The Garden Guide

Book: London and Its Environs, 1927
Chapter: 35 Southwark

Marshalsea and King's Bench Prisons

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On the other side of the High St., opposite Union St. and between Newcomen St. and Mermaid Court, stood the famous old prison of the Marshalsea. First mentioned in 1377, it derived its title from having been under the jurisdiction of the King's Marshal, and it was originally used as a prison for the Royal Household, i.e. for the district within a radius of 12 miles from the Palace. Both the Marshalsea and the King's Bench were destroyed by the Kentish rebels under Wat Tyler in 1381. In Elizabeth's time the Marshalsea was used for political offenders, but later it became mainly a debtors' prison. Among famous prisoners were Bishop Bonner, who died here in 1569 after a stay of ten years; Christopher Brooke (1609) and George Wither (1615), poets; and Sir John Eliot, vice-admiral of Devon (1629). Smollett's 'Roderick Random' was imprisoned here for debt. After 1849 it was disused as a prison, and it became the haunt of vagabonds. Dickens's 'Little Dorrit,' the 'child of the Marshalsea,' was born and brought up here. The buildings were finally demolished in 1887. Adjoining the Marshalsea on the south, just before we reach Angel Place, stood the King's Bench, the prison to which Judge Gascoigne is said to have committed Prince Henry (afterwards Henry V.). In 1755-58 it was removed to Queen's Buildings, at the junction of Newington Causeway and Borough Road. Among the well-known men detained here were John Bradford, the martyr (1554); John Penry, a supposed author of the Marprelate Tracts (1593); Richard Baiter, the divine (1684-86); Edward Cocker, the arithmetician (died 1675; 'according to Cocker'); John Rushworth (1612 ?-1690), of the 'Historical Collections'; Theodore, King of Corsica (1752-53); Smollett (for libel; 1759); John Wilkes, the demagogue (1768-70), who while he was here was expelled four times from the Commons and as often re-elected; Admiral Cochrane, later Earl of Dundonald (1814); William Combe, author of 'Dr. Syntax's Three Tours' (for over 40 years); George Morland and Haydon, painters (1799-1802; 1825-26); and William Hone, author of the 'Every Day Book,' which was finished here (1826). In later days this also was a famous debtors' prison. The debtors were often allowed to live in lodgings near by, 'within the rules of King's Bench' (comp. Dickens's 'Nicholas Nickleby'). The prison was partially burned in the Gordon Riots (1780; see Dickens's 'Barnaby Rudge'), disused in 1860, when imprisonment for debt was abolished, and finally pulled down in 1869. We notice several old 17th century houses (e.g. Nos. 146-154). Another prison, the White Lion, stood near St. George's Church; it was used more especially for nonconformists and was pulled down at the end of the 18th century. Finally, in Union Road, which diverges to the left from the Borough High St. still farther south, was Horsemonger Lane Gaol, closed in 1877, where Leigh Hunt was confined for two years for libelling the Prince Regent 'as a fat Adonis of 50' in the 'Examiner' (1812). The scenes witnessed here by Dickens at the execution of the Mannings (1849) led him to advocate the abolition of public hanging. The site is now occupied by the London Sessions House (1921). St. George's Church, first mentioned in 1122, was rebuilt in 1734-36 by John Price. Many of the prisoners from the neighbouring prisons were buried here, including Bishop Bonner (1569), Rushworth, and Edward Cocker (1675). Nahum Tate (1652-1715), of Tate and Brady's metrical version of the Psalms, lies in the churchyard. General Monk, Duke of Albemarle, was married in this church to Anne Clarges in 1653. Here, too, Dickens's 'Little Dorrit' was christened, slept in the vestry with the burials register for a pillow, and was married. Marshalsea Road, running west from the church, leads to Mint St., in which is St. George's Workhouse (closed in 1920), usually accepted as the original of the workhouse in which Oliver Twist asked for more (which, however, was not in London). The workhouse copper is preserved in the Cuming Museum.