‘Debt is the worst poverty’ runs the old proverb. Long before ‘recession’ made it into the dictionary, debt was a frequent occurrence in the lives of our ancestors: more than 30,000 debtors were arrested in England in 1837 alone. For some, debt was a way of life, for others it was a state to be avoided at all costs. Nevertheless, tens of thousands whose finances were blighted by misfortune or mismanagement appear in the records of the courts and debtors’ prisons. Many prisoners found it more acceptable to live in relative luxury in debtors’ prison rather than in poverty outside.