Tag Archives: thomas baston

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.

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.”

The Law enters Southwark Mint

We now present another classic piece of ‘Newgate Literature’, featuring adultery, fraud, debt, perjury, sanctuary, murder, court room shenanigans, and an execution to round everything off. But for my purposes the central interest is in the description of law enforcement in the Mint. One John Sayer, Esq., had obtained a warrant to seize his property and estranged wife from the Mint, where she, with her lover and her mother, had taken shelter.

He therefore obtained a warrant of a justice of the peace, and taking with him two constables, and six assistants, went to the house of George Twyford, in the Mint; the constables intimating that they had a warrant to search for a suspected person; for if it had been thought that they were bailiffs, their lives would have been in danger. Having entered the house, they went to a backroom, where Noble, Mrs. Sayer, and Mrs. Salisbury, were at dinner; the door was no sooner open than Noble drew his sword, and stabbing Sayer in the left breast, he died on the spot. The constables immediately apprehended the murderer and the two women; but the latter were so abandoned, that while the peace-officers were conveying them to the house of a magistrate, they did little else than lament the fate of Noble.

Apprehensive that the mob would rise, from a supposition that the prisoners were debtors, a constable was directed to carry the bloody sword before them, in testimony that murder had been committed, which produced the wished-for effect, by keeping perfect peace.

The constables, it appears, were obliged to demonstrate that they were not bailiffs, first by ‘intimating’ that they had a warrant, and then by displaying the murder weapon. Thus assured, the Minters, alert to their presence, let them alone.

In my previous post, Thomas Baston had portrayed the Southwark Minters as honest folk obliged by the unjust threat of the debtors’ prison to set up their ‘Little Republick.’ Although they were determined not to lose their liberty to the bailiff, “they do not in the least resist the Execution of the law in any other particular …. for they give shelter, or Protection unto none, except purely to the Unfortunate in the case of Debt.” This is probably an overstatement, but here we do have an example of the authorities going unhindered in a sanctuary, where the matter at hand does not seem to be debt-related.

But do we have a case where a criminal – as opposed to debtor – was taking refuge within a sanctuary? And is it without a financial aspect? Not, I think, in this affair: it appears to be a matter of civil dispute, rather than criminal law. Furthermore, the occasion for Mrs Sayer seeking refuge was a public notice published by her husband in some newspapers, informing “tradesmen and others” not to grant her credit and disavowing any responsibility for such. Cobbett’s State Trials quotes the mother as saying

she attended her daughter, in the Mint, which she thought a private place, from the resentment of Mr. Sayer, who threatened her daughter’s life

casting it as a sanctuary from ill fame and financial disrepute.

Note also that the unfortunate Sayer had previously sought refuge “within the rules of the Fleet Prison” to escape a false charge of debt by his eventual killer. The ‘rules’ were an area around that jail, where convicted debtors, if they could afford it, were allowed to reside. They also gave their name to “Fleet Marriages”, irregular and clandestine weddings, often without parental approval and sometimes for fraudulent purposes. Such contracts were made in a number of religious peculiars and sanctuaries throughout London, including the Mint.

Money and marital discord are interrelated in this case, and that the Mint is the stage for the denouement is not an accident, but essential to the narrative.

Executed at Kingston, March 28, 1713, For the Murder of Mr. Sayer.

