Weavers in the Mint

Below is the short – 20 minute long – talk I gave at the Radical Histories / Histories of Radicalism conference at the beginning of July. I was presenting alongside Sarah Wise, speaking on the radical venue Eclectic Hall on Denmark Street, and Judith Walkowitz, who discussed the debates and demonstrations around prostitution in King’s Cross in the 1980s. (Abstract.)

Although the strand was ‘Radical Londons’, none of the three papers took London as a whole, but concentrated on small parts of it, at different times across three hundred years. My contribution focused on one section – weavers – of the population of the debtors’ sanctuary of Southwark Mint. The paper is more or less what I delivered, minus a little ad libbing: I couldn’t resist singing the song the Minters made the bailiffs they pumped sing:

“I am a rogue, and a rogue in grain, And damn me if I ever come into the Mint again.”

A recording was made, though not yet released, so you will be able to hear my dulcet tones at some point in the future.

In the discussion afterwards, a couple of things came up. Firstly, writers in the Mint and the other sanctuaries. There were a few, such as Tom Brown who took to Baldwin’s Gardens a few times, and Nahum Tate, poet laureate, who died in the Mint in 1715. It’s a source of frustration that none wrote anything substantial about the sanctuaries

As is the way with these things, I also got asked a couple of questions I couldn’t answer. One was to do with the administrations of London, and how various areas had particular and peculiar rights. Quite simply, organizationally London was quite chaotic; it was subdivided into (secular) wards, covered by a (religious) parish system as well, stimuated urbanization outside its own control and  bounded by counties that did not have the capabilities to deal with that growth. At the same time, there was an order of sorts: no sanctuaries within the old city walls, and the powers of the City of London. Beyond depicting the chaos of it all, I couldn’t really describe or comprehend it.

Another question related to the usage of the word ‘Republic[k]’. I think I have presumed two things in the talk below: that the word would have echoes of the Interregnum and therefore express an active, radical, anti-monarchical aspect, and that it is fundamentally geographical, refering to an particular area.

My feeling now is that neither is true. The word may well have been more commonplace and not always have such ardent political connotations. Furthermore, as in the idea of a ‘Republic of Letters’, it need not imply a particular space but can refer to a dispersed community. As such, the term also moves the stress from place to people. This is something I need to consider more carefully.

I was also asked about Huguenot names appearing on the Minters’ lists. I need to check this carefully, but my impression is that there are very few French-derived names.


This Little Republick: The Weavers in Southwark Mint


Good afternoon. My name is John Levin, I’m a PhD student at the University of Sussex, writing a thesis on imprisonment for debt and debtors’ sanctuaries in London in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Today I’m going to talk about Southwark Mint, the longest lasting of these sanctuaries, the weavers amongst its population of debtors, and the politics of the Mint.

Debtors Sanctuaries in London, circa 1673 to 1723

Debtors Sanctuaries in London, circa 1673 to 1723


A debtors sanctuary was a place where there was some claim of exemption from arrest under civil process. Although there was a long tradition of religious sanctuary, of inviolable church territories where even criminals could take refuge, by the time of the restoration these exemptions were for civil matters only, and therefore fundamentally for debtors as they could be prosecuted and imprisoned for nonpayment of debts. After the reformation, these rights were never clearly settled nor abolished, needing to be asserted and enforced amidst a number of contradictory statutes.

At some time in the 1670s, – 1673 is the earliest date I’ve found of debtors, in the savoy, asserting these rights –  communities of debtors were formed in certain presumed ‘privileged places’ in London, where they asserted their immunity from arrest by bailiffs. If you look at this map – from a project I’m working on with Nick Valvo of Northwestern University, called Spaces of Exception . org – you’ll see a cluster of markers on the north bank of the Thames. The markers note the places in London named in the act of 1697 that abolished the sanctuaries. These, centred round Whitefriars, constituted ‘Alsatia’, so nicknamed by the journalist Henry Care in 1676, and the most renowned of these refuges. The term alsatia is still used today to denote a place outside the law, but it is important to remember that whatever cover it provided for criminal activity, the core population were civil debtors and the legal exceptions were of civil law.

All the sanctuaries were outside the City of London’s walls, with only Whitefriars and its neighbours in the City at all, in the ward of Farringdon Without. [Blackfriars and St Martin’s Le Grand were not debtors sanctuaries at this time.] To the East, the Minories, once an abbey and in 1697 part of the Liberties of the tower of London. To the North, Baldwin’s Gardens, Holborn / Middlesex,  possibly having some inherited religious rights. Transpontine, there were three sanctuaries, Montague Close around Southwark Cathedral, the Clink and the Mint.

Although some of these sanctuaries had some sort of religious precedent – Whitefriars was as the name suggests a monastery – others did not. Places like the Savoy, the western-most point on the map, were, as part of the Duchy of Lancaster, independent of the local administrations. Similarly, the one sanctuary that revived after 1697: Southwark Mint, the bottomost marker on the map. The Mint had no religious precedent – as its name suggests, it housed a mint and as such was directly under the control of the king. When part of Southwark – Bridge Ward Without – was sold to the City of London in 1550, the Mint was expressly excluded from the area purchased. Even though the Mint ceased operation in 1551, and over the next century tenements were built there, the area remained, and retained the status of, a Royal Palace.

Despite suppression by statute, the Mint revived in the early 1700s, due to a combination of unforeseen legislative side effects, of bankruptcy and debtor prisoner relief acts, of having another spatial claim by being entirely within the rules of the Kings Bench prison, and – most importantly – debtors willing to physically defend themselves against the bailiffs.

When Southwark Mint was abolished in 1722, an amnesty was offered for the relief of the debtors residing there, similar to the regular relief acts for those in prison for debt. Those with debts of under £50, on giving up their property, would have their debts written off. Because of these measures, requiring the minters to give notice of their application, we have, at its end, a veritable census of Southwark Mint, giving the names, occupations, place of last residence, and from which gender can be divined.

This practice, of publishing details in the London Gazette, was first established by the act for the relief of imprisoned debtors in 1712. Similar acts were passed in 1720, 1725 and 1729, and I shall be drawing upon those lists as well.

A note on numbers: whilst this sounds like a clean and clear source, these lists are not. There isn’t a standard orthography, there’s curious spellings, strange geographies and so on. Also, the lists have doubles – not many, but the problem is in identifying them rather than their number. Consequently, the figures I will be giving, whilst I think them broadly accurate, and not precise.

Weavers as debtors

The Mint relief lists published in the London Gazette total 6,256 entries. Of these around 600, some 10%, gave their trade as weaving, the largest single occupation. The majority came from London, although there were contigents from Norwich (around 30) and Dublin (around 20). And within London the majority came from the East End, from around Spittlefields, Whitechapel, Shoreditch and Stepney, with a sizeable minority coming from south of the River, Southwark and Bermondsey. As with the sanctuaries, they came from outside the walls of the city of London.

