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    Pain and degradation in Georgian London: life in the Marshalsea prison

    White, Jerry (2009) Pain and degradation in Georgian London: life in the Marshalsea prison. History Workshop Journal 68 (1), pp. 69-98. ISSN 1363-3554.

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    The Marshalsea Prison in Southwark was London’s most important prison for poor debtors in the eighteenth century. In 1729 it came under parliamentary scrutiny by James Oglethorpe’s Gaols Committee which revealed a scandalous abuse of power involving the deliberate starvation of prisoners, torture, even murder. The prison’s deputy keeper, William Acton, stood trial on four charges of murder but was acquitted on each; there seems to have been political manipulation at the highest level to ensure that no charge was proven against Acton or any of the other gaolers prosecuted as a result of the Gaols Committee’s endeavours. We are afforded an intimate glimpse of life in Acton’s Marshalsea through the diary of John Baptist Grano, a musician imprisoned there for debt at the time of Oglethorpe’s inquiry. Grano shows us the reality of two prisons subsisting in one establishment: the ‘master’s side’ for those who could pay Acton for their keep and the dreadful ‘common side’ where prisoners were deprived of all charitable assistance until they were helped by their friends or until they starved to death. In an era of increasing gentility and politeness, the Marshalsea reminds us of the structures of injustice, oppression and rapacious profiteering that underpinned daily life in the eighteenth-century metropolis.


    Item Type: Article
    School: Birkbeck Faculties and Schools > Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > School of Historical Studies
    Depositing User: Administrator
    Date Deposited: 12 Nov 2010 08:48
    Last Modified: 02 Aug 2023 16:53


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