Historian to give talk on Dickensian prison at Bromley Library

PUBLISHED: 16:58 07 October 2013 | UPDATED: 16:58 07 October 2013

William Hogarth's Southwark Fair shows the scenes around Marshalsea Prison, in Southwark.

William Hogarth's Southwark Fair shows the scenes around Marshalsea Prison, in Southwark.


For 500 years until 1842, Southwark was the home of the Marshalsea Prison, one of London’s three major debtors prisons.

Between 1811 and 1842, it stood on a site north of St George’s churchyard, and it was there that John Dickens, father of author Charles, was admitted on February 24, 1824.

The Marshalsea was very unlike today’s prisons, and its bygone world was one that we can call truly Dickensian.

The head of that world was the Knight Marshal of the Royal Household.

Debtors were sent to the Marshalsea from the Palace Court, which stood from 1812 in Great Scotland Yard, off Whitehall, and had its own advocates.

The prison was run by the under marshal and a group of turnkeys. The prisoners called their home a “college” and ran the Society of Collegians.

This charged a fee upon admission and provided coals and a daily newspaper for the common room.

The prison gave each new inmate a “chum ticket”, which offered a place in a shared room, but many prisoners “chummed out” or paid for separate rooms.

The prison had a chapel and a tap or pub. Release came through the Insolvent Debtors’ Court in Chancery Lane.

Historian Stephen Humphrey will be giving an illustrated talk on the prison on Monday, October 21 at 2.30pm in The Large Hall at Bromley Central Library.

Tickets are £3.50 and are available from Bromley Local Studies Library. Telephone 020 8461 7170.

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