Tag Archives: c18

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.

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.

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, (now dead, but preserved on archive.org) 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 18th, 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 Pt 2: Google
Volume 17: 7 & 8  Victoria 1844 to 8 & 9 Victoria 1845. Pt 1: Google Pt 2: Google
Volume 18: 9 & 10 Victoria 1846 to 10 & 11 Victoria 1847: 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.

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.

Resource: Narcissus Luttrell’s State Affairs

Luttrell's Brief Relation flyleaf

Luttrell caressed

I’ve previously commented on some of the difficulties with the voluminous digital archives available on the web. Google Books and archive.org offer an extraordinary amount of material, but the curation – meaning the organization and metadata – is often deficient. Finding a complete series of a publication, or just a specific volume, is far more difficult than it should be; choosing the best digitization from the many copies turns the labyrinth into a maze.

Sifting and sorting  documents is part and parcel of the historian’s task. I hope that sharing the results will become standard practice too, for not only does a gift produce a rosy glow, but it prevents an arduous task being repeated.

This post is the first of three such siftings, dealing with Narcissus Luttrell’s Brief Historical Relation of State Affairs. (Also sifted are The Harleian Miscellany and The Statutes At Large.) Luttrell was a minor political figure, being an MP twice, a JP. His posthumous importance is due to his book collecting and political diary-keeping, the Brief Historical Relation…., first published very posthumously in 1857, being a product of both.

It is a somewhat chaotic compilation of news from home and abroad, jumbling up accounts of military campaigns, political manoeuvres, criminal charges and births, deaths and marriages. One thing follows another, the only connection being the date. A single page carries news of the Ottoman Empire and Flanders, the sailing of the West India fleet, a patent for the preservation of “fish or foul a considerable time after ’tis killed”, a bookseller sent to Newgate for publishing libels, and more besides. But it gives a sense of the great business of government, sometimes has information unavailable elsewhere, and is useful for establishing chronologies.

I’ve put links to both the Archive.org and Google Books versions as each has its own advantages. Google has more reliable search and better OCR, but Archive.org offers more formats and has a better online presentation. I hope I have found the cleanest and clearest versions, but cannot say I’ve checked every page.

Volume 1: Sept 1678 – Dec 1689.
Archive.org  Google Books

Volume 2: Jan 1690 – Jan 1st 1693.
Archive.org  Google Books

Volume 3: Jan 1693 – Dec 1695.
Archive.org  Google Books

Volume 4: Jan 1696 – Dec 1700.
Archive.org  Google Books

Volume 5: Jan 1701 – Dec 1705.
Archive.org  Google Books

Volume 6: Jan 1706 – April 1714, and index to the whole series.
Archive.org  Google Books

Further reading: Luttrell on Wikipedia  Luttrell in History of Parliament Online

The Women of Southwark Mint

For my second post on women in the Mint, I turn from fiction to data. The final clause of the Act against Southwark Mint offered an amnesty to those Minters, discharging debts below £50, albeit at the cost of “assigning all their estates and effects whatsoever, for the benefit of their creditors.” Some 6,254 people applied for this relief, their names, trade or status and parishes being published over 10 months in the London Gazette.

Whilst this sounds like a dream data set, there are a number of difficulties with it, aside from the sheer hard work of transcribing so many words from images of worn pages. Not every entry is complete. Some have extra details, such as aliases. Some information, such as familial connections and gender, cannot always be reliably deduced. Some of the applicants were probably ineligible for the amnesty; some may have known this, others not. Reading this archive requires forensic skill. Nevertheless, it is the only such source for any sanctuary, and offers a real chance to investigate the social composition of the Mint at the end of its existence.

So as a first step in analysing this data I have extracted the records of those I could identify as female. The first question is simply how many women were on the amnesty lists. The gender can be divined from two fields: forename and status. For the latter, many entries were of marital status, generally widow or spinster, very occasionally wife. Only in a handful of cases could I not work out the gender.

Minters by gender

We can see that women were very much in the minority, but it is a significant minority that won’t be affected by resolving the gender of the unknowns. The next chart breaks the 464 women down by their status.

Female Status

As some women gave their marital status, others a trade, in some cases both or two trades, the total number of pieces of information is 527. Although this introduces some complexity into the data-crunching, we can clearly see that the majority of women were either widowed or unmarried.

Following on from this, we can examine the professions the women practiced. In total, 84 different trades are given, which makes visualizing them in a pie chart rather difficult, so I have amalgamated all those with less than 4 respondants.

Female Minters' Trades

This is the least satisfactory of the charts as the trades should really be grouped together by sector: clothing, food, services, etc.

This data set can also be used for other investigations. Here is a pie chart of women’s first names, the most popular being at the top of the key.

I’ve standardized spellings, combining variants such as Anne, Hannah and Anna into one group. As the chart shows, Mary (107) and Elizabeth (96) were by far the most common female names, and with Ann, Sarah, Margaret and Catherine account for over 75% of the total, with 49 other names making up the remainder. Of the 7 Gentlewomen on the lists 3 were called Mary and 1 Margaret, the others were Deborah, Henrietta and Charlotte. I had wondered whether there would be a noticeable difference between higher and lower class forenames, but the sample is inadequate for investigating this.

How accurate was Defoe’s portrayal of the Mint through the eyes of Moll Flanders? Firstly, I think he understated the number of female debtors. At a little over 7% they make up a sizable contingent, even if this is far from being equal to the number of men. And this is just the number of women applying for amnesty; there may have been others as well. Women are not a negligible presence in the Mint.

However, having Moll take on the role of widow, and having her find a friend in another widow, does reflect the marital status of many of the women. Why there were so many widows seeking sanctuary, and how they fell into debt, are very important questions. The number of spinsters also suggests that single women in general were particularly vulnerable to pursuit by their creditors.

These charts are my first attempt at sifting through the amnesty lists. They’re not really satisfactory, technically, statistically or historically. I’d like them to be more interactive, with statistics for each segment shown; there needs to be a way of coping better with those women that gave two professions or marital status and profession; and they need far more careful analysis. Nevertheless they give some indication of the composition of this debtor community, and the place of women within it.

Moll Flanders in the Mint

For International Women’s Day, and for Women’s History Month, the first of two posts about women in the Southwark Mint.

