Wrong Side of the River: London’s disreputable South Bank in the sixteenth and seventeenth century

Jessica A. Browner

Volume 36 (1994)

University of Virginia

It is a commonplace of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English history that Southwark was the most disreputable quarter of London. It was lambasted by pamphleteers, and damned by Puritan preachers. “Better termed a foule dene then a faire garden,” according to Donald Lupton, “here come few that either regard their credit or losse of time.”1 Yet through most of the Middle Ages, Southwark’s reputation was anything but notorious. Indeed, prior to this time the borough, with its inns, public gardens, and vast open spaces, was fashionable as the residence of great men: towards the end of the thirteenth century there were established on or near the river bank a number of town houses of great ecclesiastics and other magnates, to whom it was a convenience to live where the river provided them with an easy means of access to Westminster. Sir John Fastolf, the famous captain in the French wars, was among the well-known inhabitants of Southwark and maintained a considerable establishment there during the fourteenth century. Even more impressive was the Bishop of Winchester’s house just west of the Bridgehead, described by John Stow in his 1598 Survey of London as “a very fair house, well repaired, and hath a large wharf and landing-place, called the bishop of Winchester’s stairs.” It is to be seen plainly on all the sixteenth-century maps of Southwark.2 How then may we explain this apparent transformation of London’s southernmost suburb during this time — which we may define more precisely as from its incorporation in 1550 to around 1676, the date of Southwark’s own “Great Fire” — from an upper-class retreat to a place of disorderly resort? The answer, it seems, is predicated on two factors: (1) the jurisdictional anomalies of the borough; and (2) the persons, professions, and pastimes which these jurisdictional anomalies attracted.

A proclamation of 16 July 1615 described London as “the greatest, or next the greatest Citie of the Christian world.”3 With a population of around 200,000 in 1600, out of a national population of probably less than five million, it was more than ten times as large as the greatest provincial city, Norwich — a predominance unmatched by that of any other western metropolis save Amsterdam. Furthermore, during the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries the population of London and its immediate suburbs grew much more rapidly than the population of the country as a whole, attracting immigrants from the rest of England as well as from a continent distracted and damaged by religious wars. “Soon,” wrote King James I (1603-25), whose dislike of the city was notorious, “London will be all England,” and for once he echoed the sentiments of a large proportion of his subjects.4 Within the metropolis itself, however, growth was not uniform. While the central area of the City5 within and without the Walls maintained fairly constant numbers, London as a whole increased four-fold in population. Some of this outlying growth was accounted for by the expansion of the area to the west of Temple Bar, where more prosperous citizens chose to live. For the most part, however, newcomers were settling in the parishes to the east of the City or, in the case of poorer folk, congregating on the other side of the Thames in Southwark. It is no wonder that the suburbs, with their concentration of population and the ensuing social evils of overcrowding, bad sanitation, vagrancy and disorder became notorious. A 1596 Order by the Privy Council to the Justices of the Peace of Middlesex sums up the popular and official view of the suburbs:

a great nomber of dissolute, loose and insolent people harboured and maintained in such and like noysom and disorderly howses, as namely poor cottages and habitacions of beggars and people without trade, stables, ins, alehowses, tavernes, garden howses converted to dwellings, ordinaries, dicying howses, bowling allies and brothell howses. The most part of which pestering those parts of the citty with disorder and uncleannes are either apt to breed contagion and sicknes, or otherwize serve for the resort and refuge of masterles men and other idle and evill dispozed persons, and are the cause of cozenages, thefts, and other dishonest conversacion and may also be used to cover dangerous practizes.

“How happy therefore were cities,” echoed Thomas Dekker in 1608, “if they had no suburbs, sithence they serve but as caves, where monsters are bred up to devour the cities themselves!”6

It is certainly within this context — although with more or less of a pejorative slant, according to personal taste — that Londoners looked across the river to the southern borough of Southwark. As a town, Southwark owed its importance to its position at the southern end of the only bridge across the Thames. It was part of a thoroughfare from Kent and Sussex to the Bridgehead, concentrating in its High Street three Roman roads. Through its streets passed visitors to London and kings returning from voluntary or involuntary sojourns on the Continent; Richard II, Henry V, Henry VI, Queen Margaret of Anjou, Charles II and William III all passed in procession through Southwark. Its population was mainly subsidiary to the needs of London and, as a result, it grew parasitically, making its living by becoming the pleasure-ground for the more closely regulated community to the north.7

