WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Gentleman of Three Ins

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Gentleman of Three Ins

Lots of things come in threes.

Little pigs. French hens. Little kittens. Feet in a yard. BLT ingredients. Brontë sisters.

Sometimes frightening things come in threes: witches in Macbeth, Cerebrus’s heads, Hanson brothers. And this week’s slang.

Gentleman of Three Ins

In debt, in gaol, and in danger of remaining there for life; or, in gaol, indicted, and in danger of being hanged in chains.

I wrote several posts last year concerning the perilous nature of gaols and imprisonment in Regency England, which can be found here, here, here, and here. I won’t rehash the past, but instead rely on my dear Mr. Gillray to provide some period figurative illustrations rather than literal interpretations of this week’s slang.

In debt:

John Bull ground down by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey 1 June 1795, National Portrait Gallery.

From the British Museum:

John Bull’s head and shoulders emerge from a gigantic coffee-mill. He is being ground by Pitt into guineas which pour from the spout of the machine into the inverted coronet of the Prince of Wales, held out by the Prince (left). The Prince points out his harvest of coins to a row of creditors. John Bull, his hands clasped, shrieks “Murder! Murder!” Pitt (right), both hands on the handle, is working hard, stripped to his shirt. His coat lies across an enormous heap of guineas on which he rests his left knee. He says: “God save great George our Ki . . .” Behind him, and in the upper right corner of the design, is the crown, the centre of a sun whose rays extend behind Pitt’s head, with the words: “Grind away! grind away grind away Billy! never mind his bawling! Grind away.” Other words from the crown are directed towards the victim: “What! – What! – what! Murder hay? why, you poor Stupe, is it not for the good of your Country? hay? hay”. Between Pitt and the post of the mill Dundas and Burke are grovelling for guineas: Burke, frowning, uses both hands; Dundas, who wears a plaid, fills his Scots cap.

In gaol:

Exaltation of Faro’s Daughters by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey 12 May 1796, British Museum.

From the British Museum:

Lady Buckinghamshire (left) and Lady Archer (right) stand side by side in the pillory, heads and hands closely confined, their heads in profile to the right, weeping angrily. Both wear tall feathers in their hair and large pendent ear-rings. Lady Buckinghamshire is forced to stand painfully on tip-toe, a short petticoat exposes her fat legs. On the front of the platform is a placard: ‘Cure for Gambling Publish’d by Lord Kenyon in the Court of Kings Bench on May 9th 1796’. This is raised above the heads of the crowd, with grinning upturned faces in the foreground. Eggs, a cat, &c. fly through the air; the pillory and the dresses of the victims are bespattered. On the right is a house with spectators in the windows.

Hanging in:

Hanging. Drowning. by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey 9 November 1795, National Portrait Gallery.

From the Historical and Descriptive Account of the Caricatures of James Gillray:

Fox. Pitt. Dundas. Another allusion to the love of the two Ministers for the bottle. It represents the different feelings with which the different parties in this country were supposed to have looked upon the decline of Republican principles in France at this time.

And lest we forget, three is a magic number.


Slang term taken from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Nubbing

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Nubbing

Newgate was the final stop for most criminals. Literally.

By the Georgian era, Newgate was in need of overhaul and expansion. The designs of George Dance were chosen and construction began in 1770. The Gordon Riots of 1780 all but destroyed the prison, but reconstruction was finally complete in 1782. The style was architecture terrible, a French-based design that was supposed to render prison so repulsive as to deter criminal behavior. Newgate was basically a large, hulking rectangle of thick, reinforced walls, with few windows, with its interior subdivided into three sections built around central courtyards. Accommodations were available for 300 men, with separate quarters for 100 debtors and 60 women. Prison reform advocate John Howard was initially impressed:

john howard quote

In reality, the new design, with its Common area for the poor and State area for the wealthy, was further subdivided into various chambers and cellars to house debtors and felons, both male and female. Basic incarceration was free in the Common area at Newgate, but that came with a hidden cost: infrequent food, appalling sanitation, and rampant over-crowding. Doctors refused to visit the ill unless mandated by court or paid handsomely. Wealthy prisoners, however, were limited in comfort only by their purses.

“Political prisoners and wealthy felons were expected to pay exorbitantly for food, wine and fuel but enjoyed unlimited visits and other privileges. One of them married twice during his forty years awaiting trial and sired ten children.”

It took little time to realize the positive outlook desired by Howard was nowhere near the reality of Newgate. Because the prisoners were allowed to essentially manage themselves. they developed their own methods of provoking sympathy from visitors in the form of food, drink, and even money. The more enterprising developed methods to collaborate in court in pursuit of favorable verdicts and sentences: forgers drafted appeal notices and petitions for financial support from the Bank of England, and those in danger of transport conspired and refused the Royal Pardon that would send them to Australia.

Multiple reforms were attempted but met with little success. Acts in 1774, 1784, and 1791 established rules for cleanliness and adequate ventillation, classification of prisoners, and regular visitation and inspection of prisons, respectively. All were unenforced. Reformer Elizabeth Fry wrote in an 1813 letter:

“I have lately been twice to Newgate to see after the poor prisoners who had poor little infants without clothing, or with very little and I think if you saw how small a piece of bread they are each allowed a day you would be very sorry.”

But few were sorry. Few concerned themselves with what went on behind the monstrous walls. That is, until the public executions occurred. Those evoked a macabre interest in the public, and unfortunately, the end result for most housed in the Common area was rarely freedom; it was more often death, whether by disease or nubbing, from the nubbing cove manning the nubbing cheat.

An Execution Outside Newgate Prison, 19th century, by Thomas Rowlandson, ca. 1805-1810, via Museum of London.

An Execution Outside Newgate Prison, 19th century, by Thomas Rowlandson, ca. 1805-1810, via Museum of London.

Nubbing (verb)

Nubbing cheat: the gallows.
Nubbing cove: the hangman.


The Story of John Howard Prison Reformer yields bounteous information on prison conditions.
•The quote about political and wealthy prisoners was by Stanley Jackson in his book, The Old Bailey.
•Elizabeth Fry can be studied through her own words, in the Memoir of the Life of Elizabeth Fry.
•Fascinating information on English prisons, and Newgate specifically for this post, can be found at London Lives.
•Slang definitions from 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.