Published in 1721, a few years before the dissolution of the Mint, Moll Flanders gives a rare view of that sanctuary through female eyes. Defoe himself had a chequered business career, that included bankruptcy, seizure of his property (civet cats!), imprisonment and possibly refuge in Southwark. He was a proponent of bankruptcy reform, playing a role in the passage of the 1705 Act to Prevent Frauds Frequently Committed by Bankrupts, but also a stern critic of the sanctuaries, calling them “those nurseries of rogues” in his Essay Upon Projects.

Defoe’s interest in these debates must wait for another time; suffice to note he took a position against the sanctuaries and probably had stayed in one. What interests me here is the gendered account of it. Few accounts of the Mint mention women, and when they do generally only in passing. There are references to the debtors being accompanied by their families; the trade in marriage licenses required a woman to be present; there is sometimes mention of prostitution. But here we have a female character in the central role, observing the men en masse, as a type rather than individuals.

It is due to her husband that Moll Flanders moves to the Mint; she is escaping his, rather than her, creditors, and she takes the opportunity to change her identity and take on the role of widow.  Once in the sanctuary she sees how the male debtors conduct themselves, and describes them in the most cutting terms, “sinning on, as a remedy for sin past”:

…. these men were too wicked, even for me. There was something horrid and absurd in their way of sinning, for it was all a force even upon themselves; they did not only act against conscience, but against nature ….

Special mention is made of the suffering of their families, “objects of their own terror and other people’s charity”, the “poor weeping wife” responsible for the children, facing eviction whilst the husband drinks up what little money they have left.

Using her charm and guile she takes advantage of their weakness for ‘an agreeable woman’, but such company, and the scandal of being a whore without the joy, disgusts her. It is through another woman that she escapes the Mint; like Moll a widow indebted not through any fault of her own, but by her husband.

Is this an accurate picture of the sanctuaries? Did women seek refuge within them, and if so, under what circumstances? In my next post I’ll look at some data that illuminates the female presence.


From Moll Flanders

Vanity is the perfection of a fop. My husband had this excellence, that he valued nothing of expense; and as his history, you may be sure, has very little weight in it, ’tis enough to tell you that in about two years and a quarter he broke, and was not so happy to get over into the Mint, but got into a sponging-house, being arrested in an action too heavy from him to give bail to, so he sent for me to come to him.

It was no surprise to me, for I had foreseen some time that all was going to wreck, and had been taking care to reserve something if I could, though it was not much, for myself. But when he sent for me, he behaved much better than I expected, and told me plainly he had played the fool, and suffered himself to be surprised, which he might have prevented; that now he foresaw he could not stand it, and therefore he would have me go home, and in the night take away everything I had in the house of any value, and secure it; and after that, he told me that if I could get away one hundred or two hundred pounds in goods out of the shop, I should do it; ‘only,’ says he, ‘let me know nothing of it, neither what you take nor whither you carry it; for as for me,’ says he, ‘I am resolved to get out of this house and be gone; and if you never hear of me more, my dear,’ says he, ‘I wish you well; I am only sorry for the injury I have done you.’ He said some very handsome things to me indeed at parting; for I told you he was a gentleman, and that was all the benefit I had of his being so; that he used me very handsomely and with good manners upon all occasions, even to the last, only spent all I had, and left me to rob the creditors for something to subsist on.

However, I did as he bade me, that you may be sure; and having thus taken my leave of him, I never saw him more, for he found means to break out of the bailiff’s house that night or the next, and go over into France, and for the rest of the creditors scrambled for it as well as they could. How, I knew not, for I could come at no knowledge of anything, more than this, that he came home about three o’clock in the morning, caused the rest of his goods to be removed into the Mint, and the shop to be shut up; and having raised what money he could get together, he got over, as I said, to France, from whence I had one or two letters from him, and no more. I did not see him when he came home, for he having given me such instructions as above, and I having made the best of my time, I had no more business back again at the house, not knowing but I might have been stopped there by the creditors; for a commission of bankrupt being soon after issued, they might have stopped me by orders from the commissioners. But my husband, having so dexterously got out of the bailiff’s house by letting himself down in a most desperate manner from almost the top of the house to the top of another building, and leaping from thence, which was almost two storeys, and which was enough indeed to have broken his neck, he came home and got away his goods before the creditors could come to seize; that is to say, before they could get out the commission, and be ready to send their officers to take possession.

My husband was so civil to me, for still I say he was much of a gentleman, that in the first letter he wrote me from France, he let me know where he had pawned twenty pieces of fine holland for £30, which were really worth £90, and enclosed me the token and an order for the taking them up, paying the money, which I did, and made in time above £100 of them, having leisure to cut them and sell them, some and some, to private families, as opportunity offered.

However, with all this, and all that I had secured before, I found, upon casting things up, my case was very much altered, any my fortune much lessened; for, including the hollands and a parcel of fine muslins, which I carried off before, and some plate, and other things,
I found I could hardly muster up £500; and my condition was very odd, for though I had no child (I had had one by my gentleman draper, but it was buried), yet I was a widow bewitched; I had a husband and no husband, and I could not pretend to marry again, though I knew well enough my husband would never see England any more, if he lived fifty years. Thus, I say, I was limited from marriage, what offer might soever be made me; and I had not one friend to advise with in the condition I was in, least not one I durst trust the secret of my circumstances to, for if the commissioners were to have been informed where I was, I should have been fetched up and examined upon oath, and all I have saved be taken away from me.

Upon these apprehensions, the first thing I did was to go quite out of my knowledge, and go by another name.  This I did effectually, for I went into the Mint too, took lodgings in a very private place, dressed up in the habit of a widow, and called myself Mrs. Flanders.

Here, however, I concealed myself, and though my new acquaintances knew nothing of me, yet I soon got a great deal of company about me; and whether it be that women are scarce among the sorts of people that generally are to be found there, or that some consolations in the miseries of the place are more requisite than on other occasions, I soon found an agreeable woman was exceedingly valuable among the sons of affliction there, and that those that wanted money to pay half a crown on the pound to their creditors, and that run in debt at the sign of the Bull for their dinners, would yet find money for a supper, if they liked the woman.