The historical (as distinguished from the metropolitan) borough of Southwark would appear to have had an area coincident with the Guildable manor, the King’s manor, the Great Liberty manor and the Clink Liberty. It thus extended eastward as far as Bermondsey, south to Camberwell and Newington, and to the liberty of Paris Garden and Lambeth in the west. A tongue of land which reached south-eastward between Bermondsey and Newington, in such a way as to enclose a long stretch of the Kent Road as far as St. Thomas Waterings, was included in Southwark. Paris Garden Liberty, now the parish of Christchurch, was outside the jurisdiction of the borough, and neither it nor the Clink Liberty was within the parliamentary area. Both, however, were commonly regarded as liberties within Southwark. Christchurch was not entered as a parish of Southwark until the Population Returns of 1831, and they were both included in the borough by the Reform Act of 1832.8

In 1550 the City purchased the full rights of the crown in Southwark, including the King’s manor, the Great Liberty manor, and the lands of the Duke of Suffolk and the Archbishop of Canterbury, for the sum of £647 2s . 1d ., but with the exclusion of Suffolk Place, the liberty of the Mint, the Clink Liberty and Paris Garden. Edward VI (1547-53) granted to the Corporation all waifs and strays, treasure trove, deodand,9 goods of felons and fugitives, and escheats and forfeitures in the town and borough. He gave, as his predecessors had done, the execution of writs, the power to arrest felons and other malefactors and to take them to Newgate, and all liberties which the king or his heirs should or might have had if the borough had remained in their tenure. The inhabitants of the borough were subjected to the officers of the City as though themselves citizens, and in like manner were admitted to participation in civic rights and privileges.10 Yet although Southwark was subsequently created the twenty-sixth ward of Bridge Ward Without, it retained its manorial status, and was denied representation in the Court of Common Council or the power of electing its own aldermen; likewise, the Lord Mayor, the recorder and all aldermen who held the City mayoralty became justices of the peace in Southwark, with all powers exercised by other justices in Surrey.11 As a result, disputes frequently arose between the JPs for Surrey and the City government about responsibility for holding musters and their respective spheres of duty as justices, and for a century subsequent to the Charter of 1550 there are many references to the fact that the jurisdiction of the City extended over only a part of the borough, and that the rest was subject to the county.12 Furthermore, in view of the lack of elective authority, it is not surprising that this charter was regarded by the citizens of Southwark as an oppressive extension of the City boundaries. Their discontent became politically significant on more than one occasion. In February 1554 they gave Sir Thomas Wyatt a far from unfriendly welcome as he led his rebel force towards London, as part of the widespread movement against Queen Mary’s intended marriage to Philip of Spain. It was not until the guns of the Tower were trained upon the homes and churches of the borough that the inhabitants asked Wyatt and his men to leave. The South Londoners showed their hostility to the government again in 1647, when they opened the gates of the Bridge to Fairfax’s army.13 Certainly, Southwark’s reputation as a radical suburb was not enhanced by the memory of the part it could and did play with its vital command of the Bridgehead in times of civil disorder.

The gravest jurisdictional problem of Southwark, however, arose from those areas specifically excluded from the Charter, and particularly the anomalous status of Paris Garden and the Clink. These types of liberties — “bastard sanctuaries” they were called — existed in many of the areas surrounding the metropolis. The areas they encompassed had in pre-Tudor times been a combination of lay and ecclesiastical franchises which by charter or prescription claimed independence from royal justice, and as such afforded shelter to fugitive criminals and debtors. The break with Rome marked the end of ecclesiastical jurisdictions, but this did not extinguish the immunities of all the old religious houses; and when the purchasers of these properties claimed for themselves the immunities enjoyed by the former owners, the crown, in whom the franchises in question were now vested, was generally prepared to allow it, so long as the right to collect taxes and raise troops there was retained by the City.14 Thus, Strype’s list of the “privileged places” of London describes a circle around the Walls which coincides very nearly with the area of the suburbs: St. Martin’s le Grand, Blackfriars, Clerkenwell, Turnmill Street, St. John’s Street, High Holborn, the Duchy of Lancaster without Temple Bar, St. Katherine’s, Holywell, Holywell Street, Norton Folgate, Shoreditch, Hoxton, Whitechapel, Wapping and Southwark. Thus, Paris Garden, whose privileges were an outcome of its possession by the Templars and of their enjoyment of immunity since c. 1200 under papal bull, was in some important respects exempt from the jurisdiction of the Lord Mayor and from the legislation of the Common Council, and its inmates continued, where they dared, to defy the local magistracy.15

Privileged status was only one of the reasons why immigrants flocked to the suburbs of London, and why these areas, in particular, participated in the rapid growth experienced by the whole of the City between 1550 and 1700. Southwark, however, was by the later seventeenth century even more densely populated than the sprawling suburbs of East London. Population estimates are necessarily tentative, relying as they do on incomplete records for the four parishes of St. Thomas’, St. George’s, St. Olave’s and St. Saviour’s (from which the fifth parish, Christchurch, was later created). If we base our estimates on census-type sources compiled at specific dates, however, we find that in 1600 Southwark contained 10% of the entire population of the City of London, and in the early seventeenth century 13.5% of all baptisms listed in the London bills of mortality occurred on the Surrey side. It has also been found that there were something like three times as many people living in Southwark in the 1630s as there had been 80 years earlier.16 The visual evidence of surviving maps and panoramas supports this view of intense urban growth, particularly in the build-up of housing to the east of High Street and of places of resort along the South Bank, west of the Bridgehead.17

