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laws of England, " Never mind," said Bainbridge,
" I will do it first, and answer for it afterward."
Such, in fact, was the treatment he experienced,
that before long his legs became so severely lacer-
ated by the irons, that symptoms of mortification
actually presented themselves. When, at the ex-
piration of three weeks, he was liberated from his
miserable dungeon, he was not only incurably
lame, but, according to the report of the com-
mittee, his eyesight was so much impaired that
he was in danger of losing it altogether.

Another instance of the exercise of unlawful
and despotic power inquired into by the committee


was the case of one Thomas Hogg. This person,
who had formerly been a prisoner in the Fleet,
but who had since been regularly discharged, was
some time afterward passing by the Fleet, when
he stopped at the grating to bestow a small sum
in charity on his former fellow prisoners. What-
ever may have been the reasons, this simple act
of kindness appears to have given extraordinary
offence to the authorities. Accordingly Hogg was
immediately seized by a turnkey named Barnes,
and, having been forced into the building, was by
Bainbridge ordered to be detained a prisoner. At
the time when the committee visited the Fleet,
this person had actually continued in confinement
upward of nine months without any ostensible
excuse or legal authority whatever.

In perusing these extraordinary facts, let us
bear in mind that they are derived, not from the
common hearsay or gossip of the period, but from
a grave official report presented to the House of
Commons by their own committee. The House
was unanimous in the resolution at which it arrived.
It was voted, not only that the charges of extor-
tion and breach of trust had been clearly brought
home to the officers of the prison, but that they
had barbarously, cruelly, and illegally ill-treated
those committed to their charge, in gross violation
and contempt ot the laws of the land. Huggins, the
late warden, and Bainbridge, the deputy warden,
were committed close prisoners to Newgate, to-


gether with four of the turkneys, Barnes, Pindar,
Everett, and King, against all of whom the attor-
ney-general received orders to commence a prose-
cution. Of the guilt of these inhuman wretches
there cannot exist a doubt. Nevertheless, although
the death of more than one fellow creature had
been clearly brought home to them, such was the
state of the laws that they escaped the punishment
which they so richly merited. Twenty years after
his acquittal, Bainbridge is said to have cut his
throat. His cruelties have been immortalised by
the pencil of Hogarth.

" And here can I forget the generous band,
Who, touched with human woe, redressive searched
Into the horrors of the gloomy gaol,
Unpitied and unheard where misery moans ?
Where sickness pines, where thirst and hunger burn,
And poor misfortune feels the lash of vice ?
While in the land of liberty, the land
Whose every street and public meeting glow
With open freedom, little tyrants raged ;
Snatched the lean morsel from the starving mouth,
Tore from cold wintry limbs the tattered weed,
E'en robbed them of the last of comforts, sleep ;
The free-born Briton to the dungeon chained,
Or, as the lust of cruelty prevailed,
At pleasure marked him with inglorious stripes,
And crushed out lives by secret barbarous ways,
That for their country would have toiled or bled.
O great design, if executed well,
With patient care and wisdom - tempered zeal !
Ye sons of mercy ! yet resume the search :


Drag forth the legal monsters into light ;
Wrench from their hands oppression's iron rod ;
And bid the cruel feel the pains they give."

Thomson's Winter.

The Fleet Prison was burned to the ground in
the great fire of London, and was again destroyed
by fire during the Gordon Riots in 1780, when an
infuriated rabble broke into it and set the prisoners
at liberty.

One of the most singular features connected
with the old Fleet Prison was the celebration of
the notorious " Fleet marriages," which, for many
years, were performed there by a set of profligate
clergymen, who, being already prisoners for debt,
stood little in awe of the fine of a hundred pounds,
which was formerly the penalty inflicted by the
law on those who solemnised irregular marriages.
" In walking along the street in my youth," says
Pennant, "on the side next to this prison, I have
often been tempted by the question, ' Sir, will you
please to walk in and be married ? ' Along this
most lawless space was hung the frequent sign of
a male and female hand conjoined, with ' Marriages
performed within,' written beneath. A dirty fellow
invited you in. The parson was seen walking be-
fore his shop, a squalid, profligate figure, clad in
a tattered plaid nightgown, with a fiery face, and
ready to couple you for a dram ot gin or roll of
tobacco." This account is corroborated by the
Gentleman's Magazine for 1745, where a corre-