By contrast, a mere 48 male weavers were among the debtors applying for release under the 1720 act, and of them only 9 were from the London area. After the abolition of the Mint, of 66 weavers applying for release in 1725, half came from London. But by 1729, 148 weavers were in prison for debt. (A further 29 surrendered themselves as fugitives, under the terms of the act.) This mirrored the increase in absolute numbers of people imprisoned for debt (and applying for relief): from less than 2 and a half thousand in 1720 to over 4 thousand in 1725 and 6 thousand in 1729. An illustration both of how successful the Mint was, and how much it was needed.

The weavers counted thus are overwhelmingly male. Women made up about 7.5% of the names on the Mint relief lists, totalling around 450 entries. Over 90% of the female minters came from the greater London area (London, Middx, Surrey; only 42 from elsewhere). Women generally comprise between 8% and 10% of the prisoner relief lists. How many women were weavers is unknown: the entries in the lists often give a woman’s marital status rather than occupation, and due to the doctrine of feme covert, whereby a wife’s debts were – along with her person and property – subsumed into her husbands’, the vast majority of these statuses are either widow or spinster. The absence of servants also adds to the general gender imbalance; I have yet to calculate the proportion of female debtors as a proportion of the general adult unmarried female population

There were many other trades represented in the Mint, the largest being bricklayers, tailors, butchers, bakers and candlestick makers. There were many in retail, traders and victuallers, around 200 farmers and husbandmen, less than 100 labourers. And some were not plebian, but gentlemen (130) and even 11 brokers, perhaps suffering from the South Sea Bubble. But the weavers were the largest single group, followed by others in the clothing industry.

Why were weavers in debt? On this the relief lists are silent. We don’t know who their creditors were, nor how much they owed. The 1723 act set a maximum of £50 of debt to be eligible for relief, so we do know that the debts were not individually enormous, although widespread. But other than that, without the specific stories, we have to rely on larger, macro-economic conditions as an explanation.

Weavers’ wages could be low and, on piecework, irregularly paid. Overheads like renting a frame require a continual flow of work, which couldn’t be guaranteed. In terms of economic structure, a lack of circulating coin made the use of credit inevitable, and meant that one could be nominally solvent – owed more than owing oneself – yet still threatened with imprisonment. Cycles of war and dearth, and foreign competition also made the weavers lot precarious. And the whole period of the so-called ‘Financial Revolution’ was punctuated by economic crises, from the stop of the exchequer, via the great recoinage to the south sea bubble.

Thus far, the weavers in the Mint. We turn now to the weavers considered as *of* the mint, as active contributors to the Mint.

A Little Republick?

“Of all the groups of workers who used such devices to coerce their employers, none had so long a history of struggle, none were so remarkably persistent, and, maybe, none so violent as the silk weavers of Spitalfields, Moorfields, Stepney, and Bethnal Green.” Says Rudé, in his “The Crowd in History.”

Throughout the period of the sanctuaries, from the 1670s to the 1720s, the weavers were continually protesting, not just in London but throughout the country, wherever their trade had taken root. Protesting took two tracks: physical demonstration, in the streets, and arguing ‘in the public sphere’: petitioning and campaigning for laws to set wages and to ban imports of calicos.

This dual strategy, of violence and negotiation mirrors the campaigns against imprisonment for debt. There, there was both physical action, fighting bailiffs and rescuing debtors from their clutches on the streets as well as rioting within the prisons, and public debate by means of petitions for amnesty and relief, and pamphlets as to the legal and moral rights and wrongs of imprisonment.

Beyond being present in the Mint, weavers  were clearly active within it. At least one, probably two, of the leading Minters named in the Parliamentary inquiry of 1722 are found on the relief lists described as weavers. Weavers assembled in the Mint during the Calico riots of 1719; two arrests were made, both of weavers from Spittlefields. But the Mint had, aside from the rioting and petitioning, an extra dimension, of organizing governance over a territory.

The pamphlet “Memoirs of the Mint”, of 1713:

“the [species of government is] Democracy, and extends its Jurisdiction throughout that part of the Country known by the Name of the <i>Mint</i>, which Government is excercis’d by a <i>Triumvirate</i>, call’d Stewards; who sit to despatch Affairs of State, at three Principal Offices, which are so many Entrances to their Dominions. Each of these is attended by six Representatives of the People, who bear the Character of <i>Beadles<i>, with their Subaltern Officers, under the Appellation of <i>Spirits<i>; these execute the Commands of their Rulers.”

A democracy, with representatives of the people! Or in even more radical terms, three years later, Thomas Baston, print maker and sailor, wrote whilst imprisoned for debt in the King’s Bench:

“There is a Place on the other Side of the Water, in St. George‘s Parish, call’d the Mint, where a great Number of unfortunate Persons have agreed together to recover a little of ancient Liberty, and rather to loose their Lives than be carry’d to Prison for Debt, tho’ they do not in the least resist the Execution of the law in any other particular; for this little *Republick* (in this respect) has a very regular Government, executed by their Senators, which they call Clubs, in which some Days every Week they meet together, and examine all Enormities, for they give shelter, or Protection unto none, except purely to the Unfortunate in the case of Debt.”

That there was a parallel government in place was testified to by the former M.P. for Southwark, John Lade, who had dispersed the weavers in the Mint during the calico riots: “that several persons within the Mint have set up a jurisdiction of their own; and take upon them to regulate and determine matters.”

At this point I’d like to make a jump, and suggest that the weavers, with their long and concerted political experience, wrought an organizational change in sanctuary practice. These words, democracy, republic, jurisdiction, were never used to describe the earlier debtor sanctuaries of the late seventeenth century. Nothing like it appears in, for example, Shadwell’s Squire of Alsatia of 1688. And clubs are found amongst the early proto-unionism of weavers, and of tailors, around 230 of whom are on the Mint relief lists.

This is rather speculative, in that there is very little evidence of this early trade unionism, due to a necessary secrecy. The other absence is writing of the Minters themselves, of whom we have only a handful of formulaic petitions and anonymous threatening letters, both of which were written for a purpose other than to describe their ideas. Whilst Baston cannot be dismissed out of hand, there is an air of rhetoric about his claims. It should not be forgotten that the Mint was also the site of the most appalling poverty, and continued to be so right up to the late nineteenth century.

What do we have aside from a small body of literature? The relief lists, which offer different methodologies for understanding sanctuaries, and for considering those debtors as part of a larger population. By analysing the composition of the sanctuary, and extrapolating from the individuals to their working communities, we can, if not declare outright for a republic, see the Mint as part of that plebian world, and not as outside of it as it was outside civil law.


