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  Insolvency and bankruptcy in Tickhill in the 18th and 19th Century


Anyone unfortunate enough to fall into debt in the 18th and first half of the 19th Centuries, except traders or farmers, faced a dismal future of indefinite imprisonment if their creditors so wished. These debtors did not qualify to become bankrupt. The Debtors' Prison at York, built during 1701-5, is now part of York Castle Museum. In the 18th Century it was also a visitor attraction for those members of the gentry who wished to see prisoners in the exercise yard. In order to relieve prison overcrowding and show a modicum of mercy, a series of Acts 'for the relief of insolvent debtors' were passed during the 18th and early 19th Centuries, such as one in 1755 which allowed those imprisoned for debt to apply to a Justice of the Peace at the Quarter Sessions for their release if they submitted details of all their assets so that creditors could proceed with claiming the debtors' property. Not until 1869 did imprisonment for debt stop, apart from in some exceptional circumstances. Traders and farmers could apply for bankruptcy and avoid imprisonment.

Details of debtors who applied to JPs for release from prison are given in The London Gazette and show several men and women from Tickhill tried to obtain their release from prison in York and elsewhere. The following are a few examples with the dates when they applied for their release:


Isabella Copley, widow (Debtors' Prison York)    

1761 John Walker, apothecary (Fleet prison)
1776 Adam Mickle, gardener (Marshlasea Prison) 
1781 Thomas Norman, innkeeper (Debtors' Prison York)
1831 Frances Alderson, keeper of a Ladies' Academy (Debtors' Prison York)
1831 Richard Copley, joiner (Debtors' Prison York) 
1834 George Pailthorpe, formerly butcher and publican and later cattle dealer, cheesemonger and black-beer merchant (Debtors' Prison York)
1844 Mary Ann Darby, spinster (Debtors' Prison York) 

Examples of Tickhill traders/farmers applying for bankruptcy are also given in The London Gazette. On 12 April 1844 John Bee, a printer, bookseller and stationer in Tickhill, gave notice that he intended to present a petition to the Commissioners of the Leeds District Court of Bankruptcy praying to be examined about his debts and to be protected upon making a full disclosure of his estate for paying his debts. Bee survived this upheaval and continued trading in Tickhill for many years. On 5 March 1858 The London Gazette announced that John Sharp, a Tickhill innkeeper and farmer, having been declared bankrupt was required to 'surrender himself' to Martin John West, one of Her Majesty's Commissioners of the Leeds District Court of Bankruptcy, at the Council Hall in Sheffield on 27 March and 1 May. Sharp had to make a full disclosure of his estate and effects and any creditors had to appear with proof of the debts owed them.

These inhabitants of Tickhill represent a tiny proportion of the people whose financial affairs went awry and were imprisoned or declared bankrupt. The London Gazette records many more names of those who suffered this misfortune - see the website which has a very good advanced search facility.

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