spondent, in lamenting the number of ruinous mar-
riages which then daily took place in the Fleet,
represents them as having been performed by " a
set of drunken, swearing parsons, with their myr-
midons, that wear black cloaks, and pretend to be
clerks and registers to the Fleet ; plying about
Ludgate Hill, pulling and forcing people to some
peddling ale-house or brandy-shop to be married,
and, even on Sundays, stopping them as they go
to church." Evidence was produced before Par-
liament, that between the iQth of October, 1704,
and the I2th of February, 1705, no fewer than
2,954 marriages had been solemnised in the Fleet
without either license or the publication of banns.
In many cases, in consideration of the payment of
a small sum of money, the entry of the marriage
was either altogether omitted in the Fleet registers,
or else the names were merely denoted by particu-
lar marks.

The vast amount of human misery occasioned
by these easy and hasty marriages, as well as the
number of romantic incidents connected with the
celebration of many of them, may be readily im-
agined. In Knight's " London " may be found a
full and interesting account of this nefarious traffic,
as well as some very curious extracts from the
marriage registers of the Fleet, from which the
following are taken :

" Nov. 21, 1742. Akerman, Richard, turner, ot
Christ Church, Bat r , to Lydia Collet ; brought by


Mrs. Crooks. N. B. They behaved very vilely,
and attempted to run away with Mrs. Crooks's gold

" 1744, Aug. 20. John Newsam, labourer, of St.
James, West r , and Ann Laycock, do. wid r and wid w .
They ran away with the Scertifycate, and left a
pint of wine to pay for. They are a vile sort of
people, and I will remember them of their vile

" ist Oct., 1747. John Ferren, gent, sen., of St.
Andrew's, Holborn, b r ., and Deborah Nolan, ditto,
sp r . The supposed John Ferren was discovered
after the ceremony was over to be in person a

" 26th June, 1744. Nathaniel Gilbert, gent., of

St. Andrew's, Holborn, and Mary Lupton , at

Oddy's. N. B. There were five or six in company.
One amongst them seemed to me by his dress and
behaviour to be an Irishman. He pretended to be
some grand officer in the army. He, y e said Irish
gent., told me, before I saw the woman that was
to be married, y* it was a poor girl going to be
married to a common soldier ; but when I came to
marry them, I found myself imposed upon ; and,
having a mistrust of some Irish roguery, I took
upon me to ask what the gentleman's name was,
his age, etc., and likewise the lady's name and age.
Answer was made me what was that to me ? r-
d n me ! If I did not immediately marry them,
he would use me ill. In short, apprehending it to


be a conspiracy, I found myself obliged to marry
them interrorem"

Many cases appear to have occurred in which at
least one of the parties married by proxy ; others,
where marriages were most iniquitously antedated,
and several cases where certificates were given
without the ceremony having been performed at
all. For instance :

"November 5th, 1742, was married Benjamin
Richards, of the parish of St. Martin's in the
Fields, b r , and Judith Lance, spin., at the Bull
and Garter, and gave g., etc., for an antedate to
March the nth in the same year, which Lilley
complied with, and put 'm in his book accordingly,
there being a vacancy in the book suitable to the

The following are instances of secrecy having
been attained by the omission of the surnames of
the persons united in marriage :

" Sept. y* iff/i, 77/5. Edw d and Eliz-

beth were married, and would not let me

know their names ; the man said he was a weaver,
and lived in Bandyleg Walk, in the Borough."

" March y* ^th, 1740. William and Sarah

, he dressed in a gold waistcoat, like an
officer, she, a beautiful young lady, with two fine
diamond rings, and a black high crown hat, and
very well dressed at Boyce's."