Acknowledgements: Thanks to Nick Valvo for making the map, taken and lightly edited from Spaces of Exception. Thanks to my fellow panelists Sarah Wise and Judith Walkowitz, our chair Carlos Galviz, and to the organizers of the conference.

This paper is released under the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike international license, 4.0.

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Weavers and Minters talk at Radical Histories conference

In a couple of weeks time I’ll be giving a short paper as part of a panel on Radical London at the Radical Histories conference at Queen Mary University in Mile End. I’m talking at 4.15 on Friday 1st July (program [pdf]) alongside Sarah Wise, discussing Soho’s Eclectic Hall in the nineteenth century, and Judith Walkowitz, examining feminism and prostitution in King’s Cross in the 1980s.

The abstract for my paper is below; the full talk will be posted here shortly, both as text and – all going well – in glorious technicolour audio, so you can here how flat my voice is.

“This Little Republick.”

Weavers in the debtors’ sanctuary of Southwark Mint.

“Of all the groups of workers who used such devices to coerce their employers, none had so long a history of struggle, none were so remarkably persistent, and, maybe, none so violent as the silk weavers of Spitalfields, Moorfields, Stepney, and Bethnal Green.” Rudé, The Crowd in History, 1964.

Although the weavers of the East End are well known for over a century of political and economic struggle, their involvement in the debtors’ sanctuary of Southwark Mint has so far escaped attention.

The Mint was the longest lasting post-restoration debtors sanctuary, an enclave outside the jurisdictions of the City of London and Surrey County, within which debtors sought to avoid imprisonment through taking advantage of jurisdictional anomalies and by physically resisting the bailiffs.

Finally abolished in 1723, an amnesty was offered to those of its residents owing less than £50. The resulting lists of minters published in the London Gazette reveal that a very significant proportion of them were weavers, many of whom came from the areas east of the City’s walls.

Taken together with the four amnesties relieving imprisoned debtors between 1712 and 1729, it can also be shown that the weavers made up a much smaller proportion of the prison population at the time the Mint gave refuge.

This paper argues that the East End weavers were not only significant numerically, but that they brought an organizational practice to the Mint, based on their collective experience. It was their system of clubs that maintained the defence of the refuge over many years, and their customary humiliations of bailiffs that asserted the rights of the place.

Through this they gave substance to Thomas Baston’s claim that the Mint was a “Little Republick.”

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Elopement notices in the London Gazette

(Note: This is a slightly edited copy of an article I had published on the Gazette website a few months ago. I am now part of the ‘official public record’! I post it here so place it in my personal record, and because it discusses the consequences of the law of coverture in regards to debt.)

As the official journal of record, the bulk of the London Gazette is taken up with Royal proclamations and political appointments, court arrangements and military engagements, financial affairs and foreign intelligence. But amongst these matters of high state, there are also advertisements taken out by private individuals concerning more personal dramas. For example, one finds such items as this, from July 1714:

Whereas Elizabeth, the Wife of Edward Game, of Bruges in Flanders, Merchant, lately come to England with her said Husband from Bruges, hath eloped from him, and carried away his Papers, Writings, and a Sum of Money; she went away with one Darby Ressell, Mariner. The said Edward Game doth hereby give notice to all Tradesmen, Shopkepers and others, that they do not receive or entertain the said Elizabeth Game, or give her any Credit for any thing whatever, for that he will not pay any debts she shall Contract after the Publication hereof.

More frequently, such advertisements are terser, giving less surrounding detail so as not to detract from the point:

Whereas Jane, the Wife of Francis Fry, of Barnaby Street in Southwark, Baker, hath Eloped from her said Husband, and run him into Debt; these are to give notice to all Persons not to Trust or give Credit to the said Jane Fry with Mony or Goods on Account of her said Husband, for that he will not pay any Debts she shall Contract after the Publication hereof.

In all, a search for ‘eloped’ returns 73 relevent items, all published in the early 1710s. The earliest I have found was published on the 1st of January 1711  and the last in October 1714.  They continued to appear in local newspapers throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but not in the official record. For despite the Gazette’s undoubted authority, such advertisements did not take on that lustre. Early in the eighteenth century, that curious forerunner of the advice column the “Athenian Mercury” recommended to a man whose wife had absconded with the silver plate:

The first thing you do, put her into the Gazette, declaring for Reasons best known to your self, that no one give Credit to her, either as to Money or Commodities ….

But by 1736 it was advised that it had no standing in law, Giles Jacob’s handbook “Every Man his own Lawyer” stating firmly:

But on an Elopement, the putting a wife in the Gazette, or other News-Papers, is no legal Notice to Persons in general not to trust her; tho’ personal Notice to particular Persons given by the Husband will be good not to be chargeable to them.

In other words, publishing in a local paper could be seen as a communicating to a more specific audience.

But why were such notices felt to be necessary, and why the stress on credit and debts? At this time – and until the Married Women’s Property Acts of the late nineteenth century – married women were governed by the doctrine of feme covert by which her legal rights were subsumed into those of her husband. She could not own property or enter into contracts in her own name. The converse of this was that the husband became responsible for his wife’s financial obligations. Consequently, any debts she incurred were laid at his door. And so these notices were taken out in a bid to restrict the credit the absconding wife could muster.

These adverts only give the man’s side of the story. We don’t know the woman’s reasons for leaving her home and husband, nor even if the silver plate she took was not brought by her into the marriage. But in 1807, one Mary Hoof responded to a similar notice in an Exeter newspaper thus:

Now I do hereby solemnly inform the public, that I never gave my said husband any just cause or provocation for such illiberal treatment towards me, but, on the contrary, have borne his ill usage with silence and resignation; nor should I now complain, but with a view to justify my character, which might otherwise be injured.

Exeter Flying Post – Thursday 10 September 1807 (paywalled)

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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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Francis Winter’s Other Farewell

I have previously discussed the ballad Francis Winter’s Last Farewell, an account of the execution of Captain Winter, condemned to hang for his part in the death of a constable during a riot against the bricking up of a gate connecting the Temple to Whitefriars.

Here, I present a different ballad of the same title, one that I only recently found in the wonderful English Broadside Ballad Archive. Unlike the first Farewell, this song is decidedly uncontroversial and sparse of detail, giving no account of the crime for which he was hanged. The sentiment is overly religious, and gives the impression of being a boilerplate narrative of repentance that could be easily adapted for any execution. That said, having looked for similar versions turned to other victims of the gallows, I’ve found nothing recycling these lines.

What is of interest is that it is the only source on Winter I’ve found that refers to the Captain being married and having children. No other document I’ve found mentions his marital status or family.

