Victorian London - Legal System - Courts - Bankruptcy Court

Bankrupts' Court ... The public are admitted to the rooms of the several commissioners who hold their sittings here, and are allowed to be present at the examinations.

Mogg's New Picture of London and Visitor's Guide to it Sights, 1844

The Bankrupt's Court, in Basinghall Street, is a detached department of the Court of Chancery, the business of which was formerly conducted in Guildhall. The present court, a large quadrangular building, consists of fourteen rooms, connected by commodious galleries; it is entirely devoted to matters of bankruptcy, and has an attached office for the registry of all business relating thereto.

Mogg's New Picture of London and Visitor's Guide to it Sights, 1844

BANKRUPTCY (COURT OF), BASINGHALL STREET. A spacious building (occupying the site of Bakewell Hall), erected in 1820, from the designs of William Fowler, Esq., the architect of Covent Garden Market, Hungerford Market, and of other public edifices in London. The business of the court is managed by two judges, and five commissioners. Number of Bankrupts in 1845- 1028; in 1846- 1326. The bankrupt is a trader, the insolvent not necessarily so. The bankrupt, when discharged, is discharged not only as to his person, but as to future acquired property; while the insolvent is discharged only as to his person, and not as to future acquired property.

Peter Cunningham, Hand-Book of London, 1850

THE Bankruptcy Court is a large and handsome building in Basinghall Street. The court-rooms, of which there are five, are situated on the first floor, and are reached by flights of stairs ranged round a central quadrangle. The spectacles one meets with in this court are not of the most exhilarating kind. The place is a sort of purgatory, through which a number of unfortunate victims victims as often to their own folly and extravagance as to un foreseen calamities have to be hoisted, shoved, squeezed, ground, or propelled by some means or other, in order that they may be liberated from the bondage of debt, and left free to begin the world again. But for some such revivifying machinery as is here available to those who stand in need of it, multitudes of men of business, whose worst faults have been those of heedlessness and inexperience, would be consigned by failure to permanent and irretrievable ruin. On the other hand, there can be no question but that this court is often much and grossly abused, and that many a cunning knave has succeeded in making it the instrument of his own roguery. The most stringent application of the law will not prevent this, in the cases of men of abandoned character.
    On entering the court while business is pending, you are in the region of long faces, and glum, scowling looks. The only exceptions are the white wigged lawyers, who show a matter-of-fact, don't care style of face, and who, up to their eyes in documents of various sorts, take the business remarkably easy, as though impressed with the comfortable fact, that even though the estate may not pay sixpence in the pound for the creditors, it will at any rate pay them. Their coolness offers a contrast to that of the irritated opposing creditor, who is at this moment holding forth, and who cannot help exploding now and then. There, or the other side, stands the bankrupt, who has come up for his certificate if he can get it, and is trembling in his shoes for fear of being check-mated. The creditor, in his wrath, impugns the balance-sheet, declares the best part of it a hoax and half insinuates that the bankrupt has been making a purse. His uncourtly heat and vehennence only serve to damage his cause: the presiding commissioner does not see the force of his argument, or the truth of his charge, and mildly calls him to order. In the end the charge is found unsupported by evidence; what appeared suspicious on the part of the bankrupt is cleared up or explained away and finally, he is awarded a certificate of the first class, to the immense disgust of the hostile creditor, and to his own ardent rejoicing, and also, as at least it appears to us, to his surprise.
    In another room we find the bankrupt in a different predicament. He has been in a large way of business, employing hundreds of men under him, and having suddenly failed at a critical period when discounts were high, had avowedly consigned his affairs into the hands of his assignees for the benefit of a rather numerous list of creditors. The white washizhg process was going on swimmingly, with every prospect of a first-class certificate in quick time, when all at once a scrutinizing creditor makes the discovery that the bankrupt has omitted from his account some considerable amount of debts due to him in a neighbouring country, and has, since his last examination, been secretly collecting them for his private behoof. This fatal discovery bursts on the guilty man at the moment when his triumph is all but complete ; and you may see, by his perturbed and livid countenance, that the charge it involves is but too well founded, and that he has nothing to urge in his vindication. There will be no further talk of a certificate ; the falsifier will be sent back, and in all probability will be drained to the last farthing, and deserted by his last friend if he do not escape and seek refuge from the reproach of his fellows in the fate of an exile.
    The number of bankrupts whose cases come under consideration in this court is considerably over a thousand in the course of a year. A report of any number of such cases, it is to be feared, would furnish but a melancholy picture. It would be unfair, however, to form an estimate of the commercial morality of the country from evidence derived solely from such a source ; as well might a man fudge of the fruit of a garden from the unsound and worm-eaten blights which the summer-wind scatters from the boughs. Commerce is seen here inn the predicament of a patient under the surgeon's knife. The sound and healthy trader keeps aloof from this hospital of financial cripples, with whom, to say the truth, he is rarely much given to sympathize, though he has no objection to see them once more sound upon their legs. It is to effect this thorough restoration that the Bankruptcy Court exists - a discharge from this court being a discharge, not only as only to person, but as to future acquired property.

The Leisure Hour, 1858

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Bankruptcy Court, Lincolnís-inn-fields (see LAW COURTS.) NEAREST Rallway Station, Temple; Omnibus Routes, Chancery -lane, Holborn, and Strand; Cab Rank, Searle-street. 

Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879