King's Bench prison

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King's Bench prison (London) took its name from the court it originally served from the 14th cent. In the 16th cent. it was one of the prisons used to hold political and religious prisoners during the swings of persecution. It later became a flourishing debtors' prison infamous for the privilege it offered the wealthy. The better-off could pay the warders for comfortable rooms, to entertain and often be joined by their families: a celebrated inmate in 1769 was John Wilkes. The poor remained in squalid and overcrowded conditions, a prey to disease. In 1842 the name changed to Queen's Bench and began receiving prisoners from Marshalsea and the Fleet after changes in law virtually abolished imprisonment for debt. The prison was finally demolished in 1880.

Richard A. Smith