There is, however, in the Whitefriars listings for the 4 Shilling tax of 1693/4, an entry for Winter (Widow), who has property worth £3.60, rental value £18, but no stock. The value of the house is average for the precinct. This could be his widow. Some support is given to this theory by the Examination of Francis Winter of March 1692, where he claimed to have been “at his owne house” at the time of the riot. (The transcription gives “at this owne house” but the manuscript clearly lacks the leading ‘t’.) This implies he was a property owner: it doesn’t say ‘in his own rooms’ as if he were renting. This house would presumably have been inherited by his wife. Against this, the Ordinary of Newgate’s Account has Winter “Contract[ing] some Debts in the World, which occasioned him to fly for Refuge into White Fryers”, giving him more of a desperate air.

As a footnote to this, another collection suggests that there is further ballad of Captain Winter, but it appears to confuse him with the highwayman Captain Whitney, executed around the same time: “A Letter to Satisfie all Persons that Whitney is not fled from Newgate.” So here is the Captain Winter’s final final farewell. I have modernised the spelling of the text and fixed a typo. Sing along: EBBA have provided a recording putting the words to the tune.

An Excellent New Song, Call’d,
Captain Winters last Farewell
To the WORLD;
Or His Mournful parting with His Wife and Children,
Who was Executed in Fleetstreet, May 17th 1693.
Tune of, All Happy Times:

Good People that do see my End,
Be cautious how your Time you spend
Without a watchful Care each day,
The best that is may go astray.

‘Tis true a shameful Death I die
For which some will me vilify,
But why should I ashamed be
Since my dear Savior died for me.

I beg all mercy from above,
The joyful peace of Heavenly Love,
As for this Life I freely give,
And beg God would my Soul receive,

Adieu my dear and loving Wife,
For now I must depart this Life;
The Fates does call, I can’t withstand,
Grim Death, who once will all Command.

But still my Prayers is for you Dear,
That you would this with Patience bear;
Be not cast down, but be content,
Altho Death is my Punishment.

My next advice to thee my Love,
Is that thou servest thy God above,
And then I doubt not but he will
Preserve thee from all danger still.

My little Lambs I bid adieu,
And leave the Charge of them to you;
Such tender Care I know you’ll take,
That shall be for the Childrens Sake.

I am concern’d the more my dear
Because a Child thee now dost bear,
Therefore thy sorrow is the more
But God I hope will thee Restore.

Farewell, for evermore adieu
This is the last farewell to you,
When thou a Widow once shall be
I hope the Lord will cherish thee.

I hope I shant forget the Prayer
Which God in Mercy did declare,
That all the World would me forgive
As I do them whilst here I live.

I dye with all the World in Peace,
And hope that when my Breath doth cease
My Soul may unto Heaven fly,
And there remain Eternally.

My Spirit Lord I recommend
Unto my Saviour, Man’s best friend
I come O Lord, I come to Thee,
O grant me blest Eternity.

Printed and Sold by T. Moore. 1693.


Ballad source; EBBAs usage policy; intro is CC-BY-SA.

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Debtor Prisons in the British Empire

View full page map

The debtors’ sanctuaries of late seventeenth and early eighteenth century London were in part a reaction to the threat of imprisonment without trial or fixed term for nonpayment. At that time such incarcerations appear to be common throughout England and Wales, although numbers are hard to come by. I am at present turning the lists of imprisoned debtors applying for release under the bills for their relief of 1712, 1720, 1725 and 1729 into data, and first indications are that the debtors number in their thousands, and the gaols in the low hundreds. Mapping the English and Welsh prison system will be the subject of my next post, as there’s still much to transcribe and process.

Here I want to begin to consider a wider question about imprisonment for debt. If this practice was widespread in England, what of the Empire? To what extent was it exported to those territories ruled over by the British, and how did it resemble or diverge from the domestic system? A vast question that, like the Empire, spans the globe. A very tentative first step towards answering it – or rather, of appreciating the scale of it – is the map above, drawing upon the convenient volume of Statistics of the Colonies of the British Empire (1839), a digest of Colonial Office reports compiled by one Robert Montgomery Martin.

As can be seen, debtors’ prisons are everywhere. From Honduras  to New South Wales, from Newfoundland to Van Dieman’s Island (Tasmania), they are found on all six populated continents.

Martin’s handbook gives figures for the number of imprisoned debtors by territory over the period 1828 to 1836. The returns are not always clear: sometimes it is difficult to tell whether there were no prisoners, or no data returned by the authorities. Sometimes only partial returns were made; perhaps missing some gaols or some year. For this map I have simply marked those colonies where mention is made of debt, and put the highest and lowest figures for incarceration in the text box. The icon colour indicates the general number: red if at some point there were over 100 incarcerated debtors, yellow if less than that, green if none at all. I have not marked those areas for which Martin gives no figures at all, such as Singapore, even though debtor incarceration was practiced there. Three exceptional areas: the table for Malacca is unexplained, but appears to show the number of Malay and Chinese debtors bonded to households, alongside slaves and servants. In Swan River, Western Australia, Martin tersely notes “None allowed by local law.” The island of Nevis (obscured on the map by the cluster of icons in the West Indies) had no imprisoned debtors in the years surveyed, but had that possibility on the statute book.

Martin doesn’t give any figures on debtors in ‘Hindostan’, although there is a lengthy section on criminality there. So I have taken figures – lacking any indication of gender – for the combined civil prisons of four regions from the Report of the Committee on Prison-Discipline to the Governor General of India. One of the members of this committee was T.B. Macaulay, who was not only an important imperial functionary, but also author of a history of England that painted a most lurid portrait of Whitefriars. I have a strong suspicion that this example of an area beyond the law greatly influenced him, and therefore Britain’s imperial policy. But that, like British penal policy in India, I will analyse another day. But for the moment note that large numbers confined there: over a thousand in Bengal!

I have used the colonial names from the source rather than todays names; the nomenclature is not interchangeable, and refers to very different political organizations, however similar the place may be.

So, how many caveats do you want? Firstly, the map doesn’t show the extent of the British Empire, and also presents historical data on a present-day survey: anachronistic indeed. Secondly, each marker, and the information attached, denotes a political unit; it does not reflect the number of inhabitants, prisons or prisoners. The cluster of 15 markers in the West Indies makes it look like a veritable carceral archipelago; but this is because each island is treated separately. The great size and population of India, divided into only four regions, may, rather than the vigorous pursuit of repayment, account for the numbers imprisoned there. Nevertheless, only Bengal exceeds one thousand jailed.

