Great Britain’s entire economy . . . was predicated on credit. In part, this was simply because specie — that is, the coins in mass circulation — “was in such short supply, especially in small denominations, that it suited buyer and seller to allow an account to accumulate until it could be paid in silver and gold” (White). Every individual or family in the country, in consequence, whatever their social or financial status, had an account with the tradesmen on whom they relied in their daily lives for the bread, meat, milk and clothes that sustained them. They were thus almost permanently in a state of debt. The poorest people for their part were often locked into arrangements with “tallymen”, who sold them such necessities at a punitively high rate of interest. [14]


Beaumont, Matthew. “Debt to Society: The Story of the Marshalsea, an Emblem of Britian’s Problems with Prisons.” Times Literary Supplement. (7 October 2016): 14-15.

White Jerry. Mansions of Misery: A Biography of the Marshalsea Debtors’ Prison. Bodley Head, 2016.

“riveting, richly researched account of the Marshalsea Prison in the eighteen and early nineteenth centuries.”

Created 27 January 2015