Place    From 1329  To 1849

Marshalsea Prison

Categories: Law

Originally built to hold prisoners being tried by the Marshalsea Court and the Court of the King's Bench. Its first site, from at least 1329 was on Borough High Street on the block now bordered by Newcomen Street and Mermaid Court. The Marshalsea only became exclusively a debtors' prison in the mid 17th century. Never a model of cleanliness and godliness it was condemned in about 1800 and a new building was constructed on the site of the White Lion Prison (also called the Borough Jail or County Prison), at Angel Place where it was, for a time at least, alongside the King's Bench Prison. British History has the best map we have found showing the locations. The amount of land used by the second Marshalsea varied but at one time it was on either side of the alley. The two sides were very different, known as master-side and common-side, one was relatively clean and agreeable, the other was filthy and inhumane.

On this second site it served its function from 1811 until 1842 when the prisoners were transferred to the new Queen's Prison (a few streets away to the south-west) or, if considered mad, to Bedlam. Most of the buildings were demolished in 1849. In 1824 Charles Dickens' father was, for 12 weeks, one of the debtors imprisoned here. Consequently Marshalsea figures prominently in the Dickens novel Little Dorrit. Dickens remembered "In every respect indeed but elbow room the whole family lived more comfortably in prison than they had done for a long time out of it." Ian Visits has a good post about the Marshalsea.

This area of London certainly attracted prisons, presumably for the same reason that it, at one time, attracted theatres, bearpits and whorehouses - its "Goldilocks" proximity to the City, and it being outside the jurisdiction of both the Cities of London and Westminster.

This section lists the memorials where the subject on this page is commemorated:
Marshalsea Prison

Commemorated ati

Marshalsea 1 - stone - round

Quoted from Chapter 3 of Little Dorrit.

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Marshalsea 2 - steel

The plaque refers to 'wall mounted artworks' but we did not see any on our vi...

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Marshalsea 3 - stone - Little Dorrit

The heroine of Dickens' novel Little Dorrit was one resident who was not a pr...

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Marshalsea 4 - stone - spiral

Quoted from Charles Dickens' preface to Little Dorrit.

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Marshalsea 5 - stone - at gates

This is our first push-me-pull-you plaque. It is in Angel Alley at the gates...

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Show all 6

Other Subjects

Police Station, Upper Street, Islington

Police Station, Upper Street, Islington

Police Station at 277 Upper Street, Islington, N1.The picture source website also has a photograph of this very lamp being fixed to the Upper Street building in 1938.

Place, Armed Forces, Law

1 memorial
Sir John Fielding

Sir John Fielding

Magistrate. Probably born in Blenheim Street, St James's. Lived in Bow Street. Blinded aged 19 in a navy accident. 14 years younger than his half-brother Henry Fielding, he followed in his footstep...

Person, Law

1 memorial
Sir Robert William Dibdin, JP, FRGS

Sir Robert William Dibdin, JP, FRGS

Robert William Dibdin was born on 15 June 1848 in Bloomsbury, the second of the six children of the Reverend Robert William Dibdin (1805-1887) and Caroline Dibdin née Thompson (1812-1897). His pate...

Person, Law, Liveries & Guilds, Politics & Administration

1 memorial
John Compton Lawrance, QC, MP

John Compton Lawrance, QC, MP

High Court Judge. Came from Lincolnshire. From Plymounth Law Review we learn: "John Lawrance was Conservative MP for South Lincolnshire for ten years, from 1880 to 1890, until his appointment as ...

Person, Law, Politics & Administration

1 memorial
T. V. and Anthony Edwards

T. V. and Anthony Edwards

Anthony is a senior partner of the law firm T. V. Edwards which was established by his uncle, T. V., in 1929.  Their offices at 33 Mile End Road had a large blank wall.  Anthony commissioned the mu...

Group, Benefactor, Law

1 memorial