Further, the involvement of the British Empire in the genesis of this prison system is not clear. Many of these territories were taken from other European regimes: Trinidad was previously Spanish; Ceylon, Guyana and Mauritius Dutch; Malacca both Dutch and Portuguese. Laws and prisons alike may have been established prior to British occupation. Note that the formerly French-ruled Lower Canada has far fewer imprisoned debtors than all the other North American territories bar Newfoundland, perhaps because France was far more lenient to debtors than Britain. Also, this map, perhaps artificially, documents only one category of prisoner; the prisons of the Empire held many other people for many other reasons, even within the same penitentiary.

That this data is taken from the early nineteenth century should also be borne in mind. The United States is absent, yet imprisonment for debt there was widespread and a product of English colonisation. Areas occupied later are also missing: the Hope Simpson report (chapter 6) on Palestine reported at least 599 people were imprisoned in the first two months of 1930 alone. (The law was soon reformed, but imprisonment not abolished.)

Finally, and most importantly, this only maps debt in the context of the prison system. Consequently, debt bondage and all its discipline and punishments, the most important manifestation of indebtedness at this time, is missing from this map.

Nevertheless, for all its faults, this quick visualization indicates a greater, imperial dimension to the incarceration of debtors, and suggests some avenues for research.

Download the data (.csv)

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Resource: Statutes of Ireland to 1800

As a quick appendix to my previous post on English statutes, here are the Statutes of Ireland from 1310 up to the Act of Union in 1800. I know little of Irish history, but as I’ve come across some very interesting material about debtors, prisons and even sanctuaries there, I’ve been drawn towards it, hence my sifting through the legislation.

There were three collections of the Irish statutes published in the eighteenth century. I haven’t found the first, dating from 1734, anywhere on the open internet. The second was edited by one J.G. Butler, published in 1765, and is incomplete in Google’s holdings. It appears that this series was continued up to 1800; the last volume I have found is numbered 19 and dated 1799. The third set was published from 1794 to 1801, goes right up to the Act of Union, and all volumes are to be found in Google Books. To wit:

For the record, here are those volumes I have located of the 1765 series, The Statutes at Large, Passed in the Parliaments Held in Ireland, edited by James Goddard Butler, with the volumes continuing it to 1800.

Other sources: There is a very little pre-1800 Irish legislation on the UK legislation portal, and similarly a little at the Irish Statute Book. The Irish Legislation Database has detailed information concerning each act, but not their texts. A useful website from the University of Minnesota covers the anti-catholic Penal Laws. Wikipedia has two pages listing the acts, up to 1700 and from 1700 to 1800.

Update, 4 October 2015: 2 more volumes added to the 1765 series, nos. 5 and 9; and nos. 14 to 16 and 18, continuing this series after 1765. The latter are from the Hathi Trust archives; they allow full view of the digitization, but not downloading it.

Update, 4 October 2015: I have found some volumes from the first series, mentioned above. Going under the title Acts and Statutes Made in a Parliament begun in Dublin, it seems to have been published from the 1720s up to Butler’s consolidation in the 1760s. Being set in gothic type, its utility both for OCRing and plain reading is somewhat limited.

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Resource: The Acts of Parliament

Notice: I’ve now taken up the task of scanning these volumes, proofing the OCR and organizing the statutes. Watch http://statutes.org.uk/ for progress.

The law is an important historical source, and especially so for the history of debt. Over the 200 years from Restoration to the abolition of incarceration for insolvency in 1868, there was a constant flow of acts directed at debtors, whether as defaulters, frauds, prisoners, fugitives, pitiable creatures or “evil-disposed and wicked persons.” Hundreds of acts were passed, releasing prisoners, offering amnesties to fugitives, establishing ‘Courts of Conscience’ and regulating debtor prisons. I have transcribed and published some of these statutes, and more will follow. (I’ve re-organized the site to make them easier to find: check the Statutes page for links to the various acts).

These laws have posed two problems: firstly in finding them, and then in understanding their tortuous prose. For the first, quite simply there is no free and complete repository of the legislation. The Official Home of U.K. Legislation has none of the material I require. Much as I appreciate what the National Archive has achieved – and it is a great deal – their remit has been to put current legislation online, not the historic. So although they have published everything in force from 1988 onwards, the vast majority of historic, meaning repealed, legislation is not available. The various proprietary legal databases have either been beyond my reach and pocket, or provide little more than the digital scans available elsewhere.

Which means to find old laws one has to turn to the magnificent libraries and awful metadata of Google Books and Internet Archive. There one can find many different collections of the statutes, albeit of varying quality and completeness, and in the usual disorder that results from mass, indiscriminate digitization.

These digital copies are images of the original works, pictures of books rather than transcriptions of the text, which mean they may be readable by the human eye, but not by the machine. This brings us to the second problem, of the law’s labyrinthine prose. Part of the very nature of law is that it is constantly rewritten, by parliaments and courts, who go about renewing, repealing, interpreting and clarifying, without any guarantee of consistency. The resulting vast, unwieldy corpus is difficult to navigate, full of linguistic peculiarities, tangled and convoluted. To make ones way through this maze would be far easier if one could use the computer to do some of the heavy lifting: searching, digesting, comparing, cross-referencing and so on.

The nascent field of Computational Legal Studies has produced some interesting digital research into law; for example, the Legal Language Explorer, producing ngrams from U.S. Supreme Court decisions, and the attempts to measure the complexity of the U.S. law by Katz and Bommarito (article and slides). If such explorations imply greater spaces to be discovered, and beyond the legal profession, they also show that useful data is an essential prerequisite. In the case of English and British statutes, that requirement is not met by the volumes scanned by Google and the Internet Archive.

It is of course a fundamental right that everyone should have access to the laws governing them; that’s not only the inevitable corollary of the principle ‘ignorance of the law is no excuse’, but also an essential check on state power. This means more than just publishing laws and judgements; they must be published freely, openly, useably and re-usably. A number of organizations are campaigning to open up the law: for example the Free Access to Law Movement, the Law.Gov campaign, and the Open Knowledge Foundation’s legislation working group.

I personally believe that this right to the law should encompass the entirety of the legislation to include the historical, the repealed, for three reasons:

One: Repeal does not mean reversal. Every enclosure bill shows this, for when struck from the book the land did not revert to common ownership. The effects of laws persist beyond their lifetimes.

Two: Repeal does not mean disappearance. The law is historically constituted and continually refers back to itself. Revoked acts and their related judgements remain a part of the legal record.

Three: Repeal does not mean forgetting. We do not live in an eternal present. We have a capacity, a need and a right to memory.

It is in this spirit that I list here all the various freely-available editions of the statutes. They may not be adequate, they may not even be accurate, but it is a gesture towards making this legislation accessible.

