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The Liberty of the Clink
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The Liberty of the Clink
From 1127, the 80 acres adjoining the Thames was governed according to the laws of ‘The Liberty of the Bishop of Winchester’. ‘Liberty’ did not mean that everyone could do as he or she liked. The bishop provided a definition of ‘liberty’ and then required all that lived within his area to live according to it. ‘Liberty’ was another word for ‘jurisdiction’ over the manor (similar to how a modem borough council governs a district today). By the 15th century, the lengthy term ‘Liberty of the Bishop of Winchester’ had been shortened to ‘Liberty of The Clink’.


The Liberty of the Clink



The Winchester Geese
The women’s prison was the first of its kind in England and ironically, something of a milestone in women’s rights! Previously, if a woman was accused of a crime, her husband or father was assumed to be responsible for her. Women employed in the Bankside stews were often unmarried and had, therefore, assumed a new degree of independence, so a woman accused of a crime could now go to her own gaol!

In 1161, Henry II issued 52 regulations for Bankside under the title, ‘An Ordinance of the Stewes’, based on some ‘oral customs from tyme out of minde’, with the commendable intention of ensuring fair play all round. The women employed in stews were not allowed to cheat their clients, but nor was the householder allowed to employ the women against their will. Limits were also placed on the powers of the bishop’s own officials, including his bailiff and the keepers of The Clink.
A gift of several rented houses was also made to the bishop, who would now make money from them - whatever worldly, mortal, or downright sinful purpose they might be used for. Part of the bishop’s sizeable income was most certainly the wages of sin.


The Liberty of the Clink



The girls that worked in these ‘stews’ (after the old French word estuve, meaning stove, for the hot work done in them!) were nicknamed ‘The Winchester Geese’ (probably because of their white aprons, and the yellow hoods that the law required them to wear).


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