Finsbury Prison

Names

  • Finsbury Prison
  • Finsbury Jail

Street/Area (default name)

  • Finsbury

Descriptions

from the Grub Street Project, by Allison Muri (2006-present)

Finsbury Prison. Very little documentation of this prison exists, though its conditions were deplorable if we accept the word of John Taylor the Water Poet who concluded his summary of eighteen jails in and around London with "Finsbury, God blesse me from their hands" (The Praise and Vertue of a Jayle, and Jaylers, 1623).

In 1621, one Sir Francis Mitchell, "a poor sneaking justice of the peace, that lived amongst the brothels in Clerkenwell, and maintained himself by contributions raised from that neighbourhood [Parl. Hist. V. p. 426]," found guilty of abusing the privilege he had enjoyed along with MP Sir Giles Mompesson of the exclusive manufacture of gold and silver thread, was perpetually banished, degraded from the Order Knighthood, fined, barred from holding any office, and condemned to imprisonment "during the King's pleasure, in the Gaol in Finsbury Field, in the same chamber which he had provided for others, the Tower being too worthy for him."—Annals of the Coinage of Britain and its Dependencies vol. 3 (1819), 150.

The diary of William Whiteway of Dorchester, 1618–34, Egerton MS . 784, mentions an incident not generally known. "May, 1621: Sir Francis Mitchell, being one of Sir Giles Mompesson's cousins, was sent unto Finsbury jail, a place made by him for rogues, and made to ride on a lean jade backwards through London, holding the tail in his hand, and having a paper upon his forehead, whereon was written his offence."—Henry Benjamin Hanbury Beaufoy and Jacob Henry Burn, A Descriptive Catalogue of the London Traders, Tavern, and Coffee-house Tokens Current in the Seventeenth Century (1855), xlv.

When participants in the bawdy house riots of 1668 were arrested and imprisoned, fellow rioters determined to release them. Finsbury along with the New Prison at Clerkenwell were besieged on the 24th of March. No rioters were found at Finsbury, but four other the prisoners managed to escape. Some of the arrested rioters were successfully released from the New Prison.