Sunday, 8 January 2012
Arrowheads and prisoners' uniforms
Though the broad-arrowhead mark has been used on government property since the reign of Henry VIII, it was used to denote prison uniform only from 1870 until 1922. However there is an earlier association between this mark and prisons:
Ludgate had for centuries a debtors’ prison on its upper floor, above the gate’s arch, and one fifteenth-century inmate was an ironmonger, Stephen Forster. Debtors were allowed to beg behind a gate at street level, and Forster was fortunate to attract the attention of a rich widow, who asked how much his release fee was. ‘Twenty pounds’, he replied, equivalent to several thousand in current money. She paid it, employed him, eventually married him, and agreed with him to make his former prison more comfortable for inmates.
This story is related in Thornbury’s London Past & Present (1875), with quotations from Maitland (1739) and Strype (1720). Stow (1598) clearly had little time for the story of Forster begging: ‘some vpon a light occasion (as a maidens heade in a glasse window) had fabled him to bee a Mercer, and to haue begged there at Ludgate.’ But he did ensure that when Ludgate was rebuilt in 1586 the plaque was restored, along with another bearing Forster’s coat of arms showing ‘three broad Arrow heades.’