The next step will be to transcribe the statutes; a great and arduous task that requires collaboration and infrastructure. Happily, Wikisource have taken the digital copies of Ruffhead’s Statutes At Large, covering 1225 to 1763, and inserted it into their open transcription system. If little of it has actually been transcribed yet, it does at least show the potential for crowdsourcing legal texts, and the usefulness of Wikimedia’s infrastructure for supporting such a project.

Legislation to 1800

There are many collections of statutes; some bibliographic details can be found on Wikipedia. As they have different editorial policies and selection criteria, and as none are fully comprehensive, I’ve listed a number of sets here.

For laws up to 1811, one place to start is with the 4 volumes of The Statutes: Revised Edition from 1870. It is far from complete, as legislation repealed by 1870 is absent, but there is a handy chronological table in each volume to indicate what is present and what is not. The first four volumes of this are online at archive.org, the first three also at Google; I haven’t been able to locate any further, freely available volumes, and I’m not even sure there were any more.

Update 9 May 2015: I have located a handful of  volumes beyond the first four, and from the metadata we can see that there were at least 13 volumes.

Volume 1: Henry III to James II: 1235 – 1685:   Internet Archive   Google
Volume 2: William & Mary to 10 George III: 1688 – 1770:   Internet Archive   Google
Volume 3: 11 George III to 41 George III: 1770 – 1800:   Internet Archive   Google
Volume 4: 41 George III to 51 George III: 1801 – 1811:   Internet Archive
Volume 7: 2&3 William IV to 6&7 William IV: 1831 – 1836: Internet Archive
Volume 9: 6&7 Victoria to 9&10 Victoria: 1843 – 1846 : Internet Archive
Volume 12: 17&18 Victoria to 19&20 Victoria: 1854 – 1856: Hathi Trust
Volume 13: 20 Victoria to 24&25 Victoria: 1857 – 1861: Hathi Trust

Ruffhead’s series covers 1225 to 1763, the whole run being digitized by the Internet Archive, and is in Wikisource’s transcription system, as described above.  In 9 volumes, there is a supplementary volume with a subject index.

Volume 1: 1225 – 1460
Volume 2: 1461 – 1601
Volume 3: 1604 – 1698
Volume 4: 1699 – 1713
Volume 5: 1714 – 1729
Volume 6: 1730 – 1746
Volume 7: 1747 – 1756
Volume 8: 1757 – 1762
Volume 9: 1762 – 1763, Index and Appendix
Complete Index to the Statutes At Large

Perhaps the most often cited collection is that of Danby Pickering. The first 24 volumes were historical, going  from 1225 to 1760. After that, it became a contemporary series, publishing the legislation as it was passed. I am deeply indebted to the pseudonymous contributor on the Paradox forums for finding all the google links; I’ve added links to those volumes I’ve found on archive.org.

vol. 1 – 9 Henry III to 14 Edward III (1225-1340); archive.org
vol. 2 – 15 Edward III to 13 Henry IV (1341-1411); archive.org
vol. 3 – 1 Henry V to 23 Edward IV (1412-1482); archive.org
vol. 4 – 1 Richard III to 31 Henry VIII (1484-1539); archive.org
vol. 5 – 32 Henry VIII to 7 Edward VI (1540-1553)
vol. 6 – 1 Mary I – 35 Elizabeth I (1553-1593); archive.org
vol. 7 – 39 Elizabeth to 12 Charles II (1597-1660); archive.org
vol. 8 – 12 Charles II to 1 James II (1661-1685)
vol. 9 – 1 William & Mary to 8 William III (1688-1696); archive.org
vol. 10 – 8 William III to 1 Anne (1696-1701); archive.org
vol. 11 – 2 & 3 Anne to 8 Anne (1703-1708); archive.org
vol. 12 – 8 Anne to 12 Anne (1709-1711); archive.org
vol. 13 – 12 Anne to 5 George I (1713-1717); archive.org
vol. 14 – 5 George I to 9 George I (1718-1721); archive.org
vol. 15 – 9 George I to 2 George II (1722-1728); archive.org
vol. 16 – 2 George II to 9 George II (1729-1735); archive.org
vol. 17 – 9 George II to 15 George II (1736-1741); archive.org
vol. 18 – 15 George II to 20 George II (1742-1746); archive.org
vol. 19 – 20 George II to 22 George II (1747-1749); archive.org
vol. 20 – 23 George II to 26 George II (1750-1752); archive.org
vol. 21 – 26 George II to 30 George II (1753-1756); archive.org
vol. 22 – 30 George II to 32 George II (1757-1759); archive.org
vol. 23 – 33 George II to 1 George III (1760); archive.org
vol. 24 – Index to all Volumes

The continuation of the Pickering series gets rather confusing. Some books appear to be split into parts, others have ‘Part 1’ on the title page but don’t appear to have a sequel. Volume 44 (1802) doesn’t appear to have been digitized. Update 25 November 2015: Volume 44 part 1 can be found through Hathi Trust. Update 28 September 2016: Located the volume on Google Books.

vol. 25 2 George III to 3 George III (1761-1763); archive.org
vol. 26 4 George III to 5 George III (1764-1765); archive.org
vol. 27 6 George III to 7 George III (1765-1766); archive.org
vol. 28 8 George III to 10 George III (1767-1769); archive.org
vol. 29 11 George III to 12 George III (1770-1772); archive.org
vol. 30 13 George III to 14 George III (1773-1774); archive.org
vol. 31 15 George III to 17 George III (1775-1777)
vol. 32 18 George III to 19 George III (1778-1779)
vol. 33 20 George III to 21 George III (1780-1781); archive.org
vol. 34 22 George III to 24 George III (1782-1784)
vol. 35 25 George III to 26 George III (1785-1786)
vol. 36 27 George III to 29 George III (1787-1789)
vol. 37 30 George III to 32 George III (1790-1792)
vol. 38 General Index from 1 George III to 32 George III; archive.org
vol. 39 Pt. 1: 33 George III to 34 George III (1793-1794)
vol. 39 Pt. 2: 34 George III (1794); archive.org
vol. 40 35 George III to 36 George III (1795); archive.org
vol. 41 37 George III to 38 George III (1796-1797); archive.org
vol. 42 Pt. 1: 39 George III (1798-1799); archive.org
vol. 42 Pt. 2: 39 Geo III (Local & Personal) (1800)
vol. 43 41 George III (1801); archive.org
vol. 44 Pt. 1: 43 George III (1802-1803); Hathi Trust
vol. 45 44 George III (1803-1804); archive.org
vol. 46 46 George III (1806)

Nineteenth Century Legislation

Although my main focus is on the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, I’ve also needed to find various nineteenth century laws. The following list is incomplete, composed of at least two different series, mainly found in the Internet Archive, but with some from Google. Links to years and volumes I’ve missed will be very much appreciated; please leave them in the comments.