WE forbear to comment upon that part of this shocking transaction which relates to the female sex; and happy should we be, if our duty permitted us to consign to oblivion, imputations upon those who were by nature formed to be the friend and comfort of man. Richard Noble, we are sorry to say, was an attorney at law, and the paramour of Mrs. Sayer, wife of John Sayer, Esq. who was possessed of about one thousand pounds a year, and lord of the manor of Biddesden, in Buckinghamshire. Mr. Sayer does not appear to have been a man of any great abilities, but was remarkable for his good nature and inoffensive disposition. Mrs. Sayer, to whom he was married in 1699, was the daughter of Admiral Nevil, a woman of an agreeable person and brilliant wit; but of such an abandoned disposition as to be a disgrace to her sex. Soon after Mr. Sayer’s wedding, Colonel Salisbury married the Admiral’s widow; but there was such a vicious similarity in the conduct of the mother and daughter, that the two husbands had early occasion to be disgusted with the choice they had made. Mr. Sayer’s nuptials had not been celebrated many days, before the bride took the liberty of kicking him, and hinted that she would procure a lover more agreeable to her mind. Sayer, who was distractedly fond of her, bore this treatment with patience; and at the end of a twelvemonth she presented him a daughter, which soon died: but he became still more fond of her after she had made him a father, and was continually loading her with presents. Mr. Sayer now took a house in Lisle-street, Leicester-fields, kept a coach, and did every thing which he thought might gratify his wife: but her unhappy disposition was the occasion of temporary separations. At times, however, she behaved with more complaisance to her husband, who had, after a while, the honour of being deemed father of another child of which she was delivered; and after this circumstance she indulged herself in still greater liberties than before; her mother, who was almost constantly with her, encouraging her in this shameful conduct. At length a scheme was concerted, which would probably have ended in the destruction of Mr. Sayer and Colonel Salisbury, if it had not been happily prevented by the prudence of the latter. The Colonel taking an opportunity to represent to Mrs. Sayer the ill consequences that must attend her infidelity to her husband, she immediately attacked him with the most outrageous language, and insulted him to that degree that he threw the remainder of a cup of tea at her. The mother and daughter immediately laid hold of this circumstance to inflame the passions of Mr. Sayer, whom they at length prevailed on to demand satisfaction of the colonel. The challenge is said to have been written by Mrs. Sayer, and when the colonel received it, he conjectured that it was a plan concerted between the ladies to get rid of their husbands. However, he obeyed the summons, and going in a coach with Mr. Sayer towards Montague-House, he addressed him as follows: “Son Sayer, let us come to a right understanding of this business. ‘Tis very well known that I am a swordsman, and I should be very far from getting any honour by killing you. But to come nearer to the point in hand, thou shouldst know, Jack, for all the world knows, that thy wife and mine are both what they should not be. They want to get rid of us both at once. If thou shouldst drop, they’ll have me hanged for it after.” There was so much of obvious truth in this remark, that Mr. Sayer immediately felt its force, and the gentlemen drove home together, to the mortification of the ladies. Soon after this affair, Mrs. Sayer went to her house in Buckinghamshire, where an intimacy took place between her and the curate of the parish, and their amour was conducted with so little reserve, that all the servants saw that the parson had more influence in the house than their master. Mrs. Sayer coming to London, was soon followed by the young clergyman, who was seized with the small- pox, which cost him his life. When he found there was no hope of his recovery, he sent to Mr. Sayer, earnestly requesting to see him: but Mrs. Sayer, who judged what he wanted, said that her husband had not had the small-pox, and such a visit might cost him his life; she therefore insisted that her husband should not go; and the passive man tamely submitted to this injunction, though his wife daily sent a footman to enquire after the clergyman, who died without being visited by Mr. Sayer. This gentleman had not been long dead, before his place was supplied by an officer of the guards; but he was soon dismissed in favour of a man of great distinction, who presented her with some valuable china, which she pretended was won at Astrop Wells. About this time Mr. Sayer found his affairs considerably deranged by his wife’s extravagance; on which a gentleman recommended him to Mr. Richard Noble (the subject of our present consideration), as a man capable of being very serviceable to him. His father kept a very refutable coffee-house at Bath, and his mother was so virtuous a woman, that when Noble afterwards went to her house with Mrs. Sayer, in a coach and six, she shut the door against him. He had been well educated, and articled to an attorney of eminence in New Inn, in which he afterwards took chambers for himself; but he had not been in any considerable degree of practice when he was introduced to Mr. Sayer. Soon after his introduction to Mr. Sayer’s family he became too intimate with Mrs. Sayer, and, if report said true, with her mother likewise. However, these abandoned women had other prospects besides mere gallantry, and considering Noble as a man of the world as well as a lover, they concerted a scheme to deprive Mr. Sayer of a considerable part of his estate. The unhappy gentleman, being perpetually teased by the women, at length consented to execute a deed of separation, in which he assigned some lands in Buckinghamshire, to the amount of one hundred and fifty pounds a year to his wife, exclusive of fifty pounds a year for pin-money; and by this deed he likewise covenanted that Mrs. Sayer might live with whom she pleased, and that he would never molest any person on account of harbouring her. Mr. Sayer was even so weak as to sign this deed without having counsel of his own to examine it. Not long after this, Mrs Sayer was delivered of a child at Bath, but that the husband might not take alarm at this circumstance, Noble sent him a letter, acquainting him that he was to be pricked down for high sheriff of Buckinghamshire; and Mrs. Salisbury urged him to go to Holland to be out of the way, and supplied him with some money on the occasion. It does not seem probable that Sayer had any suspicion of Noble’s criminal intercourse with his wife, for, the night before he set out, he presented him with a pair of saddle-pistols and furniture worth above forty pounds. Soon after he was gone, Mrs. Sayer’s maid, speaking of the danger her master might be in at sea, Mrs. Sayer said, “She should be sorry his man James, a poor innocent fellow, should come to any harm; but she should be glad, and earnestly wished that Mr. Sayer might sink to the bottom of the sea, and that the bottom of the ship might come out.” Not long after the husband was gone abroad, Noble began to give himself airs of greater consequence than he had hitherto done. He was solicitor in a cause in the Court of Chancery, in which Mr. Sayer was plaintiff, and having obtained a decree, he obliged the trustees nominated in the marriage articles to relinquish, and assumed the authority of a sole trustee. Mr. Sayer remained in Holland nearly a year, during which time Noble publicly cohabited with his wife; and when her husband returned she refused to live with him; but having first robbed him of above two thousand pounds, in exchequer bills and other effects, she went to private lodgings with Noble, and was shortly after delivered of another child. After Mrs. Sayer had thus eloped from her husband, he caused an advertisement to be inserted in the newspapers, of which the following is a copy:

“Whereas, Mary, the wife of John Sayer, Esq. late of Lisle-street, St. Anne’s, went away from her dwellinghouse, on or about the 23d of May last, in company with Elizabeth Nevil, sister to the said Mary, and hath carried away near one thousand pounds in money, besides other things of a considerable value, and is supposed to go by some other name: he desires all tradesmen and others not to give her any credit, for that he will not pay the same.”

While Mrs. Sayer cohabited with Noble, he was constantly supplied with money but he was not her only associate at that time, for, during his occasional absence, she received the visits of other lovers. Noble now procured an order from the Court of Chancery to take Mr. Sayer in execution for four hundred pounds, at the suit of Mrs. Salisbury, the consequence of a judgment confessed by him, for form’s sake, to protect his goods from his creditors while he was in Holland. Mr. Sayer declared that the real debt was not more than seventy pounds, though artful management and legal expenses had swelled it to the above-mentioned sum. Hereupon Sayer took refuge within the rules of the Fleet Prison, and exhibited his bill in chancery for relief against these suits, and the deed of separation, which he obtained. In the mean time, Mrs. Sayer finding herself liable to be exposed by the advertisement her husband had caused to be inserted in the newspapers, she, with her mother, and Noble, took lodgings in the Mint, Southwark, which was at that time a place of refuge for great numbers of persons of desperate circumstances and abandoned characters. Mr. Sayer having been informed of this, wrote several letters to her, promising that he would forgive all her crimes, if she would return to her duty; but she treated his letters with as much contempt as she had done his person. Hereupon he determined to seize on her by force, presuming that he should recover some of his effects if be could get her into his custody. He therefore obtained a warrant of a justice of the peace, and taking with him two constables, and six assistants, went to the house of George Twyford, in the Mint; the constables intimating that they had a warrant to search for a suspected person; for if it had been thought that they were bailiffs, their lives would have been in danger. Having entered the house, they went to a backroom, where Noble, Mrs. Sayer, and Mrs. Salisbury, were at dinner; the door was no sooner open than Noble drew his sword, and stabbing Sayer in the left breast, he died on the spot. The constables immediately apprehended the murderer and the two women; but the latter were so abandoned, that while the peace-officers were conveying them to the house of a magistrate, they did little else than lament the fate of Noble.