The privileged status of the borough which stimulated population growth also accounts for the physical make-up of that population. From at least the early sixteenth century, there had been a tendency for domestic industry to establish itself in the suburbs, where apprenticeship regulations were laxer and where it was often possible to escape the powers and penalties of the Livery Companies. By 1600, nearly all the leatherworkers and feltmongers had left the City and were living south of the river, in Lambeth, Bermondsey, and Southwark.18 Poorer craftsmen who did not have the money to set up shop within the City also tended to settle in the eastern or southern parishes. In addition, the immunities of these precincts tended to make them centers for “foreign” and alien craftsmen and traders who were not qualified to work in the City, not having served an apprenticeship. John Strype notes in his list of areas beyond the jurisdiction of the City that they were places where “strangers” chiefly inhabited. A “Return of Aliens” made by the JPs at the request of the Privy Council in 1639 reported a total of 2,006 aliens outside the City: 838 in Westminster, 830 “near the City of London” in Middlesex, and 338 in Southwark.19 In Southwark itself, there is ample evidence to suggest the settlement of foreign craftsmen. Around 1500 several conveyances of land took place in “Burgoyne” in the parish of St. Olave, a name which is probably derived from a settlement of weavers from the Duke of Burgundy’s dominions. The many breweries which supported the borough’s flourishing victualling industry were often run by Dutch brewers who had settled there in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries; and indeed, in 1622 the leatherdressers of Southwark petitioned for redress against the injury done to their trade by Dutchmen who employed their own countrymen as journeymen without their having served an apprenticeship. There was also a Flemish burial ground in Southwark in St. Olave’s parish.20 The result of all this native and foreign migration was a flourishing and reasonably respectable community of artisans and craftsmen, and, significantly, an extremely large apprentice population.

Naturally, however, the liberties of these precincts also attracted other, less respectable, types of immigrants. In a letter to the Council in 1594 the Lord Mayor, Sir John Spencer, asserted that Kent Street, Newington, and other places over the river were “very nurseries and breeding-places of the begging poor” who swarmed the streets of the City. He estimated the number of these beggars at 12,000, and requested a meeting of the justices of Sussex and Surrey to take measures to banish them from the City or prevent them from crossing the Bridge.21 That Southwark was an area which was always poorer than most metropolitan parishes has been confirmed by investigations into London’s social topography.22 Nor was the condition of the borough bettered by the dissolution of religious houses, for the inns of ecclesiastics and other great houses came for the most part to be divided into small dwellings or to give place to such. The inn of the Prior of St. Swithun, for example, which passed for a time into the tenure of the bishops of Rochester, and which appears on Anthony van den Wyngaerde’s 1543 panorama of London as a two-storied building of some pretension, was in ruins in Stow’s time, and in 1649 had been divided into no less than thirty-seven tenements.23 The fear of the “multitudes of poor in base tenements and houses of unlawfull and disorderly resort in the suburbs” led to repeated efforts — largely in vain — by the government to check unrestrained building. A royal proclamation of 1580 forbade “any new buildings within three miles of the gates of the City”; a statute of 1593 went a step further, and directed against “converting great houses into several tenements”; and in 1603 a proclamation called for the outright razing of houses and rooms in the suburbs of London, primarily as a precaution against the spread of plague by “dissolute and idle persons.”24 Concern over the new slums seems to have reached a peak in James I’s reign, during which time royal proclamations for the restraint of building in and around London averaged about one every other year. In spite of these efforts, however, Southwark remained a predominantly poor and crowded area, and for this reason proved to be an ideal breeding ground for plague during the outbreaks of 1577-78, 1603, 1625, 1635, 1636-37, and 1641.

Hand in hand with poverty, of course, went vagrancy. Vagrants were generally considered to be willfully idle to avoid honest labor, men who

