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Chapter 22. Fleet Prison Warden Complaints. - John Ashton 1888

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Things got so bad that Parliament ordered a Committee to inquire into
it, and they began their sitting in Feb. 25, 1729. But, previously,
the prisoners had petitioned the Lord Chief Justice and other justices
without effect, and those petitions with Huggins' (who was the Warden)
replies were published in a folio pamphlet, which contains much
information.[110] The first petition was in 1723, and it was mainly
addressed to the extortions of the Master, the sixth Article alledging
that the fees exacted by the Warden were in excess of those settled by
Law, Nov. 14, 1693--instanced as follows:

Warden. Legal.
For liberty of the House and Irons at first
coming in L2 4 4 1 6 8
Chaplain 0 2 0
Entering every Name and Cause 0 0 4
Porter's fee 0 1 0 0 1 0
Chamberlain's Fee 0 3 0 0 1 0
The Dismission Fee for every Action 0 12 6 0 7 4
Turnkey's Dismission 0 2 6
---------------
L3 5 4 L1 16 4
====== =======

The eleventh prayer of this Petition was, "And lastly, that for the
better suppressing Prophaneness and Immorality among us, and that
the Misery of Imprisonment may in some measure be alleviated by the
Observance of good Manners, Cleanliness, and Quietude, we humbly pray
your Lordships would enable us to regulate our selves in such Manner as
the Prisoners in the King's Bench are empowered to do by a Rule of that
Court, 20 _die post festim Sanctae Trinitatis_. 11 Anne."

Huggins replied to all the petition, but his answer to No. 6 was "The
Warden saith, That so soon as the Fees were settled by this Honourable
Court, he caused a Copy thereof to be framed and hung up in the Common
Hall of the House, signed by Sir George Cook; also a Copy of the Rules
and Orders of the House, which said copies the Prisoners were pleased
to burn, tear to Pieces, and obliterate; and the Warden denies that
he has taken or receiv'd, or any for him, to his knowledge, more, or
greater, Fees than were contained in the said Copy of Fees hung up in
the said Prison."

And as to the Eleventh prayer of the Petitioners "The Warden saith,
that the Prisoners in general, are so very ungovernable, that they
have tore up the Trees around the Bowling Green, and cut down several
of the Trees in the back part of the Prison, set by the Warden some
years since, for the better Accommodation of the Prisoners; also broke
down the Stocks in the said Prison, and the Houses of Easement were
fitted up lately by the Warden, they have torn it almost to Pieces,
and committed other Outrages, and most of them, altho' two Years in
Arrears of Rent to the Warden, refuse to pay him any Part thereof, and
will by Force, and in defiance of the Warden and his Officers, keep
in Possession of the Rooms and Furnitures, Swearing to stand by each
other."

Petition after petition was sent from the Prisoners to the Lord Chief
Justice about the oppressions of Huggins and his myrmidons, and duly
answered in some shape by the Warden, but there was one, in which the
fourteenth Charge is as follows. "That the Warden, on the Death of any
Prisoner detains the Body from his Friends and Relations untill they
will pay him, what Chamber Rent was due from the Deceased; and in the
mean Time his cruel and unchristian like Practice, is to make the best
Bargain he can with the poor Family of the Deceased, for the Purchase
of the Dead Body, in order to give it Christian Burial, at their own
Expence, by which means he often extorts large Sums of Money, for
granting the Relations the Liberty of taking away and burying the Dead
Body; which tho' a very natural and reasonable Desire, is nevertheless
often frustrated by their Inability to purchase it at his Price, and,
rather than accept what may be in their Power to give him, he often
suffers the Dead Body to lye above Ground seven or eight Days, and
often Times eleven or twelve Days, to the great endangering of the
Health of the whole Prison, by the nauseous Stench, which being often
times the Case, is very offensive all over the House; and when he has
refused what he thought not worth his Acceptance, he buries them in the
common Burying place for Prisoners, when the Body is often taken up by
their Friends to be bury'd their own Way, and the Warden seizes to his
own Use the Cloaths, Furniture, and what ever else there is for Fees
and Chamber Rent, which he pretends to be due from the said deceased
Prisoner."

Huggins' reply to this was diabolically insolent. "For Answer thereto,
My Lords, the Deputy Warden saith, That scarcely a Prisoner hath
died on the Masters-Side, that was not largely indebted to him; and
therefore, possibly, he might have used endeavours to get what part
of the Money was due to him, as he could fairly from the Deceased's
Relations."

