Chronology

A chronology of the major events in the history of imprisonment for debt in England. Compilation in progress.

1649

September 4: ‘An Act for discharging Poor Prisoners unable to satisfie their Creditors‘ passed by the Commonwelath Parliament. First ever relief act for imprisoned debtors.

1676

First use of the term ‘Alsatia’ in relation to the area around Whitefriars, by Henry Care in ‘The Character of an Honest Lawyer.’

May 17: Henry Care reports the ‘Amazon Guards’ of the Mint vanquishing a party of bailliffs, attempting to make arrests in the sanctuary.

1691

Publication of Moses Pitt’s ‘The Cry of the Oppressed’, a collection of testimonies from incarcerated debtors on the privations and tortures they suffer in prison.

The Riot of the Alsatians against The Templars, on the occasion of the Temple authorities blocking up a gate between the Temple and Whitefriars.

1693

Execution of Frances Winter for his part in the riot against the Templars.

1697

The Act against Pretended Privileged Places abolishes Alsatia and the other sanctuaries in London.

1705

Parliamentary hearings into Southwark Mint, which has revived after the suppression of 1697.

1712

Parliament passes the first relief act requiring that the debtors’ names and abodes are published in the London Gazette, 10 Anne, c.20/c.29.

1722

The Act Against Southwark Mint dissolves the sanctuary, and offers terms for the inhabitants. Nearly six thousand people register for relief.

1725

The Act against Wapping Mint comes into force, suppressing a sanctuary in the East End of London, founded by refugees from the Mint.

1742

An Act for the Relief of Insolvent Debtors is passed.

1747

An Act for the Relief of Insolvent Debtors is passed.

1759

A major reform, the Lord’s Act, 32 George 2, c.28, alleviates the conditions of imprisoned debtors.

1760

An Act for the Relief of Insolvent Debtors is passed.

1761

The previous years relief act is adjusted, owing to a loophole that thousands of debtors took advantage of.

1772

The Society for the Discharge and Relief of Persons Imprisoned for Small Debts – also known as the Thatched House or the Craven Street Society – is founded in London.

1777

First publication of John Howard’s “The State of the Prisons in England and Wales.”

1780

The Gordon Riots result in the majority of London’s prisons being opened, many totally destroyed, with thousands of debtors thereby released.

1790

The Rules of the King’s Bench Prison, the area outside the walls in which prisoners could get permission to reside, redefined.

1795

The Rules of the King’s Bench prison redefined once again.

1831

The Merthyr Uprising, considered the first proletarian insurrection in Britain, is sparked by the seizure of property for unpaid debts. The local debtors courts are ransacked.

1869

The abolition of imprisonment for civil debt in England and Wales by the act of Parliament 32 & 33 Victoria c.62.

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