“used to loyter, and woulde not worke.” In the official view, the only occupations such people engaged in were as “Dauncers, Fydlers and Minstrels, Diceplayers, Maskers, Fencers, Bearewardes, Theeves, Common Players in Enterludes, Cutpurses, Cosiners, Maisterlesse servauntes, Jugglers, Roges, sturdye Beggers, &c.”25 More realistically, vagrants were often demobilized soldiers, generally penniless, starving and desperate. In 1550 the presence in London of soldiers demobilized after the war with France was so unsettling that it was decided that two aldermen should ride around the City each night during the hours of two and five in the morning to see that the common watches were doing their duty; by 1589 vagrancy was so widespread a problem that the government ordered that provost marshals be appointed in every county. The situation in Southwark was serious enough that in 1596 the Court of Aldermen, spurred on by the Privy Council, appointed William Cleybrooke as Marshal for the borough to apprehend “all manner of rogues, beggars, idle and vagrant persons within the Borough of Southwark and the liberties thereof.”26 There was, too, the ever-present official view — however unjustified in reality — that vagabonds were seditious and rebellious, a threat to the very existence of the state. After all, as A.L. Beier suggests, an Anabaptist, a White Rose conspirator, a peasant rebel, or a Catholic plotter might easily go about in the guise of a vagrant. Southwark, again, was not immune to such associations. In a 1594 letter to William Waad, William Gardiner reported on his search for “masterless men, out of service — Irishmen, Papists, and such like, lately come from beyond the sea, and from the service of her Majesty’s enemies.” He stated that he had only apprehended four suspects, but that he was “informed by the constables and other inhabitants that they abide for the most part about Southwark, where they give much trouble.”27 It is hardly surprising that proclamations issued over the course of the late Tudor and early Stuart reigns which command vagabonds to leave London occur in numbers suggestive of a national campaign.28

The official view that the preponderance of vagrants in London in general, and in Southwark in particular, was a threat to the existing political order probably did not greatly contribute to popular censure of the southern borough. Or, if it did, it was seen as a comparatively minor threat compared to the social and moral menace that vagrancy entailed. It is certainly the latter peril which is most emphasized in the wealth of contemporary comment produced by preachers, ballad- makers, pamphleteers, and even the government. In the popular view, men of no fixed address were always assumed to be potential if not actual thieves. Indeed, vagrancy was virtually synonymous with roguery and even organized crime. Pamphleteers portrayed a Mafia-type underworld staffed by the vagrant poor who lived on the labor of the respectable members of the community, either stealing or forcing citizens to give alms, and who, in spreading fear and disorder, posed a major threat to public order and safety. The special lure that the underworld had is evidenced by a whole literature of pamphlets dealing with rogues, vagabonds, and cony-catchers which became popular in the sixteenth and throughout the following century. Writers of this so-called rogue literature — the most popular of whom was Robert Greene — generally concluded that unless measures were promptly taken (the publicist usually had his own recipe), immorality and anarchy would destroy the commonwealth.29 In any event, it is certainly the case that Southwark’s distinctly low-brow population, the traditional privileged status of the borough (even after the City gained jurisdiction over the area, it was said that any wanted man had only to cross the river to find refuge),30 and the existence of a thriving criminal underworld there were all intertwined in the popular mind; Kent Street, Newington, and other areas around the borough had the reputation of being thick with thieves. Robert Greene, in The Second Part of Cony-Catching (1591), describes a fraternity of “nips and foists” [cutpurses and pickpockets] who met weekly at the Kent Street house of Laurence Pickering — “King of Cutpurses” and brother-in-law of no less a personage than Bull the Tyburn hangman — where, amidst general feasting and merrymaking, serious items of news were exchanged regarding likely “prospects”. The places of amusement, especially, provided ample opportunity for such individuals to exercise their trade on the unwary: “at the gaze of an interlude, or the bear-baiting at Paris Garden, or some other place of throng — picked shall be his purse, and his money lost in a moment.” Furthermore, because it was a suburb of dealers and small workshops which generally escaped the supervision of the authorities across the river, it was known as a place to dispose of stolen goods, especially those made of metal or leather. When Thomas Harman’s great copper cauldron, “stamped with [his] cognizance of arms,” was stolen from his back yard, his first action was to send one of his men to London, “and there [give] warning in Southwark, Kent Street, and Barmesey Street, to all the tinkers there dwelling, that if any such cauldron came thither to be sold, the bringer thereof should be stayed.”31