On one occasion, in 1719, we find a young lady,
of the name of Ann Leigh, possessed of an


income of two hundred a year, besides ^6,000 in
ready money, not only inveigled away from her
friends, and forcibly married in the Fleet Chapel,
but also in other respects treated with so much
brutality that her life was placed in danger. But
a still more remarkable instance of abduction is
related in Knight's "London," on the authority
of a correspondent to the Grub Street Journal, in
September, 1732. A lady, it appears, "had ap-
pointed to meet a gentlewoman at the old play-
house in Drury Lane, but extraordinary business
prevented her coming. Being alone when the
play was done, she bade a boy call a coach for the
city. One dressed like a gentleman helped her
into it, and jumped in after her. 'Madam,' said
he, 'this coach was called for me, but since the
weather is so bad, and there is no other, I beg
leave to bear you company. I am going into the
city, and will set you down wherever you please.'
The lady begged to be excused, but he bade the
coachman to drive on. Being come to Ludgate
Hill, he told her his sister, who waited his coming
but five doors up the court, would go with her in
two minutes. He went and returned with his pre-
tended sister, who asked her to step in one minute,
and she would wait upon her in the coach. De-
luded with the assurance of having his sister's
company, the poor lady foolishly followed her into
the house, when instantly the sister vanished, and
a tawny fellow, in a black coat and black wig, ap-


peared. ' Madam, you are come in good time ; the
doctor was just a-going.' 'The doctor! ' said she,
horribly frightened, fearing it was a madhouse,
' what has the doctor to do with me ? ' 'To marry
you to that gentleman : the doctor has waited for
you three hours, and will be paid by you, or that
gentleman, before you go.' 'That gentleman,'
said she, recovering herself, 'is worthy a better
fortune than mine,' and begged hard to be gone.
But Doctor Wryneck swore she should be mar-
ried, or, if she would not, he would still have his
fee, and register the marriage for that night. The
lady, finding she could not escape without money
or a pledge, told them she liked the gentleman so
well, she would certainly meet him to-morrow
night, and gave them a ring as a pledge, ' which,'
said she, ' was my mother's gift on her death-bed,
enjoining that, if ever I married, it should be my
wedding-ring ; ' by which cunning contrivance she
was delivered from the black doctor and his tawny
crew." The conspirators, satisfied with the booty
they had obtained, allowed her to depart, and, as
may be readily conceived, she never returned to
redeem her pledge.

Among the most notorious of the Fleet parsons
was the well-known Alexander Keith, who about
the year 1730 opened a chapel in May Fair for
the performance of clandestine marriages. Hav-
ing been excommunicated in 1742, and committed
to the Fleet Prison, he opened a small chapel


within its walls, which appears to have proved a
scarcely less profitable speculation to him than
his former one in the more fashionable locality of
May Fair. At length, however, the Marriage Act,
which came into operation on the 2$th of March,
1753, effectually put a stop to his discreditable
vocation. It was doubtless a bitter pill for Keith
to swallow, and accordingly he entered his protest
against it in an amusing publication, entitled " Ob-
servations on the Act for Preventing Clandestine
Marriages," by the Rev. Mr. Keith, D. D., with his
portrait prefixed. To George Montagu, Walpole
writes, on the nth of June, 1753: "I shall only
tell you a bon mot of Keith's, the marriage broker,
and conclude. D n the bishops ! ' said he, I
beg Miss Montagu's pardon, ' so they will hin-
der my marrying ! Well, let them ; but I'll be
revenged ! I'll buy two or three acres of ground,
and by G I'll under-bury them all.' "

As the day approached on which the Marriage
Act was to become the law of the land, the num-
ber of individuals of the lower orders who hastened
to take advantage of the intervening period was
remarkable. On the last day especially, the 24th
of March, no fewer than 217 couples were united,
of whom a hundred couple were married by Keith.
Keith himself, it may be mentioned, died in the
Fleet Prison in 1758.

It was in the Fleet that the libertine and im-
provident poet, Charles Churchill, formed his


juvenile and imprudent marriage. According to
Southey, in his " Life of Cowper," the marriage
took place in the interval between Churchill leav-
ing Westminster School and his graduating at
Trinity College, Cambridge.



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Online LibraryJohn Heneage JesseMemoirs of the city of London and its celebrities (Volume 2) → online text (page 20 of 20)