2–10 Court Street

Houses damaged in an air raid in 1941 were rebuilt as single-storey shops | Part of 2–10 Court Street

the manorial Court House
Contributed by Survey of London on Jan. 3, 2018

An early building on Ducking Pond Row at the north-east corner of Court Street was a debtors’ prison for the Lord of the manor of Stepney. Possibly of sixteenth-century origin, it was certainly present by 1623 when ‘Lord Wentworth’s Jayle within White Chapell’ was mentioned in John Taylor’s poem ‘The Praise and Vertue of a Jayle and Jaylers’. Inefficiencies in the management of the manor, led to the institution on this site of a new Court of Record in 1664. Generally known as Whitechapel Court or Manor Court, in 1703 it was referred to as ‘the Prison House and the Court of Record called the King’s Court of Record for the Manors of Stepney and Hackney’.1 The premises provided accommodation for the Lord of the manor’s steward and the chief bailiff. Francis Bramston, the younger brother of (Sir) John Bramston, a local landowner, was appointed steward of the court in 1669. In the early eighteenth century the prison, said to have been capable of holding about a hundred people, was overcrowded with debtors, many owing very small sums or victims of false testimony. The Rev. Thomas Bray publicised this in 1727 and sought to bring relief to the miserable prisoners. The prison’s use declined after 1750 when its role dealing with debts under 40 shillings was transferred to a newly formed Court of Requests for the Tower Hamlets that was not connected to the manor. There were still thirty inmates in 1760, all but three of whom escaped when there was a fire at an adjacent gingerbread baker’s. Acts of 1779 and 1781 removed the power of arrest on mesne process and limited terms of imprisonment to forty days. Hardly used thereafter, the prison was empty in 1800. The property had long since found supplementary use as a Freemasons’ lodge and a public house. Thereafter, the courthouse was adapted to residential use until it was replaced in the mid nineteenth century, its last recorded mention in 1838 being as ‘tenements late Court House’.2

  1. London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), M/93/138: The National Archives, PROB11/832/335 

  2. LMA, THCS/464: Land Tax returns: M. Dorothy George, London Life in the Eighteenth Century, 1925 (edn 1964), pp. 300,307–9: John Rocque's map, 1746: Richard Horwood's maps, 1799 and 1813: Hubert Llewellyn Smith, The History of East London, 1939, pp.66–70: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography sub Bramston and Bray: Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives, cuttings 022