However, I kept myself safe yet, though I began, like my Lord Rochester’s mistress, that loved his company, but would not admit him farther, to have the scandal of a whore, without the joy; and upon this score, tired with the place, and indeed with the company too, I began to think of removing.

It was indeed a subject of strange reflection to me to see men who were overwhelmed in perplexed circumstances, who were reduced some degrees below being ruined, whose families were objects of their own terror and other people’s charity, yet while a penny lasted, nay, even beyond it, endeavouring to drown themselves, labouring to forget former things, which now it was the proper time to remember, making more work for repentance, and sinning on, as a remedy for sin past.

But it is none of my talent to preach; these men were too wicked, even for me. There was something horrid and absurd in their way of sinning, for it was all a force even upon themselves; they did not only act against conscience, but against nature; they put a rape upon their temper to drown the reflections, which their circumstances continually gave them; and nothing was more easy than to see how sighs would interrupt their songs, and paleness and anguish sit upon their brows, in spite of the forced smiles they put on; nay, sometimes it would break out at their very mouths when they had parted with their money for a lewd treat or a wicked embrace.  I have heard them, turning about, fetch a deep sigh, and cry, ‘What a dog am I!  Well, Betty, my dear, I’ll drink thy health, though’; meaning the honest wife, that perhaps had not a half-crown for herself and three or four children. The next morning they are at their penitentials again; and perhaps the
poor weeping wife comes over to him, either brings him some account of what his creditors are doing, and how she and the children are turned out of doors, or some other dreadful news; and this adds to his self-reproaches; but when he has thought and pored on it till he is almost mad, having no principles to support him, nothing within him or above him to comfort him, but finding it all darkness on every side, he flies to the same relief again, viz. to drink it away, debauch it away, and falling into company of men in just the same condition with himself, he repeats the crime, and thus he goes every day one step onward of his way to destruction.

I was not wicked enough for such fellows as these yet. On the contrary, I began to consider here very seriously what I had to do; how things stood with me, and what course I ought to take. I knew I had no friends, no, not one friend or relation in the world; and that little I had left apparently wasted, which when it was gone, I saw nothing but misery and starving was before me.  Upon these considerations, I say, and filled with horror at the place I was in, and the dreadful objects which I had always before me, I resolved to be gone.

I had made an acquaintance with a very sober, good sort of a woman, who was a widow too, like me, but in better circumstances.  Her husband had been a captain of a merchant ship, and having had the misfortune to be cast away coming home on a voyage from the West Indies, which would have been very profitable if he had come safe, was so reduced by the loss, that though he had saved his life then, it broke his heart, and killed him afterwards; and his widow, being pursued by the creditors, was forced to take shelter in the Mint.  She soon made things up with the help of friends, and was at liberty again; and finding that I rather was there to be concealed, than by any particular prosecutions and finding also that I agreed with her, or rather she with me, in a just abhorrence of the place and of the company, she invited to go home with her till I could put myself in some posture of settling in the world to my mind; withal telling me, that it was ten to one but some good captain of a ship might take a fancy to me, and court me, in that part of the town where she lived.

Text taken from Gutenberg

The Minters petition Parliament

So far, most of the texts I have found concerning the debtor sanctuaries of London have been written by their opponents: laws and indictments, and also the last dying words transmitted via the Ordinary of Newgate. There has also been some street literature and popular and historical accounts, written by third parties. So far, the only item that can be said to have come directly from a debtor and a minter is the pamphlet by Thomas Baston.

Here I present a petition sent from Southwark Mint to Parliament, debated on February 11 1723 (new style), as recorded in the eighth volume of Cobbett’s Parliamentary History of England. Presented as coming from “several thousands of his Majesty’s subjects” – but without transcribing the names – this can be considered as a sort of collective voice, probably dictated by a handful of people but echoed by many. (I don’t know if the original still exists, with the names intact. Nothing has turned up through searching the archives’ catalogues; my guess is that it was consumed in the Burning of Parliament in 1834.)

But it is not an unproblematic, unmediated or ‘authentic’ voice. As a petition it conforms to the standard language of the genre: respectful, pleading, supplicating. Protest is not the tone of this text: it is begging the authorities to intercede for them. The Minters describe themselves as “poor unfortunate gentlemen, merchants, and tradesmen, &c”, respectable and miserable rather than criminal, dissolute or lazy. Their ills are blamed upon “the late calamitous times” and the contractual severity of their creditors; their rents  are “thrice the real value”, and their homes are overcrowded gaols; they have no possibility of paying their debts due to the depredations of their landlords. In short, their situation is due to no fault of their own, and they beg Parliament grant them a remedy.

But there is an undercurrent of antagonism here. There is a reference to industry fleeing abroad, “to the improving of their manufactures abroad, and impoverishing our own, which is the life and treasure of this nation.” Perhaps this is just patriotic rhetoric; it certainly posits a threat to national wealth. The landlords of the Mint are singled out as a cause for distress, charging high rents and seizing the goods of their tenants, suggesting conflict within the sanctuary. (How debtors could pay rent, and what resources they took with them into the Mint is a central question, to which I shall return.) Finally, in obliquely referring to earlier debtor legislation – I think, to the Bankrupts Act of 1720 – the law is censured as being too narrow and too expensive.

Cobbett also records the debate on the Southwark Mint act, a few months after this petition, in which he reproduces two anonymous letters. Those are far more assertive in their language, yet also have some similarities with this petition. They’ll be the subject of my next post.

Note that although the petition was rejected, the final law was far less draconian than either the 1697 act or the act the following year against Wapping Mint. An amnesty was offered and debts were written off; much more than the “limitation of time for the payment of their just debts” asked for here.


