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Posts Tagged ‘Jerry White’

Mansions of Misery, A Biography of the Marshalsea Debtors’ Prison by Jerry White.

Book review and guest post by LH Member Jane Young

mansions of misery by jerry whiteMy introduction to the work of Jerry White was some time ago as a history student. The superb Rothschild Buildings: Life in an East End Tenement Block 1887-1920 (1980) contributed to two dissertations and later, as a lecturer in social history, it became a perennial staple on the essential reading list.

Mansions of Misery has much in common with Rothschild Buildings in that it is a “microhistory of a small distinctive community” and focuses on individual stories in minutiae, and most entertaining detail. An in depth account of the Marshalsea Prison, the culture of debt, credit and commerce and everyday economy of the commonplace necessities of life and trade in the Capital during the eighteenth and nineteenth century.

A study of people as well as an institution; all human life is here. Through the personal accounts of the debtors the incarcerated are given a voice. The looming threat of the Marshalsea is given a resonance and sense of place now almost unimaginable, permeating life in London across all classes. The story of the Marshalsea is also the story of ordinary Londoners and the telling of it results in a fascinating and beautifully written social history of the metropolis.

The research is thorough; moreover a subject that has the potential to be gloomy is made intriguing and immensely readable. A narrative that naturally requires some explanation of the British legal system of the years the Marshalsea was in operation is well executed in a clear and concise manner. Excellent endnotes add interest for the casual reader and make for an invaluable addition to academic reading lists.

The book reveals the Marshalsea during the times made familiar by Hogarth, Smollet and Dickens from the inside: the living arrangements; the hierarchy; the role of the turnkey; relationships among the prisoners; trades that not only served the Marshalsea but were also dependent upon it; the construction and fabric of the building and changes that took place as it evolved from early beginnings until closure in 1842. Within this is contained a picture of London that makes for compelling reading.


Mansions of Misery, a Biography of the Marshalsea Debtors’ Prison (364 pp) by Prof Jerry White is published by Bodley Head on 6 October 2016 with a cover price of £20.00.

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Last night’s event. I think I shall just try and let the pictures do the talking, but they will be mumbling, not sure what’s gone wrong with my camera. Also, no pictures of Lucy or me, neither of us particularly camera-shy, I think, just a case of me running around a lot sorting stuff out.

I shall simply make the following observations.

  • Turnout was excellent, the place was packed out and we were jolly lucky in the end that we had about 20 no-shows. Whew.
  • The feedback – mainly via Twitter – has been extremely kind and very positive, I believe everybody had a great time. I know I did.
  • The talks by Lucy Inglis and Prof Jerry White were excellent: compelling, interesting, informative and full of insight.
  • Ruairidh Anderson’s songs and anecdotes from the old East End were an absolute delight.
  • Matt Brown did an excellent job as ringmaster and quizmaster, his questions were suitably testing.

Congratulations to our bookwinners (signed copies of London history tomes by Jerry White) and welcome to London Historians to Jack Leech who won the year’s membership prize draw. Quiz winners were Team Bridle, followed closely by 20thCentury Wellcome and Robin’s Reliants.

A big thank you to the above named speakers; to landlord of The Bell, Glyn, whose surname I don’t know, and his staff; and London Historian Fiona Pretorius for invaluable help with set-up and checking everyone in.

If you were there last night, thanks for your support. This embryonic event was an experiment and your taking the plunge is very much appreciated. Feedback – good, bad or ugly – is most welcome, we will be doing another History in the Pub soon and your comments will help make it even better. If I don’t follow you on Twitter yet, please let me know!

Further info on the event here described can be found on a previous post, here.

Ruairidh Anderson, Matt Brown

Ruairidh Anderson, Matt Brown

Professor Jerry White

Professor Jerry White, looking saintly thanks to background picture.
Matt Brown Londonist

The speed quiz. Matt poses challenging London history questions.

History in the Pub

Standing room only.

History in the Pub

London Historians stalwart and Westminster Guide, Pete Berthoud, Matt, Jerry.

History in the Pub

Aftermath: hardcore London Historians are usually still there at chucking out time.

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The Bell, Spitalfields

The Bell, Spitalfields

History in the Pub is a new event that we are hosting on Wednesday 21st September after work at The Bell in Spitalfields. The idea is that it is a bit like comedy club insofar as instead of comedians, we have historians. Stand-up history, if you like. This is actually the brainchild of London Historians member Matt Brown who is the Editor of Londonist.com. I get such a buzz from this sort of collaboration, which I think we came up with in the pub some months ago (monthly pub meet tonight, if you’re reading this in time).

Our line-up is a cornucopia of historical expertise and talent. Matt, whose London knowledge is from my point of view staggering, has volunteered to MC the evening. Our other speakers are Professor Jerry White from Birkbeck College, Georgian London expert Lucy Inglis and specialist in the old East End Ruairidh Anderson, who’ll also give us a few songs! Audience participation is encouraged, that is to say Q&A, and if you fancy sharing a London history story of your own, you’ll be welcome to have the room for a few minutes.

line up history in the pub

In addition there will be fun stuff like the Speed Quiz and a Prize Draw. And drinking, of course.

Entry is free for London Historians members (bring your card!), otherwise £3.00. Our only concern is numbers. The room can take up to about 60; we’re confident, yet have no idea how this will go, so it would be most helpful if you email us if you think you’ll be coming (no obligation). Thanks.

More information is on our web site, here, though it will disappear on 22 September. Do come!

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