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Origin and System of Emprisonment for Debt





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appears from various authorities, that the Prison called “ The Fleet,” in the City of London, was a place of security or confinement, from the time of William the Conqueror. The 1066. name “ Fleet,” is of Saxon derivation, and applied to a contiguous creek or stream, which was formerly navigable to a considerable extent. According to the ancient chronicler Stow, “ it was of depth and width sufficient, that ten or twelve

ships at once, with merchandize, were wont to come to the

bridge of Fleete.” According to another writer, “the tide flowed as high as Holborn Bridge, where there were five feet water at the lowest tide, and brought up barges of considerable burthen. Subsequently, in the year 1606, there were flood gates erected, and after the great fire of London, 1666, it was, by order of the Mayor and Aldermen, cleansed and enlarged. Over the canal were four stone bridges, at Bridewell, Fleet Street, Fleet Lane, and Holborn.” Many years afterwards it became such a receptacle for the refuse of that part of the City, that in 1733, it was determined by the Lord Mayor and Citizens, to arch it over, as far as the end of Ludgate Hill; and in 1737 a market was erected thereon, which was removed a few years since, making the open thoroughfare now called Farringdon Street.

It appears by the history of the county of Kent, and by various records, that the “ Prison called the Fleet,” was formerly held in conjunction with the manor of Leveland, in the said county, and with the “ King's houses at Westminster.”

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A. D. The manor was part of the ancient possessions of the See of

Canterbury, being held of the several Archbishops, by Knight's service, and entered under the general title of their lands, in the survey of Doomsday. One Richard had a grant of the estate

from Archbishop Lanfranc, (who was elevated to the See of 1068. Canterbury soon after the accession of William the Conqueror,)

for himself and his descendants." In the reign of Richard I., Nathaniel de Leveland held it of the Archbishop ; and in the ninth of the above reign, he and his son Robert were fined in sixty marks to the King, to have the Custody of the King's

houses at Westminster, and of the Fleet Prison, which it ap1198. pears

had been their inheritance ever since the Conquest. We are indebted to a work of considerable research and information, for a list of persons, who, from the above period, held the situation of Warden of the Fleet, &c., (entitled “History of the Fleet Marriages; the Parsons and their Regis“ ters, &c., by John Southerden Burn, author of the ' History " of Parish Registers.'”')

Stow, in his History of London, mentions, that (in the 3rd 1202. King John,) the King granted the Wardenship of the Fleet, and

the wardship of the daughter and heir of Robert de Leveland, to Simon Fitzrobert, Archdeacon of Wells. The said daughter, Margaret de Leveland, carried the manor, &c., in marriage, to

Giles de Badlesmere, who was a justice itinerant at the beginning 1258. of the reign of Henry III., but he having married her without

the King's license, could not obtain his pardon, till about three years previous to his death, and not then, without great intercession. He was slain in battle against the Welsh, and his widow surviving, re-married Fulco Le Payforer, who possessed

the manor, &c., in her right, and died in the succeeding reign, 1277. (5th Edward I.) She also survived this, her second husband,

without issue, when Ralph de Leveland was found, by inquisi1280. tion, to be her heir, and succeeded likewise to the custody of

the palace at Westminster, as well as the Fleet. (At this period it is recorded, that a “certain sum was paid by the Sheriffs of London for the custody of the prison, and the King's manor

at Westminster, and for the repair of Fleete Bridge when neces1287. sary.") After the decease of the above, Stephen de Leveland,

his brother and heir, held both the said places ; who left an only daughter, who married, first, John Schenche, (by whom she A. D. had a son, John,) and, secondly, to Edward Le Cheyne, who in

1295. right of her inheritance, became possessed of a life estate in the said manor, the so called Serjeancy of the Fleet, and the custody of the King's palace at Westminster, which he held until his death, when he was succeeded by John Schenche, the son of 1333. the former and Joan de Leveland; he left a daughter, Margaret, then two years old, and being under age, the Wardenship, &c., was granted to Roger de Sapurton, her cousin and heir. At 1370. his death, John de Sapurton, succeeded his father. The next 1412. inheritor was Roger de Sapurton, brother of the former. Upon his death, his next heir was found by inquisition, to be his daughter, Elizabeth, wife of William Venour, (or Viner) who held the offices in right of his wife. (Pennant states, in his 1434.

History of London,” that “the said William Venour, or “ Viner, Warden of the Fleet, in 1480, greatly enlarged St. “ Bride's Church, London, at his own expence, it being origi"nally very small, adding to it a body and side aisles, and “ ornamented it with grapes and vine leaves, in allusion to his “ name.") He dying in his wife's life-time, the Wardenship, with the custody of Westminster Hall, was conveyed by her to trustees, with special limitations to her heirs, and the heirs of 1467. Richard Babyngton. The offices appear to have been held by persons bearing the latter name, until the year 1558, in the reign of Queen Mary, when licence was granted to Thomas Babyington, Esq., and William, his son, to alienate the Wardenship to John Heath, Esq., of London; and which was conveyed to him accordingly, for a valuable consideration. He re-sold it to Richard Tyrrel, of Ashdon, in the county of Essex, and he was succeeded by his son. In 1586 the prisoners in 1586. the Fleet petitioned the Lords of the Council, in consequence of the Warden having underlet it to John Harvey and John Newport, (who it appears were guilty of cruelty and extortion); and in that year a Commission issued to enquire into the matter of complaint.

It may be noticed here, that the Fleet at this time was the prison for persons committed by the arbitrary Court of “ Star Chamber.” An eminent authority, Lord Bacon, in his History of King Henry the VII., thus characterizes that Court :-—" The

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