But the Cup of his iniquities was rapidly filling. He made one Thomas
Bambridge "_A Newgate Sollicitor, and a Person of abandon'd Credit_"
(as the petition in the case of Mr. Mackphreadris describes him) his
deputy warden, and then, things came to a climax. As we have seen,
Parliament took cognizance of the scandal, and issued a Commission to
inquire into the matter, and their first sitting was on Feb. 25, 1729.
Their report was presented to Parliament on March 20th of the same
year--so that no time was lost in looking into the evils complained of.

It recites that Huggins by a gift of L5,000 to Lord Clarendon "did by
his interest, obtain a grant of the said office (_i.e._, _Warden of the
Fleet_) for his own and his son's life.

"That it appeared to the Committee, That in the Year 1725, one Mr.
Arne, an Upholder, was carried into a Stable, which stood where the
strong room on the Master's side now is, and was there confined (being
a place of cold restraint) till he died, and that he was in good state
of health before he was confined to that room."

Huggins growing old, sold his interest in the Wardenship of the Fleet,
and his Son's reversion therein, to Bambridge and Cuthbert, for the
sum he had originally given for the place; and then Bambridge, being
his own master, went somewhat ahead, and the Committee found that he
connived at escapes, sent his prisoners to Spunging-houses, or private
prisons, not so long ago done away with, where they were well, or badly
treated, according to the money at their disposal.

And we read of one shocking case, which can best be given in the very
words of the Report. "That these houses were further used by the said
Bambridge, as a terror for extorting money from the prisoners, who,
on security given, have the liberty of the rules; of which Mr. Robert
Castell was an unhappy instance, a man born to a competent estate, but
being unfortunately plunged into debt, was thrown into prison: he was
first sent (according to custom) to Corbett's,[111] from whence he, by
presents to Bambridge, redeemed himself, and, giving security obtained
the liberty of the rules; notwithstanding which he had frequently
presents, as they are called, exacted from him by Bambridge, and was
menaced, on refusal, to be sent back to Corbett's again.

"The said Bambridge having thus unlawfully extorted large sums of money
from him in a very short time, Castell grew weary of being made such a
wretched property, and, resolving not to injure further his family
or his creditors for the sake of so small a liberty, he refused to
submit to further exactions; upon which the said Bambridge ordered him
to be re-committed to Corbett's, where the smallpox then raged, though
Castell acquainted him with his not having had that distemper, and that
he dreaded it so much, that the putting him into a house where it was,
would occasion his death, which, if it happened before he could settle
his affairs, would be a great prejudice to his creditors, and would
expose his family to destitution; and therefore he earnestly desired
that he might either be sent to another house, or even into the gaol
itself, as a favor. The melancholy case of this poor gentleman moved
the very agents of the said Bambridge to compassion, so that they used
their utmost endeavours to dissuade him from sending this unhappy
prisoner to that infected house; but Bambridge forced him thither,
where he (as he feared he should) caught the smallpox, and, in a few
days, died thereof, justly charging the said Bambridge with his death;
and unhappily leaving all his affairs in the greatest confusion, and a
numerous family of small children in the utmost distress."

He squeezed everybody, made what rules he liked, and introduced new
and pernicious customs, for, says the Report, "It appeared to the
Committee, that the letting out of the Fleet tenements to Victuallers,
for the reception of Prisoners, hath been but of late practised, and
that the first of them let for this purpose was to Mary Whitwood, who
still continues tenant of the same, and that her rent has, from 32 l.
per. ann. been increased to 60 l. and a certain number of prisoners
stipulated to be made a prey of, to enable her to pay so great a
rent; and that she, to procure the benefit of having such a number of
prisoners sent to her house, hath, over and above the increased rent,
been obliged to make a present to the said Bambridge of forty guineas,
as also of a toy (as it is called), being the model of a Chinese ship,
made of amber, set in silver, for which fourscore broad pieces had been
offered her....

"And, notwithstanding the payment of such large fees, in order to
extort further sums from the unfortunate prisoners, the said Bambridge
unjustly pretends he has a right, as warden, to exercise an unlimited
power of changing prisoners from room to room; of turning them into
the common side, though they have paid the master's side fee; and
inflicting arbitrary punishments by locking them down in unwholesome
dungeons, and loading them with torturing irons."

