Eerie debtors' jail stars in London Museum revamp

Fri Oct 30, 2009 7:44am EDT
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By Stefano Ambrogi

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Britons feeling the pinch in these hard times can take comfort from the fact that at least they cannot be jailed for owing money these days.

But before 1869, when imprisonment for debt was abolished, the outlook was grim indeed for the cash-crunched.

Just how grim is one of the themes in five new galleries opening next Spring in the Museum of London.

Curators have reassembled the original parts of a cramped wooden cell salvaged from the site of Wellclose Square debtors' prison -- also known at the time as "The Sly House."

The structure was part of a small courthouse and house of correction used in the 1750s to the east of the Tower of London.

"People will be able to walk into it for the first time and experience what it was really like -- prisoners scratched their names and pictures into the wooden walls," said Hollie Turner, one of the museum's curators.

The drawings include a hangman and street scenes thought to have been etched by inmates using pine cones.

An associated penal exhibit shows the original great iron doors of Britain's most feared jail: Newgate.   Continued...

<p>Nelson's sword of honour. The Corporation of London presented this honorary sword and the Freedom of the city to Admiral Lord Nelson in 1800. REUTERS/Museum of London</p>