The Marshalsea

... housed a variety of prisoners, including those accused of crimes at sea and political figures charged with sedition; but it was best known for its incarceration of the poorest of London's debtors. It features in Dickens's Little Dorrit, in which the title character and her two siblings have grown up there, their father being imprisoned there – although the children are free to come and go as they please.

Dickens based his account of the Marshalsea on his own experiences; his father, John Dickens, spent three months in it in 1824 for a debt of £40 10s (the equivalent of about £3,200 in 2017) which he owed to a baker. Charles, who was 12 years old at the time, was sent to lodgings and had to work to earn his keep; but his mother and her three youngest children went to live with John Dickens in the Marshalsea.

The prison was closed by Act of Parliament in 1842. Imprisonment for debt was finally outlawed in England in 1869, except in cases of fraud or refusal to pay.

© Haydn Thompson 2017