Apprehensive that the mob would rise, from a supposition that the prisoners were debtors, a constable was directed to carry the bloody sword before them, in testimony that murder had been committed, which produced the wished-for effect, by keeping perfect peace. The prisoners begged to send for counsel, which being granted, Noble was committed for trial, after an examination of two hours; but the counsel urged so many arguments in favour of the women, that it was ten o’ clock at night before they were committed. Soon afterwards this worthless mother and daughter applied to the Court of King’s Bench to be admitted to bail, which was refused them. The coroner’s inquest having viewed Mr. Sayer’s body, it was removed to his lodgings within the rules of the Fleet, in order for interment; and three days afterwards they gave a verdict, finding Noble guilty of wilful murder, and the women of having aided and assisted him in that murder. On the evening of the 12th of March, 1713, they were put to the bar at Kingston, in Surrey, and having been arraigned on the several indictments, to which they pleaded not guilty, they were told to prepare for their trials by six o’ clock on the following morning. Being brought down for trial at the appointed time, they moved the court that their trials might be deferred till the afternoon, on the plea that some material witnesses were absent: but the court not believing their allegations, refused to comply with their request. It was imagined that this motion to put off their trials was founded in the expectation that when the business at the nisi prius bar was dispatched, many of the jurymen might go home, so that when the prisoners had made their challenges, there might not be a number left sufficient to try them, by which they might escape till the next assizes, by which time they hoped some circumstances would happen in their favour. It being ordered that the trials should commence, Mr. Noble and Mrs. Salisbury each challenged twenty of the jury, and Mrs. Sayer challenged thirty-five. Here it should be observed, that all persons indicted for felony, have a right to challenge twenty jurors, and those indicted for petit-treason thirty-five; which may be done without alleging any cause. Happily, however, the sheriff had summoned so great a number of jurors, that the ends of public justice were not, for the present, defeated. Noble’s counsel urged that some of the persons who broke into the house might have murdered Mr. Sayer, or, if they had not, the provocation he had received might be such as would warrant the jury in bringing him guilty of manslaughter only. As the court had sat from six o’ clock in the morning, till one o’ clock the next morning, the jury were indulged with some refreshment before they left the bar; and after being out nine hours, they gave their verdict that Mr. Noble was “Guilty,” and Mrs. Salisbury and Mrs. Sayer were “Not Guilty.” When Mr. Noble was brought to the bar to receive sentence, he addressed the court in the following words:

“My Lord,
I am soon to appear and render an account of my sins to God Almighty. If your lordship should think me guilty of those crimes I have been accused, and convicted of by my jury, I am then sure your lordship will think that I stand in need of such a reparation, such a humiliation for my great offences, such an abhorrence of my past life to give me hopes of a future one, that I am not without hopes that it will be a motive to your lordship’s goodness, that after you have judged and sentenced my body to execution, you will charitably, assist me with a little time for the preservation of my soul. If I had nothing to answer for but killing Mr. Sayer with precedent malice, I should have no need to address myself to your lordship in this manner. It is now too late to take advantage by denying it to your lordship, and too near my end to dissemble it before God. I know, my lord, the danger, the hell that I should plunge myself headlong into; I know I shall soon answer for the truth I am about to say, before a higher tribunal, and a more discerning judge than your lordship, which is only in heaven. I did not take the advantage to kill Mr. Sayer, by the thought or apprehension that I could do it under the umbrage of the laws, or with impunity; nothing was more distant from my thoughts than to remove him out of the world to enjoy his wife (as was suggested) without molestation. Nor could any one have greater reluctance or remorse, from the time of the fact to the hour of my trial, than I have had, though the prosecutors reported to the contrary, for which I heartily forgive them. My counsel obliged me to say on my trial, that I heard Mr. Sayer’s voice before he broke open the door; I told them as I now tell your lordship, that I did not know it was him, till he was breaking in at the door, and then, and not before, was my sword drawn, and the wound given, which wound, as Dr. Garth informed me, was so very slight, that it was a thousand to one that he died of it. When I gave the wound, I insensibly quitted the sword, by which means I left myself open for him to have done what was proved he attempted, and was so likely for him to have effected, viz. to have stabbed me; and his failure in the attempt has not a little excited my surprise. When I heard the company run up stairs, I was alarmed, and in fear; the landlord telling me instantly thereupon, that the house was beset, either for me or himself, added to my confusion. I then never thought or intended to do mischief, but first bolted the fore-door, and then bolted and padlocked the back-door, which was glazed, and began to fasten the shutters belonging to it, designing only to screen myself from the violence of the tumult. When he broke open the door, and not till then, I perceived and knew he was present; and his former threats and attempts, which I so fully proved on my trial, and could have proved much fuller, had not Mrs. Salisbury’s evidence been taken from me, made my fear so great, and the apprehension of my danger so near, that what I did was the natural motion of self-defence, and was too sudden to be the result of precedent malice; and I solemnly declare, that I did not hear or know from Twyford the landlord, or otherwise, that any constable attended the deceased, till after the misfortune happened. It was my misfortune, that what I said as to hearing the deceased’s voice was turned to my disadvantage by the counsel against me, and that I was not entitled to any assistance of counsel, to enforce the evidence given for me, or to remark upon the evidence given against me: which I don’ t doubt would have fully satisfied your lordship and the jury, that what happened was more my misfortune, than my design or intention. If I had been able, under the concern, to remark upon the evidence against me, that Mr. Sayer was but the tenth part of a minute in breaking open the door, it could not then well be supposed by the jury, that I was preparing myself, or putting myself in order to do mischief, which are acts of forethought and consideration; which require much more time than is pretended I could have had from the time I discovered Mr. Sayer; for even from his entry into the house, to the time of the accident, did not amount, as I am informed, to more than the space of three minutes. But I did not discover him before the door gave way. I wish it had been my good fortune, that the jury had applied that to me which your lordship remarked in favour of the ladies, that the matter was so very sudden, so very accidental and unexpected, that it was impossible, to be a contrivance and confederacy, and unlikely that they could come to a resolution in so short a time. I don’t remember your lordship distinguished my case, as to that particular, to be different from theirs, nor was there room for it; for it is impossible for your lordship to believe that I dreamt of Mr. Sayer’s coming there at that time, but on the contrary I fully proved to your lordship, that I went there upon another occasion, that was lawful and beneficial to the deceased; and I had no more time, to think or contrive, than the ladies had to agree or consent. If any thing could be construed favourably on the behalf of such an unfortunate wretch as myself, I think the design I had sometime before begun, and was about finishing that day, might have taken away all suspicion of malice against Mr. Sayer. Must it be thought, my lord, that I only am such a sinner that I cannot repent and make reparation to the persons I have injured? It was denied; but I strongly solicited a reconciliation between Mr. Sayer and his lady, and if this had tended to procure me an easier access to Mrs. Sayer, it would have been such a matter of aggravation to me, that it could not have escaped the remark of the counsel against me, nor the sharpness of the prosecutors present in court; with both I transacted, and to both I appealed, particularly to Mr. Nott, to whom, but the day before this accident, I manifested my desire of having them live together again, and therefore, my lord, it should be presumed I laboured to be reconciled to, and not to revenge myself on, Mr. Sayer. Your lordship, I hope, will observe thus much in my favour, that it was so far from being a clear fact, in the opinion of the jury, that they sat up all night, and believing there was no malice at that time, told your lordship they intended, and were inclined, to find it manslaughter, and, doubting the legality of the warrant, to find it special. I hope this will touch your lordship’s heart so far, as not to think me so ill a man as to deserve (what the best of Christians are taught to pray against) a sudden death!– I confess I am unprepared; the hopes of my being able to make a legal defence, and my endeavours therein having taken up my time, which I wish I had better employed; I beg leave to assure your lordship, upon the words of a dying man, that as none of the indirect practices to get or suppress evidence were proved upon me, so they never sprang from me: and I can safely say, that my blood, in a great measure, will lie at their door who did, because it drew me under an ill imputation of defending myself by subornation of perjury. I would be willing to do my duty towards my neighbour, as well as God, before I die; I have many papers and concerns (by reason of my profession) of my clients in my hands, and who will suffer, if they are not put into some order; and nothing but these two considerations could make life desirable, under this heavy load of irons, and restless remorse of conscience for my sins. A short reprieve for these purposes, I hope will be agreeable to your lordship’s humanity and Christian virtue, whereupon your lordship’s name shall be blest with my last breath, for giving me an opportunity of making peace with my conscience and God Almighty.”