A Petition of the Minters rejected
Feb 11 [1722 old style; 1723 new style]
A Petition of several thousands of his Majesty’s subjects under Insolvency in Suffolk-place, in the borough of Southwark, was presented to the House, and read; setting forth,

“That the Petitioners, who, by great losses sustained in merchandize, trade, and unavoidable misfortunes which fell upon us, through decay of trade, by the late calamitous times; by which we are rendered uncapable to make payment according to our dealings; having offered, according to our powers, divers sums in part; praying time for payment for the rest; yet, by refusal and severity of some of our creditors, we are deprived, and cast out of, the world, without any law to help, having nothing left but a natural right to the liberty of our persons, and are even deprived of that: by which severity our effects are wasted, and we rendered insufficient to pay our whole debts, according to our former proposals; as also to defray the great expences of a statute of bankruptcy; and, many thousands of us not coming within the description of the statute, &c. others of us have submitted to a statute, finished our examination, and delivered up our all, upon oath several years since: and our distresses having forced us either to make our houses our gaols, or defraud our creditors by carrying away our effects, with our arts and sciences, into foreign countries, to the improving of their manufactures abroad, and impoverishing our own, which is the life and treasure of this nation; and are drove to take refuge in Suffolk-place, Southwark, commonly called the Mint, a place of great poverty and want; and, though not prisoners in the King’s-bench, are, by being debarred of our liberty, as if we were actually confined; and the vast numbers crouding in houses, &c. hath advanced the rents to thrice the real value; and the landlords are daily distraining upon the goods of poor unfortunate gentlemen, merchants, and tradesmen, &c. And praying, That the House will grant the petitioners such a limitation of time for the payment of their just debts, in proportion to their extreme poverty.”

And a motion being made, and the question being put, That the Petition be referred to a Committee; it passed in the negative. Resolved, That the Petition be rejected.

Source: Cobbett’s Parliamentary History of England, volume 8, col. 88. Google books. Oxford digital library.

The Black Act

Following on from my previous post, I present the text of the infamous ‘Black Act’ of 1723. This draconian statute was ostensibly in response to the ’emergency’ created by organized poaching in Windsor and Hampshire. It created a host of new capital offences, and even introduced collective financial penalties upon communities where crimes took place. The best work on it that I know of is E.P. Thompson’s Whigs and Hunters (London, 1975).

The reason for publishing it here is that it appears to have been the act by which the Wapping Minter Charles Towers was executed. This is perplexing, as it appears that the relevant clause, the first, against going armed and disguised, is directed at rural poachers. It does list “any high road” amongst the heaths, downs, forests and enclosures, and makes mention of “forcible rescues”, albeit for persons detained “for any of the offences before mentioned” rather than for debt. But this strikes me as a somewhat tenuous reading in the case of Towers.

It is still the more curious in that the third clause of the Act against Southwark Mint, passed at the same time, also criminalized going in disguise, but only within that sanctuary and  without specifying the death sentence. Why two laws for the same offence if the harsher one was applicable throughout the country? (The Act against Wapping Mint didn’t come into force until 1725, so Towers could not have been prosecuted under that.)

Understanding these laws is a difficult exercise, and not only due to the archaic language and legalistic form. The text itself doesn’t describe the process by which it was written, nor its context as an instrument of state, its debate in parliament, its analysis in the courts, or its enforcement ‘on the ground.’ In this case, the seeming disjuncture between the text and the execution of Towers may be due to a political motivation to crush the sanctuary of Wapping Mint, rather than the disinterested workings of justice.


ANNO NONO GEORGII I. C.22. An act for the more effectual punishing wicked and evil-disposed persons going armed in disguise, and doing injuries and violences to the persons and properties of his Majesty’s subjects, and for the more speedy bringing the offenders to justice.

I. WHEREAS several ill-designing and disorderly persons have of late associated themselves under the name of Blacks, and entered into confederacies to support and assist one another in stealing and destroying of deer, robbing of warrens and fish-ponds, cutting down plantations of trees, and other illegal practices, and have, in great numbers, armed with swords, fire-arms, and other offensive weapons, several of them with their faces blacked, or in disguised habits, unlawfully hunted in forests belonging to his Majesty, and in the parks of divers of his Majesty’s subjects, and destroyed, killed and carried away the deer, robbed warrens, rivers and fish-ponds, and cut down plantations of trees; and have likewise solicited several of his Majesty’s subjects, with promises of money, or other rewards, to join with them, and have sent letters in fictitious names, to several persons, demanding venison and money, and threatning some great violence, if such their unlawful demands should be refused, or if they should be interupted in, or prosecuted for such their wicked practises, and have actually done great damage to several persons, who have either refused to comply with such demands, or have endeavoured to bring them to justice, to the great terror of his Majesty’s peaceable subjects:

For the preventing which wicked and unlawful practices, be it enacted by the King’s most excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the lords spiritual and temporal and commons, in parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same. That if any person or persons, from and after the first day of June in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and twenty-three, being armed with swords, fire-arms, or other offensive weapons, and having his or their faces blacked, or being otherwise disguised, shall appear in any forest, chase, park, paddock, or grounds inclosed with any wall, pale, or other fence, wherein any deer have been or shall be usually kept, or in any warren or place where hares or conies have been or shall be usually kept, or in any high road, open heath, common or down, or shall unlawfully and wilfully hunt, wound, kill, destroy, or steal any red or fallow deer, or unlawfully rob any warren or place where conies or hares are usually kept, or shall unlawfully steal or take away any fish out of any river or pond; or if any person or persons, from and after the said first day of June shall unlawfully and wilfully hunt, wound, kill, destroy or steal any red or fallow deer, fed or kept in any places in any of his Majesty’s forests or chases, which are or shall be inclosed with pales, rails, or other fences, or in any park, paddock, or grounds inclosed, where deer have been or shall be usually kept; or shall unlawfully and maliciously break down the head or mound of any fish-pond, whereby the fish shall be lost or destroyed; or shall unlawfully and maliciously kill, maim or wound any cattle, or cut down or otherwise destroy any trees planted in any avenue, or growing in any garden, orchard or plantation, for ornament, shelter or profit; or shall set fire to any house, barn or out-house, or to any hovel, cock, mow, or stack of corn, straw, hay or wood; or shall wilfully and maliciously shoot at any person in any dwelling-house, or other place; or shall knowingly send any letter, without any name, subscribed thereto, or signed with a fictitious name, demanding money, venison, or other valuable thing; or shall forcibly rescue any person being lawfully in custody of any officer or other person, for any of the offences before mentioned; or if any person or persons shall, by gift or promise of money, or other reward, procure any of his Majesty’s subjects to join him or them in any such unlawful act; every person so offending, being thereof lawfully convicted, shall be adjudged guilty of felony, and shall suffer death as in cases of felony, without benefit of clergy.