1807 47 Geo 3
1808 48 Geo 3
1809 49 Geo 3
1810 50 Geo 3
1811 51 Geo 3
1812 52 Geo 3
1813 53 Geo 3
1814 54 Geo 3
1815 55 Geo 3
1816 56 Geo 3
1817 57 Geo 3
1818 58 Geo 3
1819 59 Geo 3
1820 60 Geo 3 & 1 Geo 4
1821 1 & 2 Geo 4
1822 3 Geo 4
1823 4 Geo 4
1824 5 Geo 4
1825 6 Geo 4
1826 7 Geo 4
1827 7 & 8 Geo 4
1828 9 Geo 4
1829 10 Geo 4
1830 11 Geo 4 / 1 Will 4
1831 1 Will 4
1832 2 & 3 Will 4
1833  3 & 4 Will 4
1834  4 & 5 Will 4
1835  5 & 6 Will 4
1836  6 & 7 Will 4
1837  7 Will 4 / 1 Vic
1837-8  1 & 2 Vic
1839  2 & 3 Vic
1840  3 & 4 Vic
1841  4 & 5 Vic
1842  5 & 6 Vic
1843  6 & 7 Vic
1844  7 & 8 Vic
1845  8 & 9 Vic
1846 9 & 10 Vic
1847 10 & 11 Vic

1847-8 11 Vic / 11 & 12 Vic
1849  12 & 13 Vic
1850  13 & 14 Vic
1851 14 & 15 Vic & on Google
1852 15 & 16 Vic
1853 16 & 17 Vic
1854 17 & 18 Vic
1854-5 18 & 19 Vic
1855-6 19 & 20 Vic
1857  20 Vic
1858  21 & 22 Vic
1859 22 Vic
1860 22 & 23 Vic
1861  24 & 25 Vic
1862 25 & 26 Vic
1863 26 & 27 Vic
1864 27 & 28 Vic
1865  28 & 29 Vic
1866  29 & 30 Vic
1867  30 Vic / 30 & 31 Vic
1867-8 31 & 32 Vic
1869  32 & 33 Vic  Another ed.
1870  33 & 34 Vic
1871 34 & 35 Vic
1872  35 & 36 Vic
1873 36 & 37 Vic
1874  37 & 38 Vic
1875 38 & 39 Vic
1877  40 & 41 Vic
1881  44 & 45 Vic
1882 45 & 46 Vic
1884 48 & 49 Vic
1892  55 & 56 Vic
1896  59 & 60 Vic
1902  2 Edw 7
1904  4 Edw 7
1906  6 Edw 7

Update 6/5/2014

I have found some more volumes from the early nineteenth century, many of which I have added to the list above. I’ve also found that there were two related series – the Statutes at Large of England and Great Britain, and The Statutes at Large of Great Britain and Ireland –  published at that time, edited first by Tomlins and then Raithby, and then Simons. The former goes up to 1800, and so there’s considerable overlap with all the other editions listed above. Raithby also produced a three volume index, covering the period from the Magna Carta to 49 George III.

Raithby, Statutes At Large of England and Great Britain, in 20 volumes.

Volume 2: 1 Richard II 1377 to 19 Henry VII 1504: Archive  Google
Volume 3: 1 Henry VIII 1509 to 7 Edward VI 1553: Archive  Google
Volume 4: 1 Mary 1553 to 16 Charles I 1604: Archive  Google
Volume 6: 8 William III to 6 Anne 1707: Google
Volume 7: 7 Anne 1708 to 1 George I 1715: Google
Volume 8: 3 George I 1716 to 13 George I 1726: Google
Volume 9: 1 George II 1727 to 15 George II 1742: Google
Volume 10: 16 George II 1743 to 23 George II 1750: Google
Volume 12: 1 George III 1760 to 7 George III 1767: Google
Volume 13: 8 George III 1768 to 14 George III 1774: Google
Volume 14: 15 George III 1775 to 19 George III 1779: Google
Volume 15: 20 George III 1780 to 24 George III 1784: Google
Volume 17: 28 George III 1788 to 32 George III 1792: Google
Volume 18: 33 George III 1793 to 35 George III 1795: Google
Volume 20: 39 George III 1798 to 41 George III 1800: Google

Raithby’s Statutes of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland:

Updates 28/8/2016 and 11/10/2016: A set of these volumes, annoyingly without volume 10, has been uploaded to the Internet Archive by the University of Southampton. But hallelujah, the elusive Volume the Tenth has been located on Google, as has the 14th through to the 17th, which appears to be the last of this series. Note that later volumes are edited by one N. Simons, rather than Raithby.

Volume 1: 41 George III 1801 to 43 George III 1803: Google  Archive.org
Volume 2: 44 George II 1804 to 46 George II 1806: Archive.org
Volume 3: 47 George III 1807 to 49 George III 1809: Google  Archive.org
Volume 4: 50 George III 1810 to 52 George III 1812: Google  Archive.org
Volume 5: 53 George III to 54 George III 1814: Google  Archive.org
Volume 6: 55 George III 1815 to 56 George III 1816: Google  Archive.org
Volume 7: 57 George III 1817 to 59 George III 1819: Archive.org
Volume 8: 60 George III 1820 to 3 George IV 1822: Archive.org
Volume 9: 4 George IV 1823 to 5 George IV 1824: Google  Archive.org
Volume 10: 6 George IV 1825 to 7 George IV 1826: Google
Volume 11: 7 & 8 George IV 1827 to 10 George IV 1829: Google  Archive.org
Volume 12: 11 George IV 1829 to 2 & 3 William IV 1832: Google  Archive.org
Volume 13: 3 & 4 William IV 1833 to 5 & 6 Willian IV 1835: Archive.org
Volume 14: 6 & 7 William IV 1836 to 1 & 2 Victoria 1838:  Google
Volume 15: 2 & 3 Victoria 1839 to 5 Victoria 1841: Google
Volume 16:  5 & 6 Victoria 1842 to 6 & 7 Victoria 1843. Pt 1: Google
Volume 17: 7 & 8  Victoria 1844 to 8 & 9 Victoria 1845. Pt 1: Google

Raithby’s An index to the statutes at large: from Magna Carta, to the forty ninth year of George III inclusive:

Volume 1: Abatement to Inrolment. Google
Volume 2: Insane Persons to Roly Poly. Google
Volume 3: Roman Catholics to Zouch (Souche) and Seymour (Lord). Google

Other Sources

British History Online has two sets of legislation, available under somewhat restrictive terms of use: the complete Acts and Ordinances of the Interregnum, from 1642 to 1660, and volumes 5, 6 and 7 (out of 11) of  Raithby’s Statutes of the Realm, covering 1628 to 1701. Various copies of the Interregnum collection are available, readable but not downloadable without a partner account, at Hathi Trust; the final volume, containing the introduction, chronology and index, is freely available at archive.org. Similarly, Hathi Trust has a complete set of Statutes of the Realm available for reading online, but downloadable only by a select few.

