Debtors Prison was a place of dread and shame. Unlike today owing money and being in debt today as we all know is stressful and inflicts pressure onto families, especially in many cases where you are struggling to keep up with re payments. Well this article can make you feel a little bit better about being in debt in today’s day and age. If you were in dept in the time of your Victorian ancestors you would be sent to a place called debtor’s prison which is commonly seen and referred to in many Charles Dickens novels such as Oliver Twist and Little Dorrit. The Debtors prison was slightly different to a standard prison because you were not sent there to be punished, but to be confined. You were housed and separated in place that was cut off from the rest of the world. You were free to buy food from a miniature market and life was more relaxing than it would be in a standard prison. However the conditions of the debtor’s prison were far from luxury and many people died of starvation and disease and normally, if a debtor had family, then they would accompany him also in the prison.
One Example Of Debtors Menu:
“Breakfast, Males – 1 Pint of Oatmeal Gruel, 8oz of Bread
Females – 1 Pint of Oatmeal Gruel, 6oz of Bread.
Dinner on Monday, Wednesday and Friday for Males – 1 pint of Soup, 8oz of Bread, and for Females – 1 pint of Soup, 6oz of Bread.
Dinner on Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday for Males – 3oz of cooked Meat without bone, half a pound of potatoes, 8oz of Bread. For Females – 3oz of cooked Meat without bone, half a pound of potatoes, 6oz of Bread.
Supper same as Breakfast every day”.
Rothwell Debtor’s Song
The ‘garnish’ mentioned in this song was a half-crown charged as entrance money, and spent among the inmates.
As the song implies, if you did not pay the half-crown your coat would be taken and sold to pay for the ‘garnish.’
All was not misery within the gaol. Beer-drinking was freely indulged in and games such as skittles and quoits were played.
We bid you welcome brother debtor
To this poor but merry place
Where no bailiff, ‘bum’ or ‘setter’
Dare to show his frightful face.
But, kind Sir, as you’re a stranger
Down your garnish you must lay,
Or your coat will be in danger
You must either strip or pay.
Ne’er repine at your confinement,
From your childer and your wife
For wisdom lies in true resignment
Through the varied scenes of life.
What was it made great Alexander
Weep at his unhappy fate?
Was it because he could not wander
Through this wide strong prison gate.
For every island is a prison
Strongly guarded by the sea.
Kings and princes for that reason
Prisoners are as well as we.