II. And whereas notwithstanding the laws now in force against the illegal practices above mentioned, and his Majesty’s royal proclamation of the second day of February which was in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and twenty-two, notifying the same, many wicked and evil-disposed persons have, in open defiance thereof, been guilty of several of the offences before mentioned, to the great disturbance of the publick peace, and damage of divers of his Majesty’s good subjects; It is hereby enacted by the authority aforesaid, That all and every person and persons, who since the second day of February in the year of our Lord one thousand seven  hundred and twenty-two, have committed or been guilty of any of the offences aforesaid, who shall not surrender him, her or themselves, before the twenty-fourth day of July in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and twenty-three, to any of the justices of his Majesty’s court of kings bench, or to any one of his Majesty’s justices of the peace, in and for the county where he, she or they did commit such offence or offences, and voluntarily make a full confession thereof to such justice, and a true discovery upon his, her or their oath or oaths, of the persons who were his, her or their accomplices in any of the said offences, by giving a true account of their names, occupations and places of abode, and to the best of his, her or their knowledge or belief, discover where they may be found, in order to be brought to justice, being thereof lawfully convicted, shall be adjudged guilty of felony, and shall suffer death as in cases of felony, without benefit of clergy.

III. Provided nevertheless, That all and every person and persons, who have been guilty of any the offences aforesaid, and shall not be in lawful custody for such offence on the said first day of June and shall surrender him, her or themselves, on or before the said twenty-fourth day of July as aforesaid, and shall make such confession and discovery as aforesaid, shall by virtue of this act be pardoned, acquitted and discharged of and from the offences so by him, her or them confessed as aforesaid; any thing herein contained to the contrary in any wise notwithstanding.

IV. And for the more easy and speedy bringing the offenders against this act to justice, be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That if any person or persons shall be charged with being guilty of any of the offences aforesaid, before any two or more of his Majesty’s justices of the peace of the county where such offence or offences were or shall be committed, by information of one or more credible person or persons upon oath by him or them to be subscribed, such justices before whom such information shall be made as aforesaid, shall forthwith certify under their hands and seals, and return such information to one of the principal secretaries of state of his Majesty, his heirs or successors, who is hereby required to lay the same, as soon as conveniently may be, before his Majesty, his heirs or successors, in his or their privy council; whereupon it shall and may be lawful for his Majesty, his heirs or successors, to make his or their order in his or their said privy council, thereby requiring and commanding such offender or offenders to surrender him or themselves, within the space of forty days, to any of his Majesty’s justices of the court of king’s bench, or to any one of his Majesty’s justices of the peace, to the end that he or they may be forth coming, to answer the offence or offences wherewith he or they shall so stand charged, according to the due course of law; which order shall be printed and published in the next London Gazette, and shall be forthwith transmitted to the sheriff of the county where the offence shall be committed, and shall, within six days after the receipt thereof be proclaimed by him, or his officers, between the hours of ten in the morning, and two in the afternoon, in the market-places upon the respective market-days, of two market-towns in the same county, near the place where such offence shall have been committed; and a true copy of such order shall be affixed upon some publick place in such market-towns; and in case such offender or offenders shall not surrender him or themselves, pursuant to such order of his Majesty, his heirs or successors, to be made in council as aforesaid, he or they so neglecting or refusing to surrender him or themselves as aforesaid, shall from the day appointed for his or their surrender as aforesaid, be adjudged, deemed and taken to be convicted and attainted of felony, and shall suffer the pains of death as in case of a person convicted and attainted by verdict and judgment of felony, without benefit of clergy; and that it shall be lawful to and for the court of king’s bench, or the justices of oyer and terminer, or general gaol-delivery for the county, where the offence is sworn in such information to have been committed, upon producing to them such order in council, under the seal of the said council, to award execution against such offender and offenders, in such manner, as if he or they had been convicted and attainted in the said court of king’s bench, or before such justices of oyer and terminer, or general gaol-delivery respectively.

V. And be it enacted by the authority aforesaid, That all and every person and persons, who shall, after the time appointed as aforesaid, for the surrender of any person or persons, so charged upon oath with any the offences aforesaid, be expired, conceal, aid, abet or succour, such person or persons, knowing him or them to have been so charged as aforesaid, and to have been required to surrender him or themselves, by such order or orders as aforesaid, being lawfully convicted thereof, shall be guilty of felony, and shall suffer death as in cases of felony, without benefit of clergy.

VI. Provided nevertheless, and it is hereby declared and enacted, That nothing herein contained shall be construed to prevent or hinder any judge, justice of the peace, magistrate, officer or minister of justice whatsoever, from taking, apprehending and securing, such offender or offenders, against whom such information shall be given, and for requiring whose surrender such order in council shall be made as aforesaid, by the ordinary course of law; and in case such offender or offenders, against whom such information, and for requiring whose surrender such order in council shall be made as aforesaid, shall be taken and secured in order to be brought to justice, before the time shall be expired, within which he or they shall be required to surrender him or themselves, by such order in council as aforesaid, that then in such case no further proceeding shall be had upon such order made in council against him or them so taken and secured as aforesaid, but he or they shall be brought to trial by due course of law; any thing herein before contained to the contrary in any wise notwithstanding.

VII. And be it enacted by the authority aforesaid, That from and after the first day of June one thousand seven hundred and twenty-three, the inhabitants of every hundred, within that part of the kingdom of Great Britain called England, shall make full satisfaction and amends to all and every the person and persons, their executors and administrators, for the damages they shall have sustained or suffered by the killing or maiming of any cattle, cutting down or destroying any trees, or setting fire to any house, barn or out-house, hovel, cock, mow or stack of corn, straw, hay or wood, which shall be committed or done by any offender or offenders against this act; and that every person and persons, who shall sustain damages by any of the offences last mentioned, shall be and are hereby enabled to sue for and recover such his or their damages, the sum to be recovered not exceeding the sum of two hundred pounds, against the inhabitants of the said hundred, who by this act shall be made liable to answer all or any part thereof; and that if such person or persons shall recover in such action, and sue execution against any of such inhabitants, all other the inhabitants of the hundred, who by this act shall be made liable to all or any part of the said damage, shall be rateably and proportionably taxed, for and towards an equal contribution for the relief of such inhabitant, against whom such execution shall be had and levied; which tax shall be made, levied and raised, by such ways and means, and in such manner and form, as is prescribed and mentioned for the levying and raising damages recovered against inhabitants of hundred in cases of robberies, in and by an act, intituled, An act for the following hue and cry, made in the twenty-seventh year in the reign of Queen Elizabeth.