The Privy Council’s Order of 1596 concerning the suburbs (discussed above) touches on all of these problems — poverty, vagrancy, overcrowding, danger of contagion, crime. One additional point it particularly stresses, though, is the fear of disorder; if Southwark’s population growth created an overcrowded suburb, the make-up of that population created a disorderly one. The borough’s reputation for lawlessness was due not only to the number of “masterless men” who resided there, but also to the prevalence of apprentices, who, called out by their traditional rallying cry of “Clubs!”, were prone to burst the bonds of occupational restraint and run riot, particularly on holidays and festivals. Sometimes, their activities were relatively harmless: in October 1582, the alderman was called upon to examine “certayn lewde persons who the last night dyd vearye dysorderlye dysguyse them selves and went up & downe the streete in the borough of Sowthworke allmost starke naked, with theyre swordes drawen in theyre handes, makinge great noyses, shootinges and cryeinges to the great dysquyetinge of the inhabytantes theare, being then most of them at reste.”32 Frequently, however, their activities were more destructive. Street brawls were common, and Frederick, Duke of Wirtemberg, reported incidents of attacks upon foreigners carried out by “street-boys and apprentices.”33 There were, too, the traditional Shrove Tuesday disturbances, which in March 1617, resulted in the destruction of a playhouse and several victualling houses and brothels north of the river.34 Nor were the activities of the disorderly always indiscriminate: on 11 June 1592 a street riot began in Bermondsey Street and Blackfriars, sparked by what was seen as the unjust imprisonment of a feltmonger’s apprentice in the Marshalsea prison.35 Most alarming of all to official eyes, however, were politically motivated riots. On 6 May 1640, the day after Parliament had been dissolved, placards suddenly appeared throughout the City urging the apprentices to rise and free the land from the rule of the bishops. At a great public meeting on St. George’s Fields,36 the City apprentices and the sailors and dockhands, now idle through lack of trade, joined up with the glovers, tanners, and brewery workers of Bermondsey and Southwark who were on holiday for the May Day celebrations to hunt “Laud, the fox” [Archbishop William Laud]. Five hundred of this “rude rabble from Southwark” marched on Lambeth Palace, only to find that their victim had escaped. On the night of 14 May they broke open the prisons, and there was also a move to attack the house of the Earl of Arundel, the recent commander of the army against the Scots, because (it was said) he had mounted guns in his gardens on the north bank of the Thames and turned them in the direction of the rioters’ assembly place on St. George’s Fields. Meanwhile, the night watch aroused the whole City, urging them to take up arms to preserve their lives and property. As a result of the incident, the king issued a proclamation “for the repressing and punishing of the late Rebellious and Traiterous assemblies in Lambeth, Southwark, and other places adjoyning.” Southwark, however, continued to be a haven for riotous activities, including political disturbances. Its lasting tradition as a place of assembly for the common people was exemplified more than a century later in the famous “massacre of St. George’s Fields” in the Wilkite disorders.37

With its reputation for lawlessness and civil disorder, it is no coincidence that the district of Southwark had no less than five prisons — the Clink, the Compter, the King’s Bench, the Marshalsea, and the White Lion. On the other hand, the well-known inefficiency of officers of the law makes it unlikely that their presence in the borough assuaged the fears of the rest of the London populace. Indeed, there are plenty of well- authenticated documents and incidents to prove that Dogberry, Elbow and Dull may have been the most realistic characters that Shakespeare ever drew, and we encounter their like again and again in drama and literature of the day. A letter from William Cecil, Lord Burghley to Sir Francis Walsingham, describing the watches set to apprehend three members of Babington’s conspiracy in 1586, points its own moral. While on the road to London, Burghley observed groups of watchmen standing near each village, by the roadside or under a shed; he stopped near one group and asked why they were watching, and received the reply, “To take three young men.” When asked how they should know these men, they answered, “By intelligence of their favour,” and being asked what that meant, “Marry,” said they, “one hath a hooked nose.” Burghley demanded whether they had any more information about the suspects, but received only a cheerful “No.” He concludes his letter to Walsingham with a disgusted comment on the “negligence of the Justices in appointing such silly men.”38 If this watch was set for a conspirator against the life of the queen, even excepting law enforcement at the grass roots level, how much less vigilance may we expect in regards to day-to-day municipal lawlessness? Nor is it certain, by any means, that the existence of the South London prisons did not enhance rather than assuage the borough’s reputation for unruliness. The inmates of these places tended to be rowdy and create problems which the local officials could scarcely solve, and violence was never very far from the surface. In May 1639, the poor prisoners on the Common Side of the Marshalsea rebelled when the under-marshal ordered them not to abuse the gentlemen on the Master’s Side:39 they pulled down a fence, set fire to the poles and threw firebrands and stones at the hapless constables and watch who had been called out to quell the riot. Oftentimes, too, the threat of violence came from outside the prison. The 1552 riot outside the Marshalsea has already been noted. In 1628 a group of sailors threatened to break in or set fire to the White Lion prison if certain prisoners were not released. The White Lion was threatened again in 1662 when, as Pepys reports, a group of Quakers (they may actually have been Anabaptists) were seized upon, “that would have blown up the prison in Southwark where they are put.”40 Even without the threat of violence, the prisons were notoriously overcrowded and unsanitary and many of the inmates were often near to starvation, so that gaol fever spread quickly and was often the only “delivery” that could be expected. Recurring epidemics must have alarmed even those outside the prison walls, particularly in a borough which, because of its population profile, received more than its share of disease and death in times of contagion.

