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Small Debts Relief Society.

This institution for the discharge and relief of persons imprisoned for small debts throughout England was established February 1772. It owes its rise to a sermon preached at that period at Charlotte Chapel, Pimlico, and at Bedford Chapel, Bloomsbury. The collection was 81l. 1s.;but the idea meeting with general approbation, a committee was formed to search out proper objects. In April 1772, they reported, that with fourscore pounds they had happily released thirty-four prisoners; most of whom had large families, and appeared to be worthy and useful members of society; and some of them were confined only for their fees." From sanguine expectations of success not being entertained, accurate accounts of the wives and children of those released were at first not taken; hut from an inspection of the books down to 1801, it appears that 986 prisoners had been discharged (by means of subscriptions, amounting to no more than 2,892l.), amongst whom there were 566 wives, and 2,389 children; so that 3,941 souls were essentially relieved by the very limited powers enjoyed by this society. In 1801, James Neild, Esq., the then treasurer, published " a Statement of Debtors in the prisons of England and Wales ;" and soon afterwards, to adopt his own language, he "was surprised with the receipt of a bank note of one thousand pounds. It came by penny post, in a blank cover, neither name nor signature, addressed James Neild, Esq., &c. This bank note could not be traced, as it had been issued from the bank, at least three years before it was received by Mr. Neild.

As to its more recent success, notwithstanding the general insolvent debtors' act, by which with three months' imprisonment, all debts may be got rid of;— Mr. Grasswell, secretary to the society, stated before the House of Commons in 1816,—that they had been applied to as much as ever, although not in the beginning of the act; and he perceived that, within the preceding two years, there had been half as many discharged under the insolvent debtors' act, as the whole number : they had discharged upwards of twelve hundred within those two years; and between 5 and 600 bad been discharged under the act.—The society now pay the expenses of applying for discharges under the act, where they are satisfied with the character of the applicant party.

At the last annual general court, held in April last, it was reported, that the number of debtors discharged and relieved from various prisons, (amongst the rest 129 from the Borough compter, 132 from the Fleet, 125 from the King's Bench, 193 from the Marshalsea, and 202 from Whitecross street,) within the preceding year were 1,138, who had 883 wives with 2,137 children. The average expense of the liberation of those prisoners, including every incidental expenditure relating to this charity, amounted to 2l. 17s. 2¼ d., a signal proof of the extensive good that may be effected with small means when judiciously applied. Debtors were relieved from 62 different prisons in England.

Source: Leigh's New Picture of London. Printed for Samuel Leigh, 18, Strand;
by W. Clowes, Northumberland Court. 1819