According to the Committee's report, Jacob Mendez Solas, a Portuguese,
was, as far as they knew, the first prisoner that was ever loaded
with irons in the Fleet. He was thrown into a noisome dungeon, which
is described as a place "wherein the bodies of persons dying in the
said prison are usually deposited, till the coroner's inquest hath
passed upon them; it has no chimney, nor fireplace, nor any light but
what comes over the door, or through a hole of about eight inches
square. It is neither paved nor boarded, and the rough bricks appear
both on the sides and top, being neither wainscotted, nor plastered;
what adds to the dampness and stench of the place is, its being built
over the common sewer, and adjoining to the sink and dunghill where
all the nastiness of the prison is cast. In this miserable place the
poor wretch was kept by the said Bambridge, manacled and shackled for
near two months. At length, on receiving five guineas from Mr. Kemp,
a friend of Solas Bambridge released the prisoner from his cruel
confinement. But, though his chains were taken off, his terror still
remained, and the unhappy man was prevailed upon by that terror, not
only to labour _gratis_ for the said Bambridge, but to swear also at
random all that he hath required of him: and the Committee themselves
saw an instance of the deep impression his sufferings had made upon
him; for on his surmising, from something said, that Bambridge was to
return again, as Warden of the Fleet, he fainted, and the blood started
out of his mouth and nose."

The upshot of this Committee was that the House petitioned the King
to prosecute Huggins, Bambridge, and their satellites, who were all
ordered to be committed to Newgate for trial. Huggins was tried, or
rather the preliminaries of his trial were arranged on the 20th of May,
1729; but his trial for the murder of Edward Arne, a prisoner in the
Fleet prison, by immuring him in the dungeon above described, from the
effect of which confinement he subsequently died, did not take place
until next day. After a long and patient trial, he was acquitted; and
he managed, not only to survive his disgrace, but live to the age of 90.

[Illustration: BAMBRIDGE.]

Bambridge was also tried, at the Old Bailey, for the murder of Robert
Castell, as before described, but he was acquitted by the Jury. Upon
this acquittal, Castell's widow brought an appeal against Thomas
Bambridge, and Richard Corbett, for the murder of her husband; but here
their luck still stood them in stead, for they were both acquitted.
Bambridge, some twenty years after, committed suicide by cutting his
throat.

Hogarth, in 1729, received a Commission from Sir Archibald Grant of
Monnymusk, Bart., who was one of the Committee, to paint a portrait
picture of his brother Commissioners with Bambridge, and the irons
used by him in the Fleet. Bambridge is decidedly nervous--and a poor
prisoner is introduced into the picture, though I cannot find, from the
Report, that he really was before the Committee of the House.

[Illustration: A PRISONER IN IRONS.]

These prosecutions somewhat purified the atmosphere of the Fleet, but
still there were grumbles, as there naturally will be when men are
restrained in their liberty, and are left to brood upon their miseries,
and incarceration; but the little pamphlet,[112] which airs these
grievances, deals principally with the hardships of fees, and the
dilapidated state of the Common Side. The title-page prepares one for a
not over cheerful ten minutes' reading.

"When Fortune keeps Thee Warm;
Then _Friends_ will to Thee swarm,
Like BEES about a _Honey_ pot:
But, if she chance to frown,
And rudely kick Thee down,
Why then--What then? _Lie there and ROT._"

The writer says that after the reign of Huggins and Bambridge, the
Chapel was adorned--and the great Hall adjoining, formerly for the Use
of the Prisoners, "is now made into a commodious new Coffee House, and
thought to be as Compleat a one, as any in Town (wherein one of the
Warden's Servants is put, to be useful upon Occasion). _Part of the
Pews in the Chapel being taken into it to make it compleat,[113] and
serves for a Bar and Bedchamber._

"Opposite to the Great Hall, or Coffee Room, is the Begging-Grate,
where Prisoners had an Opportunity to speak with a Friend, and
sometimes get Sight of one whose Inclinations did not lead him to pay
a Visit to the Place, wou'd drop a Shilling, and perhaps some Beer to
the Beggars; but now the same, altho' of an ancient standing, is
Brick'd up, and the unhappy Persons who can't submit to beg, depriv'd
of viewing the Street, or seeing their Chance Friends." So we see, that
although the comforts of the inmates had been somewhat looked after,
this little privilege, which they had long enjoyed, and, doubtless, as
long abused, was taken from them. It was, afterwards, restored.


[Illustration]




[Illustration: THE COMMON SIDE OF THE FLEET PRISON.]