at debtors.

This is a work in progress. The next step will be to add the prisons from the amnesties of the 1720s, to locate each one, and give an indication of the number of prisoners they held. Meanwhile, with usual caveats and warnings of unstable data, if you want the data – which is just place names with co-ordinates, here’s the data as CSV.

* For some reason the Fleet prison isn’t showing up on this map. Debugging in progress.

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