Today in London’s rebel history: Westminster Gatehouse prisoners attempt escape, 1767

“Last night, the prisoners in the Gatehouse rose in the absence of the head turnkey, rushed upon the deputy turnkey, and knocked him down, then took the keys and opened the door, and six made their escape, but by timely assistance the rest were all secured.” (Annual Register, March 1767)

A prison dating from 1370, for church and lay offenders against the Abbot of Westminster and the Bishop of London’s jurisdictions, the Gatehouse held those accused of felonies and petty offences who were awaiting trial in Westminster as well as, owing to the presence of the royal palace and Parliament nearby, state prisoners.

It was broken open in the Peasants Revolt, in June 1381 (as were all London’s jails), and the inmates freed.

The prison was in a bit of a state by this time: in such a state of decay that it was pulled down, by an order of 1776, after a public campaign said to have been led by Samuel Johnson. By that time, other London debtors’ prisons were flourishing and they were also highly profitable affairs – at least for those who held the keys.

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An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online

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