In a lofty room, ill-lighted and worse ventilated, situated in Portugal Street, Lincoln's Inn Fields, there sit nearly the whole year round, one, two, three, or four gentlemen in wigs, as the case may be, with little writing-desks before them, constructed after the fashion of those used by the judges of the land, barring the French polish. There is a box of barristers on their right hand; there is an enclosure of insolvent debtors on their left; and there is an inclined plane of most especially dirty faces in their front. These gentlemen are the Commissioners of the Insolvent Court, and the place in which they sit, is the Insolvent Court itself.
Charles Dickens, Pickwick Papers, 1837
The Insolvent Debtors' Court, or Court for the Relief and Discharge of Insolvent Debtors, is in Portugal Street, Lincoln's- inn-Fields. The principle upon which it is established is this : - The person is for ever released, but the property never, as long as any claims remain unsatisfied.
Mogg's New Picture of London and Visitor's Guide to it Sights, 1844
INSOLVENT DEBTORS (COURT FOR THE RELIEF OF), 33, LINCOLN'S INN FIELDS - entrance, No.5 Portugal-street. The unclaimed monies arising from insolvent estates is laid out in Exchequer Bills; the interest on which is now applicable to the expenses of obtaining the discharge of poor prisoners, pursuant to 118th sect. of Act 1 & 2 Vict., c.110. The first Commissioner has 2000l. a-year; the three other Commissioners 1500l. each.
Peter Cunningham, Hand-Book of London, 1850
The Insolvent Debtors Court, which, to a peculiar but not the
most select class, is one of the pet lions of London, is situated in Portugal
Street, close to Lincoln's Inn Fields. All sorts of jocular legends and sarcasms
are current concerning this central spot—the barristers who plead here, the
attorneys who crowd here, and the luckless tribe who are brought up for
exhibition here, in pursuance of their own request, yet against their wills. The
court itself, which is, for the debtor in the grasp of the law, what the
Bankruptcy Court is for the defalcating trader, is said to be the refuge of
destitute "swells." What we note on entering the court while business is doing,
is a lack of every thing agreeing with one's ideas of the dignity and majesty of
justice, and a general aspect of wear and tear, not to say shabbiness, about the
denizens of the place, and also of the place itself. The court room is small and
inconveniently crowded, and it is with difficulty that we are able to edge in
side ways and take post against the wall.
The object of general interest at the moment is a tall fellow, of middle age, in semi-rural garb, who, trickling with perspiration, and nearly dumb foundered with cross-questioning, bears on his face the expression of a wild animal at bay. He has claimed release from the debtor's prison, where he has been confined ; but he cannot account, or he will not account, for fifteen hundred pounds, of which he stood possessed nine months ago, and which, of course, his creditors are anxious to get sight of. He has had complicated doings with some small landed property down in the south ; he has bought and sold, mortgaged and redeemed, leased and released, borrowed and paid, and lent moneys, and has mingled together his transactions in such an inexplicable way, that neither he nor the lawyers can unravel the web. Then, there is, an aunt in the business, who is bedridden and unproduceable, and only speechable at rare intervals she is at the bottom of all the mystery, but she cannot throw any light upon it until she gets well, which won't be, according to appearances, until the nephew is safe out of prison, be that when it may. Meanwhile, the badgered debtor struggles in the, toils, and we, willing to escape from the spectacle of his shifts and doubles, and from the suffocation,. leave him to make the best he can of it.
In another apartment is another species of entertainment. The performer here is a young would-be gentleman, brought up from Whitecross Street on his own petition. Unlike the countryman, he is cool and self-possessed as a judge ; he evidently considers himself an injured individual, suffering from the prejudices of society. What has he done that he should be incarcerated and deprived of the sweets of liberty? He has only contracted some few thousands of debt, without the prospect of liquidation. It is true that, out of his fifteen creditors, nine of them are tailors ; but what of that? how can a gentleman about town do without his tailor? and why should he incur rebuke, because he chose to distribute his patronage? If he has not paid/ their bills, he has at least paid the penalty of' default, by the detention he has already undergone. Such, so far as we can make it out, is the gist and essence of the plea on his behalf; but, unfortunately for him, it does not seem to have much weight with the commissioner, and he, in the end, sides with the creditors, who are in no hurry to let him out of their clutches. The Insolvent Court would furnish us with pictures of deeper shade and fair fouler hue than these ; but neither we nor our readers would derive any pleasure from contemplating them. We drop the subject; with the reminder, that a discharge from this court is only a discharge as to person, and not as to future acquired property.
The Leisure Hour, 1858