The Prisons of Southwark, Bradshaw’s Hand Book to London, (No.88)

Prisons in Southwark, 1804, (Mapco)
Prisons in Southwark, 1804, (Mapco)

Bradshaw says ‘..On the left, reached either through Trinity Square or by the Lane itself, is Horsemonger Lane Jail, the place of imprisonment and execution for the county of Surrey..’. The jail was built between 1791-99 next to Sessions House, now the Inner London Crown Court. In 1859 it was renamed the Surrey County Jail. Prisoners were executed on the flat roof of the jail, 135 in total, before it was closed in 1878 and demolished two years later. Today the site is Newington Gardens and Horsemonger Lane is Harper Road.

Horsemonger Lane Jail (
Horsemonger Lane Jail (

The most infamous hanging was that of Maria and Frederick Manningattended by a large crowd of ‘..atrocious bearing, looks and language..’, according to Dickens who wrote to The Times on the matter. The official executioner for London and Middlesex was William Calcraft and he used the traditional ‘short drop’ method which resulted in death by strangulation – the thought is completely appalling.

Newington  Gardens
Newington Gardens
Inner London Crown Court
Inner London Crown Court
Inner London Crown Court
Inner London Crown Court

The first King’s Bench Prison was located roughly where Borough Underground Station is now. The second King’s Bench Prison was completed in 1758 on a new site in St George’s Fields. In the 1840s the prison was amalgamated with the Fleet and the Marshalsea Prisons and renamed The Queen’s Bench, remaining mainly a prison for debtors. Bradshaw says ‘ the corner of the Borough Road is the Queen’s Bench Prison, the sombre walls of which, fifty feet high, with the chevaux de frize at the top, look grimly down upon the busy thoroughfare beneath..’. The Queen’s Bench Prison closed in 1862 and became a military prison, and the buildings were demolished in 1880.

King's Bench Prison, 1808-11, by Pugin & Rowlandson (Wikipedia)
King’s Bench Prison, 1808-11, by Pugin & Rowlandson (Wikipedia)
King's Bench Prison, 1830 (
The entrance to The King’s Bench Prison, 1830 (
The site of the King's Bench Prison today
The site of the King’s Bench Prison today

The Fleet Prison was on the corner of Ludgate Hill and Fleet Street, in the City, and on the banks of the Fleet River. The earliest record of the prison dates to 1170-71 and for the first 400 years it was managed by the Leveland (or Leaveland) family of Kent. The prison was rebuilt several times, closed in 1842, and the buildings finally demolished in 1846. It was by all accounts an appalling place.

The last remains of the Fleet Prison (

Until the early 19C all prisons were privately owned and run for profit. The Marshalsea was originally a Court and the prison was built to hold the persons to be brought before the Court. The court and prison originated in Mediaeval times and belonged to the Royal Household. The first Marshalsea Prison (1373-1811) was located between King Street (roughly Newcomen Street) and Mermaid Court. The prison was divided into two: the Masters and the Common sides, with very different living conditions. On one side life was restricted, but probably not very different from the ‘outside’; on the other you might be tortured, die of disease, or starve to death.

First Marshalsea Prison, Southwark, 1773 (Wikipedia)
First Marshalsea Prison, Southwark, 1773 (Wikipedia)
Marshalsea Prison, 18C; Interior of the Palace Court (
The courtyard of the first Marshalsea Prison, 18C; Interior of the Palace Court (
The site of the Marshalsea Prisons
The site of the Marshalsea Prisons

The second Marshalsea Prison (1811-42) was situated between Angel Place and Angel Court, opposite Little Dorrit Court and is one of the settings for Dicken’s Little Dorrit, a sobering book.

Strangely Bradshaw does not mention the Clink Prison, another of Southwark’s old and notorious institutions. Dating back to Mediaeval times this was a small prison owned by the Bishop of Winchester in the Liberty of the Clink. The building was burned down in 1780 and not rebuilt; No.1 Clink Street is a modern reconstruction and a museum.

Clink Street
Clink Street
Clink Museum
The Clink Museum


You may be interested in
A life in prison
Southwark Prisons
Crime and Punishment
The Prison from Hell – the Marshalsea


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