By Their Own Hand
: Prisons in the City of London, 1700-1755

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis through its examination of prison administration in the City of London during the early eighteenth century demonstrates how the Corporation of London worked to keep its gaols secure. The early eighteenth century saw a great deal of upheaval. The century began with a financial revolution and war; it saw the rise of the fiscal military state, intense rivalries between political parties and an uptick in crime linked to the demobilization of the military. In this era of uncertainty, prisons played a crucial role in helping governors keep the peace. But how did prisons do so, if they were constantly in a state of disrepair and run by abusive men?

In the City of London, gaols functioned due to the involvement of the Corporation of London’s governing courts and committees. Through substantial bureaucratic structures, the corporate bodies facilitated repairs to prison buildings and regulated keepers and other prison officers. They did not act alone, in fact, prisoners and keepers were key to the administrative efforts of the Corporation. While in the seventeenth century, keepers ran their gaols with less help from oversight bodies, in the eighteenth century, gaols and their keepers were integrated firmly into the infrastructure of the Corporation of London. The Corporation of London had to take a larger role in prison operation to maintain the existing prison system. By doing so, it transformed its relationship with keepers and altered the state of prisons fundamentally.

This thesis builds on the historiographies of governance and politics which discuss the development of the fiscal-military state and the dynamics of governance between local and national government. Through its fine-grained analysis of prison administration, this thesis shows how governing bodies increased their control of previously more decentralized practices. And though they did so without parliamentary intervention, they were attuned to and affected by changes at the national level. The Corporation of London’s power over its prison system grew substantially between 1700 and 1755. This process of centralization was mirrored elsewhere within the City of London. This thesis puts work on governance within the City of London into conversation with each other in order to signal a broader period of centralization of both government and power in the Corporation within the first half of the eighteenth century.
Date of Award1 Feb 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorLaura Gowing (Supervisor) & Joan Redmond (Supervisor)

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