The Insolvent Debtors’ Court, or Court for the Relief and Discharge of Insolvent Debtors, was a debtors court in Portugal Street, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London. It is often referred to in literature as the Lincoln’s Inn Debtors’ Court.

The building was constructed in 1824 to designs from John Soane. It was built in response to an Act of Parliament from 1820 by which imprisoned debtors could make an application and be discharged from custody.

It briefly served as a County Court in its latter years. Portugal Street closed as a law court on Friday, 12 February 1909. The building materials were sold in late 1911, and demolished soon after.

 

Charles Dickens and the Insolvent Debtors’ Court.

Charles Dickens refers to the Court in at least two of his works.

In the sketch Shabby-Genteel People, Dickens refers to it in this passage:

It would be difficult to name any particular part of town as the principal resort of shabby-genteel men.  We have met a great many persons of this description in the neighbourhood of the inns of court.  They may be met with, in Holborn, between eight and ten any morning; and whoever has the curiosity to enter the Insolvent Debtors’ Court will observe, both among spectators and practitioners, a great variety of them.

 

Dickens also refers to the court in Chapter 43 of The Pickwick Papers:

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.

 

Dickens also refers to one or two prison agents for the Insolvent Court living in Lant Street (Borough area of London) in The Pickwick Papers (Chapter 32).

 

 

Location.

The building was located at 18 Portugal Street. The site was occupied by a building belonging to the Land Registry and more recently the London School of Economics (LSE).

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