It seems reasonably clear that Southwark’s disreputable reputation in late Tudor and early Stuart times was in part the product of metropolitan expansion and of a particular migrant class’ drift to the area south of the Thames. Some of these features, naturally, it shared to a lesser degree — though rarely to a greater degree — with other London suburbs, particularly in the eastern parishes. Yet the borough also enjoyed a distinct character all its own, the origins of which almost universally predated the jurisdictional and demographic developments of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Thus, for all its poverty and lawlessness, Southwark in 1598 was more creditably famed for “many fair inns for receipt of travellers,”41 situated especially on the road from London Bridge, and this distinction was not lost until the middle of the nineteenth century. Travellers from the southern counties and the continent stopped to refresh themselves before entering the City, whilst others stayed to collect provisions for their outward journey. Too, at nightfall, when Bow Bell sounded, the huge doors of the City gates were shut, so that late arrivals and early starters were obliged to spend the night south of the river. The resulting growth of inns and taverns, together with the omnipresence of suppliers of purveyance — such as brewers — ensured that the largest industry in Southwark during the early modern period was the catering industry. In September 1618, the Privy Council drew the attention of the Lord Mayor to the fact that, although an ancient regulation limited the number of taverns in the City of London to forty, there were now more than 400 in the City. London magistrates also spoke of “the multitude of alehouses and victualling houses within this city increasing daily.”42 Yet while one in every 30 or 40 houses might be a drinking establishment in the wealthier central areas, the figure was closer to one in every six in the poorer extra- mural wards, and there is evidence that the increase in tippling in these areas outpaced the aggregate population increase. In March 1631 the Surrey JPs recorded 228 alehouses in Southwark and Kent Street alone, of which the licenses of 43 had already been withdrawn. Between 1631 and 1642 in the Great Liberty manor the number of alehouse-keepers who were fined 12d . for giving false measure varied between 100 in 1631 and 145 in 1633. Over the same period, the number of similarly offending innkeepers who were amerced the higher sum of 3s . 4d . varied between eight in 1631 and 1637 and four in 1632 and every year between 1639 and 1642. If one reflects that all these figures relate solely to offenders presented at the Courts Leet for one particular manor and include neither the undetected nor the blameless, Thomas Dekker’s 1608 statement that “without the barrs [i.e. in the suburbs] every fourth howse is an alehouse” may be less of an exaggeration than it appears at first sight, at least insofar as the South Bank was concerned.43

Naturally, the taverning industry was nothing new in the sixteenth century. In the late 1500s, however, a storm of criticism erupted against alehouses. Government ministers, magistrates, but most especially Puritan preachers were vociferous in their condemnation. “Alehouses,” cried Christopher Hudson in 1631, “are nests of Satan where the owls of impiety lurk and where all evil is hatched, and the bellows of intemperance and incontinence blow up.” “Here,” William Vaughan added, “breed conspiracies, combinations, common conjurations, detractions, defamations.”44 For these commentators, the alehouse was a threat to public order, a hotbed of promiscuity, and a corrupter of conventional family life. The complaints made by Kitely in Jonson’s Every Man In His Humour , when he thinks that Wellbred is turning his house into a tavern, are revealing:

He makes my house here common, as a mart, A theatre, a public receptacle For giddy humour, and diseased riot; And here, as in a tavern, or a stews, He, and his wild associates, spend their hours, In repetition of lacivious jests, Swear, leap, drink, dance, and revel night by night, Control my servants: and indeed what not?45

Much of the onslaught against alehouses focused on what seemed to be the unprecedented proliferation of establishments. Peter Clark has suggested that Puritan emphasis on the disreputability of alehouses has tended to overshadow the more respectable inns and taverns, and draws a clear social distinction between the clientele of the former, who were recruited from the bottom half of the social order, and the more gentlemanly patrons of the latter. This distinction seems to be borne out by the observation of character-writer John Earle that a tavern was “a pair of stairs above an Alehouse, where men are drunk with more credit and apology.”46 As Robert Ashton points out, however, the distinction between a tavern per se and an alehouse seems to have been a class distinction chiefly in the sense that wine was more expensive than ale or beer. That the growth in the number of the taverns was not due entirely to the patronage of “gentlemen” is suggested by the complaint of the Privy Council to the Lord Mayor on 10 July 1612 that “there is almost no house of receipt, or that hath a back door, but when it cometh to be let, it is taken for a tavern.” And while we may expect Thomas Platter to have sojourned in one of the more respectable establishments in his visit to London, his own account not only suggests that there was no great differentiation between classes of lodgings, but that so-called “disreputable” activities were rife at all levels: “There are a great many inns, taverns, and beer-gardens scattered about the city, where much amusement may be had with eating, drinking, fiddling and the rest, as for instance in our hostelry, which was visited by players almost daily….”47

