Marshalsea Prison

Charles Dickens father, John Dickens, was incarcerated here for debt in 1824

TravelCurious Tip

The prison wall is only a few hundred metres south of London Bridge, and can easily be included as part of a visit to Borough Market, the Golden Hinde II or the George Inn.

There isn’t much left of Marshalsea Prison. Located just north of St. George’s Church in Southwark, all that remains is a small section of wall, which includes the original entrance arch, marked by a plaque. But this small piece of brickwork was once an infamous London jail, second in importance only to the Tower of London.

A Prison Run by Criminals

England’s prison system was once very different. Up until the 19th century, all jailhouses were run privately, for profit, and as a result they were plagued by corruption and were often riddled with disease. The Marshalsea was effectively an extortion racket. Inmates who could afford the “prison fees” had access to a bar, a shop and a restaurant, and were even allowed out into the city during the day. For those without money, things were rather different. They were crammed into one of nine rooms with dozens of other prisoners, and faced regular beatings and starvation if they displeased the jailers. It was reported by a parliamentary committee in 1729 that 300 men had died within the prison walls over a period of three months.

A Bleak House

A large part of the reason for the Marshalsea’s infamy is its inclusion in the works of Charles Dickens. Dickens’ father was imprisoned there in 1824, when Charles was just 12 years old, forcing the young boy to leave school and work in a factory. These were some of the formative experiences that he would draw on when he began to pen his novels. Most explicity, the father of the title character in Little Dorrit is imprisoned in the Marshalsea. The prison was demolished in the 1870s. “It is gone now”, wrote Dickens, “and the world is none the worse without it.”

Nearby Attractions

See all attractions in London
The Shard
The tallest building in the European Union, slicing 310 metres into the sky.
Borough Market
A beautiful wholesale fruit and vegetable market, one of the oldest in London.
The George Inn
Dating back to 1676 this is the only original galleried coaching inn left in London.
Marshalsea Prison
Much of today’s crime and punishment hails from Victorian England, when the practice of imprisoning 90% of offenders began, with a spectrum of punishments.
St George the Martyr
Throughout Dickens novel, Little Dorrit, St George the Martyr church plays a central role - from Little Dorritt’s birth through the church where she is married.
Lant Street
Charles Dickens grew up on Lant street and famously wrote about the plight of the poor, as much of his early life was influenced by his father’s incarceration in debtor’s prison.

Related Tours

Southbank and Borough Market Private Tour
For centuries, London has stood at the centre of the world’s commerce, adapting with the shifting tides of power and technology.  A former dockland and industrial slum, and now an icon of successful regeneration, London Bridge is one of London’s most historic and storied districts. 

  • Start your tour beside the river on the beautiful Bankside footpath.
  • Enjoy incredible vistas of London's finest bridges, castles, and cathedrals.
  • Explore Southwark's treasure trove of gallerieshistoric buildings, and pubs.
  • Dive into London's oldest food market. Decide what you'd like to indulge in, and enjoy. 
  • Learn about the area's strong connection with Shakespeare and Dickens.
  • See old prison walls, pauper burial grounds, and London's last surviving coaching inn. 
  • Visit Borough Market - where you tour ends - and learn the history of the historic market before enjoying its many fares. 
We begin at London Bridge, where the small trading town built by the Romans stood upon the river Thames. Hear the stories of how the Thames helped Britain take command of the oceans - from Sir Francis Drake and his journey on the Golden Hind to the HMS Belfast, the most significant surviving Royal Navy warship from the Second World War. 

Move west along the river and into the time of Shakespeare, as you pass by one of the world's most famous theatres, known for the timeless words penned by arguably the greatest playwright of all time. 

A few blocks east and several centuries later, step into the world of Southwark, which was built on industrial, smoky origins. Grand Victorian wharves, granaries, and shipyards once spanned its shores, amassing the trade and treasures of Her Majesty's Empire. Now, the area has evolved into one of London's most adored and exciting districts. The neighbourhood has arguably the best vistas across the city, its finest walk, and London's most beloved food and produces market. 


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