Update 28/8/2016: The University of Southampton has uploaded some volumes of Raithby’s Statutes to the Internet Archive.

The National Archives’ offical government repository site, as mentioned above, has all legislation from 1988 onwards, and some  historic material. For laws before the Magna Carta, there is the Early English Laws project, although I’m not sure whether it is still active.

As mentioned above, Wikipedia have a great many useful entries describing, listing and classifying the laws and their attendant structure. The best entry page for these, containing links to lists of statutes by parliament and period, is the List of Acts of Parliament in the United Kingdom.

Acknowledgements: Big tip of the hat to Andrew Gray of Wikipedia for introducing me to the crowd-sourced transcription on WikiSource, and for other wikipedia help. Likewise to the pseudonymous Abdul Goatherd, who did most of the legwork gathering Google’s Danby Pickering editions, and published it on this old forum.

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Resource: The Harleian Miscellany

Once again, a post on the disorganized digitized, this time the Harleian Miscellany (Wikipedia entry), a selection of pamphlets and texts from the archive of the first two Earls of Oxford. First published in the mid eighteenth century, two new editions were simultaneously published in the early nineteenth century, one augmented and one reorganized.

It truly is a miscellany, comprising many and various “small tracts and fugitive pieces” as Samuel Johnson describes them, covering a wide range of subjects over two centuries. Johnson defends these apparently ephemeral texts as central to English freedom:

There is, perhaps, no Nation, in which it is so necessary, as in our own, to assemble, from Time to Time, the small Tracts and fugitive Pieces, which are occasionally published: For, besides the general Subjects of Enquiry, which are cultivated by us, in common with every other learned Nation, our Constitution in Church and State naturally gives Birth to a Multitude of Performances, which would either not have been written, or could not have been made publick in any other Place.

and goes on to make a case for their intellectual and literary values as well. He also offers a novel explanation for the lack of organization in the compilation:

Of the different Methods which present themselves, upon the first View of the great Heaps of Pamphlets, which the Harleian Library exhibits, the two which merit most Attention, are to distribute the Treatises according to their Subjects or their Dates …. By ranging our Collection in Order of Time, we must necessarily publish those Pieces first, which least engage the Curiosity of the Bulk of Mankind …. By confining ourselves for any long Time to any Single Subject, we shall reduce our Readers to one Class, and, as we shall lose all the Grace of Variety, shall disgust all those who read chiefly to be diverted.

The original series comes in 8 volumes published between 1744 and 1746 and was ‘printed for T. Osborne in Gray’s Inn’. The second set, re-typeset with the same texts but in (nearly) chronological order, was issued in 12 volumes between 1808 and 1811, by Robert Dutton of  Gracechurch Street. The third edition was issued between 1808 and 1813 in 10 volumes, the texts printed in the same order as the original, two supplementary volumes providing some new material, and was published by Messrs White, Cochrane and Murray of Fleet Street, and Harding of St. James’s Street.

For the original and reissue, I’ve given links to both Google and Archive.org copies, for each interface has its own advantages. With Google books, search works far better, but for reading and for downloading I prefer the archive.org interface. The third, revised  edition is, as far as I can tell, only on archive.org, as it was digitized by them from the copies held by Brigham Young University.

The Original Series, 1744-1746

The Second Edition, 1808-1811

Contents and index to the second edition digitized at archive.org and transcribed with linkage.

The Third, Revised Edition, 1808-1813

All digitized by, and hosted at, Archive.org, from copies at Brigham Young University. The last volume has an index to the entire series.

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Resource: The Somers’ Tracts

Continuing with the sifting of the voluminous and chaotic sources available on the web, having previously codified Luttrell,  I now present the  Somers’ Tracts. This is a collection of texts and pamphlets from the library of Baron John Somers, first published in the mid eighteenth century, then re-ordered and revised in the early nineteenth century, by no less than Walter Scott. I’ve linked to the latter series, as it is ordered chronologically, the page images easy on the eye, and every volume can be found online on the ‘open web’, rather than stuck behind a paywall. The difficulty with it is that there is no consolidated index, just those in each individual volume, nor a machine-readable text version. This reduces serendipity, but does not prevent it.

The Somers’ tracts focus on high politics and serious matters; there is little that is light-hearted. Scott compares them to the other great collection of the time thus:

[T]he tracts upon all controversies, civil and religious, are so numerous and well selected, that, if the Harleian Miscellany afford most amusement to the antiquary, it may be safely said, that Somers’ Tracts promise most information to the historian.

Market differentiation perhaps. But it is worth noting that I first came across the earliest use of Alsatia in print via the mid-1700s collection of these tracts, and that text – H.C.s The Character of an Honest Lawyer – is not included in Scott’s version. Scott, of course, was the author of The Misfortunes of Nigel, partly set in  Whitefriars, albeit a good 60 years before it became a sanctuary, and so introduced Alsatia to a nineteenth century audience. Scott refers to his literary pursuits in his introduction to the first volume:

The editor has only further to hope, that the circumstance of his name having been prefixed to works of a lighter and more popular nature, will not be objected to him as a personal disqualification for his present task. The Muse (to use the established language) found him engaged in the pursuit of historical and traditional antiquities, and the excursions which he has made in her company, have been of a nature which increases his attachment to his original study.

This makes the absence all the more suprising.

The Somers Tracts, in 13 volumes, edited by Walter Scott.

Volume 1, 1809: From King John to Elizabeth I.

Volume 2, 1809: James I, Ecclesiastical and Historical tracts.

Volume 3, 1810: James I, Miscellaneous tracts.

Volume 4, 1810: Charles I, Ecclesiastical, Historical and relating to the earl of Strafford.

Volume 5, 1811: Charles I, Historical and Military tracts.

Volume 6, 1811: Commonwealth, Ecclesiastical and Civil tracts.

Volume 7, 1812: Commonwealth, Military and Miscellaneous tracts; Charles II, Ecclesiastical and Historical tracts.

Volume 8, 1812: Charles II, Civil and Miscellaneous tracts.

Volume 9, 1813: James II; William III, Ecclesiastical tracts.

Volume 10, 1813: William III, Historical tracts.

Volume 11, 1814: William III, Historical, Military and Miscellaneous tracts.

Volume 12, 1814: William III, Miscellaneous tracts; Queen Anne, Ecclesiastical and Civil tracts.

Volume 13, 1815: Queen Anne, Civil and Military tracts; George I.

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