Porous Walls of 18th-Century London Prisons

face of a prisoner

Wives and children of men imprisoned for debt made up about two-thirds of the population of the Fleet and the King’s Bench Prisons in late-eighteenth-century London.^ These two prisons, and at least three others, also allowed prisoners to live outside prison in an encompassing area known as the rules or bounds of the prison-liberty. Examples of such bounds include parts of two or three street, a half-mile around the prison, and the borough containing the prison. Early in 1776, about 20% of “prisoners” of the Fleet and the King’s Bench were living in the rules outside those prisons. That remained true about 1810.

Felons held in Newgate in London could receive daily visits. Newgate also permitted prisoners to receive visits from prostitutes.^

The practice in 18th century London prisons was not geographically or temporally peculiar. In a jail in Chester (England) about 1604, a woman convicted of murder and awaiting execution received up to three hundred visitors a day.^

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