VIII. Provided nevertheless, That no person or persons shall be enabled to recover any damages by virtue of this act, unless he or they by themselves, or by their servants, within two days after such damage or injury done him or them by any such offender or offenders as aforesaid, shall give notice of such offence done and committed unto some of the inhabitants of some town, village, or hamlet, near unto the place where any such fact shall be committed, and shall within four days after such notice, give in his, her or their examination upon oath, or the examination upon oath of his, her or their servant or servants, that had the care of his or their houses, out-houses, corn, hay, straw or wood, before any justice of the peace of the county, liberty or division, where such fact shall be committed, inhabiting within the said hundred where the said fact shall happen to be committed, or near unto the same, whether he or they do know the person or persons that committed such fact, or any of them; and if upon such examination it be confessed, that he or they do know the person or persons that committed the said fact, or any of them, that then he or they so confessing, shall be bound by recognizance to prosecute such offender or offenders by indictment, or otherwise, according to the laws of this realm.

IX. Provided also, and be it further enacted, by the Authority aforesaid, That where any offence shall be committed against this act, and any one of the said offenders shall be apprehended, and lawfully convicted of such offence,within the space of six months after such offence committed, no hundred, or any inhabitants thereof, shall in any wise be subject or liable to make any satisfaction to the party injured, for the damages he shall have sustained; any thing in this act to the contrary notwithstanding.

X. Provided also, That no person, who shall sustain any damage by reason of any offence to be committed by any offender contrary to this act, shall be thereby enabled to sue, or bring any action against any inhabitants of any hundred, where such offence shall be committed, except the party or parties sustaining such damage, shall commence his or their action or suit within one year after such offence shall be committed.

XI. And for the better and more effectual discovery of the offenders above-mentioned, and bringing them to justice, be it enacted by the authority aforesaid, That it shall and may be lawful to and for any justice of the peace, to issue his warrant to any constable, headborough, or other peace officer, thereby authorizing such constable, head-borough, or other peace-officer, to enter into any house, in order to search for venison stolen or unlawfully taken, contrary to the several statutes against deer-stealers, in such manner, as by the laws of this realm such justice of the peace may issue his warrant to search for stolen goods.

XII. And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That if any person or persons shall apprehend, or cause to be convicted any of the offenders above-mentioned, and shall be killed, or wounded so as to lose an eye or the use of any limb, in apprehending or securing, or endeavouring to apprehend or secure any of the offenders above-mentioned, upon proof thereof made at the general quarter-sessions of the peace for the county, liberty, division or place, where the offence was or shall be committed, or the party killed, or receive such wound, by the person or persons so apprehending, and causing the said offender to be convicted, or the person or persons so wounded, or the executors or administrators of the party killed, the justices of the said sessions shall give a certificate thereof to such person or persons so wounded or to the executors or administrators of the person or persons so killed, by which he or they shall be entitled to receive of the sheriff of the said county the sum of fifty pounds, to be allowed the said sheriff in passing his accounts in the exchequer; which sum of fifty pounds the said sheriff is hereby required to pay within thirty days from the day on which the said certificate shall be produced and shewn to him, under the penalty of forfeiting the sum of ten pounds to the said person or persons to whom such certificate is given, for which said sum of ten pounds, as well as the said sum of fifty pounds, such person may and is hereby authorized to bring an action upon the case against such sheriff, as for money had and received to his or their use.

XIII. And whereas the shortness of the time within which prosecutions for offences against the statute made in the third and fourth years of the reign of their late majesties King William and Queen Mary, intituled, An act for the more effectual discovery and punishment of deer-stealers, are limited to be commenced, has been a great encouragement to offenders; be it therefore enacted by the authority aforesaid, That any prosecution for any offence against the said statute, shall or may be commenced within three years from the time of the offence committed, but not after.

XIV. And for the better and more impartial trial of any indictment or information, which shall be found commenced or prosecuted for any of the offences committed against this act, be it enacted by the authority aforesaid, That every offence that shall be done or committed contrary to this act, shall and may be enquired of, examined, tried and determined in any county within that part of the kingdom of Great Britain called England, in such manner and form, as if the fact had been therein committed; provided, That no attainder for any of the offences made felony by virtue of this act, shall make or work any corruption of blood, loss of dower, or forfeiture of lands or tenements, goods or chattels.

XV. And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That this act shall be openly read at every quarter-sessions, and at every leet or law-day.

XVI. And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That this act shall continue in force from the first day of June one thousand seven hundred and twenty-three, for the space of three years, and from thence to the end of the then next session of parliament, and no longer. [Continued for five Years by 12 Geo I. c. 30.]

XVII. And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That if any venison, or skin of any deer, shall be found in the custody of any person or persons, and it shall appear that such person or persons bought such venison or skin of any one, who might be justly suspected to have unlawfully come by the same, and does not produce the party of whom he bought it, or prove upon oath the name and place of abode of such party, that then the person or persons who bought the same, shall be convicted of such offence, by any one or more justice or justices of the peace, and shall be subject to the penalties inflicted for killing a deer, in and by the statute made in the third and fourth year of the reign of their late majesties King William and Queen Mary, intituled, An act for the more effectual discovery and punishment of deer-stealers.

Transcribed from The Statues at Large, from the Ninth Year of King George the First to the Second Year of King George the Second, ed. D. Pickering, 1765, pp. 88-94. This text is in the public domain and may be reproduced freely.


The Ordinary of Newgate’s account of Charles Towers

I’ve previously published one version of the story of Charles Towers; here is a contemporary telling from the Ordinary of Newgate’s Account. It’s not the complete document; I’ve removed the parts not relating to Towers, meaning those to the William Anderson and the Ordinary’s scriptual quotes. The full text can be found on Old Bailey Proceedings Online.

