In the Clink

In the way that these things usually happen, yesterday I stumbled across the meaning of an expression I have grown up using and never thought to question.

Well, I say ‘stumbled across’. More precisely, I walked past it. My route from Borough Market to the Golden Hinde on the south bank of the Thames in London (both subjects worthy of blogs all of their own!) took me down Clink Street and past the site of the infamous ‘Clink Prison’.  This place gave birth to the idiom, ‘in the clink’ – meaning, in prison.  A blue plaque on the wall of a building which now houses the Clink Prison Museum, celebrated its history as a ‘most notorious medieval prison’ and gave the dates of 1144-1780.  Just above this, a rather gruesome prop hung from the wall – a cage with a fake skeleton inside, leaving no one in doubt as to the kind of treatment anyone held at his/ her majesty’s pleasure were likely to receive.

The site of The Clink Prison.

A gaggle of people were grouped outside the entrance to the museum, looking excited about going inside and having a tour of all the delights that lay within, and I was struck by a shiver of distate, similar to one I experienced many years ago when visiting the dungeons of Warwick Castle.  What passes as amusement for us modern day folk was a death sentence to those poor unfortunate souls who didn’t have the privilege of walking in and out at will. We take a macabre interest in the tales of torment of those who were inmates of The Clink, dungeons, or any other house of pain. We enjoy being horrified by the instruments of torture and the stories of those who suffered their use. I wonder whether they ever thought their last, dark days would one day be the stuff of a ‘good day out’?!

These days, we all like to think that we are so much better than our ancestors. No longer do we find it acceptable to seek out public executions, watch men fight it out to the death in the arena, or animals pitted against each other in cruel and violent ways.  But is human nature really any different? Have we really moved on in our collective thinking? We all like to revise history to suit our modern sensibilities. Judgements are passed on all those who went before us, and the further their beliefs and actions depart from the perceived wisdom of the day, the more vitriolic we are in our sentencing of them.  I sometimes wonder what future generations will think of our behaviour, and how uncomfortably we will writhe under the microscope of our great grandchildren’s ideaologies.

The popularity of such places as the Clink Prison Museum, would suggest that time passes and fashions change, but we will always love the rather less wholesome stories of our forebears. Whether because it excites our historical interest, or out of a sense of ‘there but for the grace of God, go I’, we are fascinated by the gory details. And please don’t think I consider myself to be any different! Given a little more time and disposable cash in my pocket, I might have been tempted inside for a closer look. For my own future reference, and in case anyone here is interested, the link to The Clink is here:

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