This piece shows how our ancestors were often fined for misdemeanours – but if they failed to pay the fine, they were given a short spell in a house of correction or bridewell instead. Faced with paying a fine or going to prison, though, some preferred to do neither…at least, until they had no choice!
“Public Office, Cheltenham, Oct. 7 - John Cook, a post-boy from Frocester, was charged by Mr Whitmore, with having negligently driven a chaise against some scaffolding in St George’s Place, by which the lives of the passengers and others were endangered.
“He was fined 2l and pleading extreme poverty, even to the want of ‘a single shilling in the world’ – he was, in default of payment, sentenced to six weeks’ confinement in Northleach house of correction.
“To the last moment he declared his utter inability to pay the fine, and endeavoured, by imposing on the magistrate, R Capper Esq, by his feigned tale of distress, to evade the punishment he so much merited – but when baffled, and the officer was about to apply the manacles, he put his hand into his pocket and coolly produced two sovereigns – saying ‘it would be a bad day for him if he had not a hundred of the same sort.’”
From Jackson’s Oxford Journal, 9 October 1824