From this document, we learn more of who Towers was. A butcher, with a wife, two children and a third on the way, gambling is cited as the cause of his fall, although it is said that his circumstances were so poor that he resorted to gaming to rescue himself and his family. He had ‘form’, previously being sentenced to – and reprieved from – transportation for stealing a spoon, a crime he denied. He spent 4 years in the sanctuary of Southwark Mint, and with its end, applied for amnesty under the terms of the 1722  Act against Southwark Mint, his name being listed amongst the petitioners in the London Gazette, no. 6171, 8th June 1723:

Charles Towers listed in the London Gazette, no. 6171

Charles Towers listed in the London Gazette, no. 6171

So with the end of the Southwark Mint, he “was forc’d to harbour in the New Mint, and took an House in Gravel-Lane ; for Prisons were all so full, that Men, as he said, died like rotten Sheep, and he had rather go to the Place whither he was going, than dwell under that Tyranny.”

This account also points at the statute he was executed by:

against the Form of the Statute made and provided, and which was to take effect, after the first of June, in the tenth Year of His Majesty’s Reign.

This is clearly a reference to the notorious ‘Black Act’, 9 Geo 1 c22, “An act for the more effectual punishing wicked and evil-disposed persons going armed in disguise, and doing injuries and violences to the persons and properties of his Majesty’s subjects, and for the more speedy bringing the offenders to justice.” This statute will be the subject of my next post.

THE ORDINARY of NEWGATE his ACCOUNT, Of the Behaviour, Confession, and last Words of Charles Towers, who was Executed at Wapping in the Parish of St. Paul Shadwell, on Monday the 4th of this Instant January: And also of William Anderson, who was Executed at Tyburn on Tuesday the 5th of the aforesaid Month.

AT the KING’S Commission of the Peace, and Oyer and Terminer and Goal-Delivery, &c. Held (before the Right Honourable Sir George Merttins Knt. Lord Mayor , the Right Honourable the Lord Chief Justice King, Mr. Justice Dormer, Mr. Baron Page, Mr. Serjeant Raby, and several of His Majesty’s Justices of the Peace, for the City of London and County of Middlesex) at Justice-Hall in the Old Baily, on Friday, Saturday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, being the 4th, 5th, 7th, 8th and 9th Days of December last, four Men were by the Jury found guilty of Capital Offences, and received Sentence accordingly.

Two of the Persons, so sentenced, having obtained His Majesty’s Reprieve, viz. Rowland Swanson and Thomas Herbert; the remaining two, viz. Charles Towers and William Anderson were appointed for Execution.

Though they at first (especially Charles Towers) were incapacitated as to the performance of their Duty, by the Anger and Resentment their Condition had fill’d them with, ( Charles Towers in particular, at the same time that he acknowledged the rescuing the Prisoner West from the Hands of John Errington, affirming he was no way designedly disguised and that he no way apprehended he had any occasion to disguise himself, any more than had Tims, Bowler, Tibbs, Fencote, or any other upon the same Enterprize)

Yet they afterwards became sensible of the Folly of their Resentment; and as the Friends and Relations of Towers refused to give him any Hopes of a Reprieve, or Expectations of Life, he changed his Passion into Grief and Sorrow, that he had lost, by his neglect, the Use of Letters and Reading. As Rowland Swanson of the Four was alone able to Read, he very industriously assisted his Fellow Prisoners, and call’d upon them to listen to the Scriptures early each Morning, and before they went to Rest at Night. They were all very frequent and regular in their Devotions, when alone by themselves, as well as constant attendants at the Chapel; and ’twas thought apparent they never had any Designs of making an escape from Justice, and the execution of the Sentence that was pass’d upon ’em.

[ …. ]

The Account of these Persons under Sentence of Death.

CHARLES TOWERS, sometime Inhabitant near St. James’s Market, Butcher , was Indicted, for feloniously appearing, with several others, arm’d with Guns, Swords, Staves, or other offensive Weapons, and having his Face Black’d, or being otherwise disguised, on the Highway called Wapping Wall; on the 21st of June last; to the Terror of His Majesty’s Subjects, against the Peace of our Sovereign Lord the King, and against the Form of the Statute made and provided, and which was to take effect, after the first of June, in the tenth Year of His Majesty’s Reign. Upon the Indictment he was Tryed, and it appearing that on Sunday Morning at eleven of the Clock, June the 20th, C. Towers, with seven others, rush’d into the House of John Errington, (with a large Stick, like a Quarter-Staff in his Hand, his Hair clipt off, without Hat, Wig, or Shirt, only with a blue pea-Jacket, which flying open before, show’d his Breast, as well as his Face, Black, and besmear’d as with Soot and Grease;) whence they rescued J. West, affirming that they were sworn thereto, for his Name was set down in their Book kept at the seven Cities of Refuge; and offering (as the Prisoner was with loud Acclamations carrying off) to strike D. Taylor, Waterman, and G. Errington, Brother to the King’s Evidence; And the Prisoner’s allegations, that he never was in any Riot, but only defending himself against the Baylffs, &c. not being thought of any force, he was by the Jury found guilty of Felony without Benefit of Clergy.

As this unfortunate Person, after his Apprenticeship, marry’d young, before he was possest of a Competency, and Children and the Charges of a Family encreas’d upon him, he then judged that Gaming was a proper Method to retrieve himself and support his Family; but by Cards he lost that little he was then possest of. His Circumstances being desperate, he engag’d for a Friend, in a very large Sum of Money; which soon oblig’d him to fly into the Old Mint. When most distrest, he said, he refused all Solicitations to Rob or Thieve: Denying that he ever was guilty of any notorious Offence, except one, which was unfaithfulness to his Wife’s Bed; for which, he added, he must acknowledge he deserved Death, tho’ Adultery is so seldom punish’d in this Kingdom. As for the robbing Mr. Huggins of a silver Spoon, of the taking whereof he was convicted, some time ago, and ordered for Transportation, he denyed his seeing any such Spoon. And as for the picking the Pocket of Mr. Westwood, an Officer, and taking 3 s. with which Fact he was lately charg’d, he said he believed the Money might fall out of the Officer’s Pocket, as they Ditch’d him in a sad and shameful manner, but that he never saw any Silver or Copper. He farther said that their way was, as he must then acknowledge, very cruel and unbecoming Christians, for, during his Time, twelve or more were sentenc’d to be Whip’d, by a Judge, who was chosen from among them, for the Day, and sat in State: He added, that during his Confinement, some Persons had abused and insulted him, who were Friends to Mr. Jones, Bailiff; but he protested he was not Judge when Jones was sentenc’d, but one who was formerly an Officer in the Army: Nor had he ever any Designs against Sir Isaac Tilliard, or his House. He dwelt four Years in the Old Mint; but owing to one Man 70 l. was forc’d to harbour in the New Mint, and took an House in Gravel-Lane ; for Prisons were all so full, that Men, as he said, died like rotten Sheep, and he had rather go to the Place whither he was going, than dwell under that Tyranny.

