This case study focuses on debtors and prisons in Norwich during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It is the result of the investigations by people living in Norfolk who responded to our appeal for history detectives.
Until 1869 it was possible to be imprisoned for debt. From 1670 onwards, Parliament passed Acts every few years for the relief of imprisoned debtors, and debtors in prisons regularly presented petitions to Parliament requesting measures for their relief. It was the momentum generated by these petitions which eventually led to these Acts being passed.
The Parliamentary Archives holds 10 petitions from debtors in prisons in Norwich which were presented to the House of Lords between 1788 and 1807. There is also information about Norwich debtors and prisons at the Norfolk Record Office in Norwich.
For four days at the Norfolk Record Office the history detectives learnt about debtors, the background to debtors’ petitions and the connections with Parliament. They also spent a day at the Parliamentary Archives researching the petitions from Norwich and the related legislation.
The history detectives also investigated the cases of some individual debtors, the rules and regulations of prisons in the early nineteenth century, and what life in prison was like. They looked at prison buildings in Norwich and how these were improved. In the process, they discovered and explored some of the connections between Parliament and Norwich in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.