The last request that Noble made was granted: he was allowed some time to settle his spiritual and temporal concerns, and at length suffered at Kingston, on the 28th of March, 1713, exhibiting marks of genuine repentance. As to the women, they were no sooner acquitted, than they set out for London, taking one of the turnkeys with them, to protect them from the assaults of the populace, who were incensed in the highest degree at the singular enormity of their crimes.

Text in the public domain, taken from archive.org.

Thomas Baston’s “Little Republick”

Little is known of Thomas Baston, a printmaker specializing in naval scenes. It appears he was born in the early 1670s, fought the French at sea and perhaps the Irish on land, lived and worked in London, had prints commissioned by William and Mary, and spent the best part of the 1710s in the Kings Bench prison for debt.

It was whilst in prison that he wrote Thoughts on Trade And a Publick Spirit, a wide-ranging attack on corruption, malpractice and fraud, in state, economy and law alike. Against such tyranny, not only does he plead the case of those on the receiving end, the poor debtors and ill-used sailors, but counterposes the example of the Southwark Mint, in a glowing, almost utopian, description of it as a ‘little Republick.’ There, the Minters are honest, honorable and hard-working, regular in government, needing few law books. Justified by both scripture and ‘ancient liberty’, ‘they live very lovingly together.’ An idealistic description without a doubt, but also a radical, political vision of how the whole country could be: ‘the best Way to set this Place on the same level with the rest of the Kingdom is to bring the rest of the Nation on a nearer level with them.’

There is much more to discover about both the man and his book. I’m not even certain he had any first-hand experience of Southwark Mint. Most of the information I’ve found on Baston comes from Charles Harrison Wallace’s site, who notes the suggestive co-incidence of publication and reprinting with crisis: the South Sea Bubble in 1716, the Navy’s Porto Bello disaster of 1728 and the Customs and Excise Bill of 1732. But pending further research, I present his remarkable portrait of a sanctuary.

Of the Mint

from Thomas Baston, Thoughts on Trade and a Publick Spirit, 1716, pp.111-113.

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. They protect no Man who has it in his power to make Satisfaction; no Man who flyes from his Bail; no Cheat of any Sort: In short, they are a tolerable good Sort of People, as Times go, and every whit as honest as their Neighbours, notwithstanding they are call’d by a great many bad Names; yet I am of Opinion they are at worst, very diminutive Rogues in Comparison of those out of the Place; however, their Creditors, and the Bailiffs in general, are mighty Angry with them, because they will not quietly go to Goal, and there be starv’d; tho’ abundance of them, being at liberty to Work, having Time, with their Industry, have paid their Creditors their whole Debt; and others part, according as they can agree, which cou’d never have been done if their Creditors had had their Wills to throw them into Prison. God allow’d several Sanctuaries, or Cities of Refuge; and seeing the Law of our Land allows of none, these Gentlemen allow themselves one. When they catch a Baily (who is an Enemy to their Constitution) they treat him according to the Custom of the Place, which like most of our Courts, is as binding as a Law. ‘Tis true, they make use of very few Law-Books, for which Reason they live very lovingly together, consulting one anothers Good, and Safety, and account their little Cottages happier Dwellings, than Palaces out of the Place, where Bailiffs and their Dogs are continually waiting at their Doors with Writs and Executions. They give Credit to one another, as well in this Place as in any other, according to their Abilities, only upon Honour, and honestly pay when they have it, and better than those out of it, notwithstanding the infallible Security of a Prison, as some foolishly and ridiculously account it. It has been talk’d a long time of putting down this Place, but I believe it will not be easily done without a great deal of Mischief; but the best Way to set this Place on the same level with the rest of the Kingdom is to bring the rest of the Nation on a nearer level with them; that is, to let all the other good People of England have the same Protection for their Persons by Law from a Prison for Debt, as they have by Force.