He acknowledged the Fury and Violence he had used against innocent Men; and observed how contrary it was to Christian Levity and Mildness; we may suppose, that originally he was perswaded to it, as being strong and nimble; and afterwards had all Encouragement and Commendation; which Incitements coincided with the natural Warmth and Vivacity of his Temper. He confest he had been by much too Enterprizing and Rash; but at the same Time added, he thought the Officers were before his Misfortunes fully reveng’d of the Minters; for, among others, a Carpenter’s right Arm was so Hack’d and Chop’d, that the Surgeon was forced to take it off; as for himself, he show’d how dangerously his Head was Cut, even six Weeks ago, the large Scars whereof appear’d.

He denyed that he was ever in Disguise with design to do Mischief; but he said they had Mock-Masquerades, and particularly one in Meeting-House Alley, Wapping, where Men and Women met, under the Number of Twenty, and he in particular was in a Miller’s Habit and his Face cover’d over with White. He directed his Wife to offer this to the Consideration of his Majesty, in a Petition; and also to insert her having two Children, besides one in her Body, which must come to Misery if the Father was taken from ’em; which Petition she delivered at the Council-Chamber Door.

He was happy in having his Health continued entire, from the first Beginning of his Misfortunes; and in having R. Swanson, with him, who was able and ready to Read the Scriptures. When R. Swanson, had been Sick, in the Night, and could not Read and Pray at One of the Clock in the Morning, as was their constant Practice; Towers, the next Day, much condoled the Misfortune, saying he wished he was wealthy enough to employ and reward some Person who should sit up each Night and awaken them to Prayers as soon as Midnight was pass’d. The Day before his Death, he seem’d more chearful than before, saying, This was decreed for me, and I am easy and contented under it; and how should I be otherwise, for I am going from a Life of Trouble and Noise and Confusion, to a World of Quiet.

[ …. ]

The Behaviour, &c. of C. Towers at the Place of Execution.

THIS Prisoner, (who was carryed in a Cart, to the Gallows erected by Wapping, through a very great Concourse of People, many of whom with Tears lamented his Condition) appear’d with uncommon Intrepidity; and tho’ the Evening before, he wept very much when he took leave of his Wife and one of his Children, the immediate prospect of his own Suffering no way shock’d him; but in a very loud and exclaiming Voice he asserted his Innocence to the Spectators, after the Conclusion of the Prayers, &c. and to make all who were there believe, that he was not disguised when he rescued Mr. West, unless the dirty Condition he was commonly in, could be so term’d. That Capt. Buckland, sentenc’d Mr. Jones, the Bailiff, when he was used in so cruel and unchristian a manner that he Swooned, &c. That the others who were apprehended in the new Mint, and confin’d on the same Account, were not Guilty of going Arm’d in Disguise, or of any thing else that could nearly affect them; and named Mr. Saintloe, in particular. That he did not rob Mr. Henry Brooksbank, of any Brandy, Tobacco, or Pipes, as he had been charg’d, though the House was threatn’d and design’d against. To this he added, that lest his Words should be mistaken, he had most of the substance of ’em down in Writing; and pull’d out a Paper, written by an Acquaintance, for he could not write himself. He afterwards said, If the Sheriff or the High Constable must of necessity have the Paper, pray at least grant that it may be now read before all these People, for ’tis not against any Court: The Paper was according to his Desire read before the People; but it did not contain any Discovery, or any Confession of the Disguise, or the like, but was to the following Purport or Effect: That as he was in other matters a great Sinner (and had for other things deserved Death, he underwent the Punishment with Patience; and humbly hoped that Almighty God would be merciful to him for the sake of Jesus Christ, in whom he trusted; that he did not know of any Disguise he was in; that he did never commit Theft or Robbery; did not steal a Silver Spoon, or any Money; did not rob any Bailiff, &c. that he was forced and obliged to take Sanctuary in the Place call’d the Mint, in order to avoid his Creditors, because his Debts were so large that it was not possible for him ever to pay them. This was the Substance, but ’twas branch’d into many Words and Sentences. He also inveigh’d against the Bailiffs; but declared that he died in Charity with all Mankind. After the Paper was read, he return’d to his usual Composure and again grew calm. As the Cart began to move forward, he with the loudest Cries and Exclamations cry’d out to God to receive his Soul, till his Breath was stopt, wringing his Hands in a passionate manner; after which, the strength of his Constitution appear’d in the extream and surprizing Difficulty with which he died.

[ …. ]

This is the Account that is given by me, T. PURNEY Ordinary and Chaplain.

N. B. A Paper was given by Towers at the Place of Execution to one Hinton, but was commanded out of his Hands by the High-Constable, and deliver’d accordingly; it was yesterday offered to Mr. Applebee; but as it was read to the Spectators, and the Contents already mentioned in the above Account of the Behaviour, &c. the Paper sign’d by Towers we shall not publish; People may therefore judge whether the Paper printed by Hinton, and published by Warner, is not an Imposition on the Town, altho’ witness’d by the two condemn’d Men: As to what Hinton publish’d, as follows, Towers publickly declar’d he would not deliver any Paper to the Ordinary or Mr. Applebee, &c. ’tis a direct Falsity, for Towers never mention’d either of them to the Publick.

LONDON: Printed by JOHN APPLEBEE, below Bridewell-Bridge, in Black-Fryers.

Old Bailey Proceedings (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 6.0, 17 April 2011), Ordinary of Newgate’s Account, 4 January 1725 (OA17250104).