A chronology of the major events in the history of imprisonment for debt and escape from debt in England. Compilation in progress.
September 4: ‘An Act for discharging Poor Prisoners unable to satisfie their Creditors‘ passed by the Commonwealth Parliament. First ever relief act for imprisoned debtors. Followed by
February 4: The English colony in Barbados passes ‘An Act for the relief of such Persons as lie in Prison, and others, who have not wherewith to pay their Creditors.’ It provides for debtors to work for their creditors until the debt is paid.
April 6: The Commonwealth Parliament passes ‘An Act for granting Habeas Corpus to poor prisoners for Debt, upon Oath that they are not worth £5, to go at Liberty upon their own Security, for prosecuting their own Habeas Corpus.’
April 27: The relief acts of December 1649 and April 1650 are revived by “A further Additional Act for Relief of Poor Prisoners.”
March, April and May: Three acts
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.
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.
Execution of Frances Winter for his part in the riot against the Templars.
The Act against Pretended Privileged Places abolishes Alsatia and the other sanctuaries in London.
Parliamentary hearings into Southwark Mint, which has revived after the suppression of 1697.
Publication of A True Description of the Mint.
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.
Publication of Memoirs of the Mint and the Queen’s Bench.
Chief Justice Prat expands the Rules of the King’s Bench Prison to encompass St. George’s Fields.
The Act Against Southwark Mint dissolves the sanctuary, and offers terms for the inhabitants. Nearly six thousand people register for relief.
December: Wapping Mint is suppressed by the local authorities, supported by soldiers from the Tower of London garrison.
June: The Act against Wapping Mint comes into force, definitively suppressing that sanctuary, and rendering it impossible to claim any such rights within the London Bills of Mortality.
A major reform, the Lord’s Act, 32 George 2, c.28, alleviates the conditions of imprisoned debtors.
The previous years relief act is adjusted, owing to a loophole that thousands of debtors took advantage of.
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.
First publication of John Howard’s “The State of the Prisons in England and Wales.”
The Gordon Riots result in the majority of London’s prisons being opened, many totally destroyed, with thousands of debtors thereby released.
Parliament passes “An Act for reducing the Time for the Imprisonment of Debtors committed to Prison, upon Prosecutions in Courts of Conscience, in London, Middlesex , and the Borough of Southwark , to the same Periods in each Court; and for abolishing Fees paid by those Debtors to Gaolers, or others, on Account of such Imprisonment.”
Parliament passes “An Act for regulating the Time of the Imprisonment of Debtors imprisoned by Process from Courts instituted for the Recovery of Small Debts; for abolishing the Claim of Fees of Gaolers, and others, in the Cases of such Imprisonment; and for ascertaining the Qualifications of the Commissioners.”
The Rules of the King’s Bench Prison, the area outside the walls in which prisoners could get permission to reside, redefined.
April: Publication of the Report from the Committee Appointed to Enquire Into the Practice and Effects of Imprisonment for Debt.
The first relief act since the Gordon Riots is passed: 34 George 3, c.69: An act for the discharge of certain insolvent debtors.
The Rules of the King’s Bench prison redefined once again.
An act to allow Parochial Relief to Prisoners confined under Mesne Process for Debt in such Gaols as are not County Gaols becomes law on the 29th July 1812.
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.
The abolition of imprisonment for civil debt in England and Wales by the act of Parliament 32 & 33 Victoria c.62.