One of the main concerns of sermons and pamphlets in the Elizabethan and early Stuart period was with what was seen as an advancing tide of heavy drinking and drunkenness which alehouses encouraged. Robert Bolton, a Northamptonshire preacher, proclaimed in 1625: “we lift up our voices loud against drunkenness and it is high time, for it grows towards a high tide and threatens — a lamentable inundation to the whole kingdom.” Between 1604 and 1625 Parliament passed four statutes penalizing heavy drinkers and drunkards; bills against drunkenness attributed the vice especially to “the worst and inferior people.”48 There was also a determined attempt to limit the strength of beer by forcing brewers to sell two sorts only, the strongest at 8s . and the weaker at 4s . a barrel. But enforcement of these regulations was extremely difficult; in March 1614 it was reported that brewers were still producing more than two varieties of beer, some of it more expensive and stronger than the permitted maximum. The brewers claimed that strong beer was brewed solely for consumption abroad and at sea, but there is every reason to believe that many of them made clandestine deliveries to London alehouses under cover of night — particularly in districts with a strong local brewing industry, such as Southwark.49 Drunkenness had, of course, been denounced from pulpits during the Middle Ages, but the intensity of the new onslaught was unprecedented. Whether these allegations reflected a real increase in the incidence of inebriety (evidence for either increased alcoholic consumption or increased intoxication is, of course, too incomplete to prove this) or a new Puritan concern for the problem is largely irrelevant. If we accept, however, that drinking in alehouses (and drunkenness) did escalate during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, then demographic forces were almost certainly of major significance, particularly in view of Southwark’s teeming population, the proliferation of drinking establishments within the borough, and perhaps the fact that apprentices were normally a large presence at alehouses. A side effect of this was the problem of public health: taverns were seen as a notorious source of infection in times of plague and epidemic, particularly in overcrowded areas. Ironically, beer and ale was thought to have a medicinal or prophylactic quality, which may help to explain why alehouse consumption reportedly jumped during outbreaks of plague.50

As a result, charter justices were always ready to find a pretext to suppress alehouses in Southwark; but then, it was easy to catch an alehouse-keeper breaking the law. If he allowed a laborer, anyone in fact save a bona fide traveller or an obvious gentleman, to tipple in his tavern, he could be fined 10s . (The tippler paid only 3s . 4d .); if he sold best beer and ale at more than a penny a quart, he could be fined 20s .; if he sold drink without having first obtained a license from two justices of the peace, he could be fined 20s . and imprisoned for three days. Furthermore, “unlawful games,” often involving gambling, were played in alehouses: besides dice and tables (backgammon), card games were popular, aided by the spread of cheap printed cards. Too, outdoor games like bowls could be brought within the precinct of the alehouse by the construction of bowling- alleys, and there were numerous cases of the operators of illicit bowling alleys and gaming houses being punished by the City and suburban authorities. In Southwark during the 1630s the level of fines imposed by the Court Leet of the Great Liberty of the borough on operators of these games varied between 13s . 4d . for first offenders and £2 13s . 4d . for persistent offenders. In addition, offenders, who were often petty alehouse-keepers operating shovel-boards or ninepins on their premises, might be required to enter into recognizances of as much as £4 or £5. Nevertheless, these sums were insufficient to deter some innkeepers, who continued to be presented year after year. In addition, anyone caught participating in any of these pastimes, especially on a Sunday, might expect a fine of up to 40s.51 For antiquarian sentimentalists, such as John Stow, as well as to the central government itself, unlawful games were coupled with the decline of archery, with all its implications of national degeneracy and military enfeeblement;52 for the Puritans, they signified a moral degeneracy. In a more sinister vein, many alehouses attracted customers from the London underworld, so it is not surprising that the proprietors were frequently indicted at Quarter Sessions for keeping disorderly houses. In 1585, Recorder Charles Fleetwood listed the Pressing Iron in Southwark and the Rose at Newington Butts as two of many haunts around London used as “Harboringe Howses for Maisterles Men, and for such as lyve by theifte and other such lyke Sheefts.”53

This underworld image of alehouses figures prominently in Elizabethan and Jacobean plays and literary pamphlets: Robert Greene, of cony-catching fame, waxed poetic in his descriptions of the deceits and cozenages practiced by tricksters upon simple-minded visitors to such establishments; whilst in Jonson and Dekker, the alehouse appears as the trysting-place of gulls and vagabonds, robbers and whores, a world which, though parasitical, was also a mirror image of the trickery and hypocrisy of respectable society.54 Undoubtedly, not all of the employment arranged in alehouses was strictly legal, and there are numerous cases of petty crime being planned or initiated there. However, one must be wary of exaggerating — as critics of these establishments certainly did — the importance of the alehouse as a center of organized criminality. Despite allegations by Robert Greene, Thomas Harman, Thomas Dekker, and others that tippling houses were often the full-time headquarters for professional gangs of criminals, almost all of the available evidence would indicate that the criminal activity centered on alehouses was amateur, small-scale, and sporadic.55 At the other extreme, alehouses could sometimes (though rarely) be the scene of more lawful activity: when, in November 1688, a young German boy was apprehended in the borough for the possession of “fire-balls” (an incendiary), it was determined that he should be brought before the Justice in St. Olave’s parish for questioning; when it was discovered that the Justice was not at home, and had instead gone to a nearby alehouse, the prisoner was promptly carried thither, where (as it seems) the examination took place.56

Perhaps the most serious charge against alehouses, however, was that it bred sedition and opposition to Church and State. “When the drunkard,” John Downame cried, “is seated upon the ale-bench and has got himself between the cup and the wall he presently becomes a reprover of magistrates, a controller of the state, a murmurer and repiner against the best established government.”57 In spite of this feared threat to the political order, however, and its implied connection with the kind of political agitation which typically manifested itself in the Surrey fields, the alehouse never really became a medium for mobilizing popular radicalism. Admittedly, a few of the more extreme sects like the Ranters may have met in taverns in the 1650s, and certainly in the turbulent days of the constitutional crisis of 1640-42 alehouses were alive with the latest political gossip; in December 1641 it was reported that “every tinker and tapster called for justice” against the king. But it would be dangerous to give too much credence to Henry Wilkinson’s claim in 1646 that “alehouses generally are the Devil’s castles, the meeting places of malignants and sectaries.”58 In general, the Puritans’ fears about the threat posed by the alehouse to respectable society, to public order, and to established cultural and political values were indeed exaggerated, although the basis for their assumptions — the proliferation of establishments and the kinds of activities that went on there — remained, in Southwark as much as elsewhere. And despite the beginning of statutory regulation of alehouses since the time of the borough’s incorporation and more effective administrative control over drinking establishments outside the metropolis, attempts by the City (and, more sporadically, suburban authorities) to tighten up the licensing system and to suppress unlicensed and disorderly premises remained rather ineffectual until the early eighteenth century.

If Southwark was famous — and infamous — for its shady inns and taverns, it was equally (and perhaps better) known for another catering industry: prostitution. Although there were of course other areas of the city which were also recognized habitations of prostitutes, Southwark, and the Bankside in particular, was the principal brothel district in London. The key, again, was the fact that the district was for the most part outside the jurisdiction of the Lord Mayor. In his treatise Christs Teares Over Jerusalem , published in 1593, Thomas Nashe describes the metropolitan suburbs as little better than “licensed stews” operating with the connivance of magistrates. While this last point is probably an exaggeration, Dekker is almost certainly right in emphasizing how prostitutes, whom he significantly describes as “suburb sinners”, had to behave with greater circumspection within the more strictly regulated bounds of the City.59Beyond the existence of its liberties, however, what made Southwark the most notorious of suburban red-light districts was the fact that, like the victualling houses, it could serve the needs not only of citizens but also travellers coming from the south of England, whilst the theaters and other amusements of Bankside served as a permanent magnet for women of easy virtue.

As was the case with alehouses, the origins of South London’s brothel industry far preceded the Tudor/Stuart period. When Henry II promulgated his “Ordinances touching upon the government of the stews in Southwark” in 1161, they had already been in existence for half a century under the supervision of the liberty’s episcopal landlord, the Bishop of Winchester, who derived a vast income from licensing and supervision.60 In 1504, due to the general fear of the spread of syphilis, Henry VII closed these facilities, but business resumed the following year. By 1546, however, crime and disorder in the district had grown to such proportions that a proclamation aimed at a “final” closing of all the stews was issued by, of all people, Henry VIII.61 Although the suppression of public brothels gladdened the heart of John Stow, it does not seem to have resulted in any notable diminution of prostitution; indeed, many observers, among them John Taylor, believed that things had gotten worse rather than better as a result, not just on the South Bank, but in the metropolitan area in general:

The Stewes in England bore a beastly sway, Till the eight Henry banish’d them away: And since these common whores were quite put down, A damned crue of private whores are grown, So that the diuell will be doing still, Either with publique or with private ill.63

In spite of this, numerous contemporary references make it clear that the suburb of Southwark remained an important center for prostitution. At least two of the brothel houses on the Bank mentioned by Stow survived into Shakespeare’s time — the Cardinal’s Cap and the Bell, both seemingly favorite haunts of the actor Edward Alleyn. Pepys, too, speaks of visiting a Mrs. Palmers, herself a bawd, south of the river in 1663, “thinking, because I had heard that she is a woman of that sort, that I might there have light upon some lady of pleasure (for which God forgive me)….”64 Nor was prostitution confined to the brothels on the Bank; it flourished also on the High Street and along Kent Street (which, in particular, had the reputation of being “extremely disreputable”), whilst the places of public amusement were natural haunts of the free-lance strumpet. One particular Southwark prostitute lives on in several unflattering literary allusions. Jonson, in his description of a wherry being rowed up Fleet Ditch, wrote, “The meate- boate of Beares colledge, Paris-garden , / Stunke not so ill; nor, when shee kist, Kate Arden ,” and cheerfully attributes to her the destruction of the Globe playhouse in 1613: “’twas the Nun, Kate Arden , / kindled the fire!” Another writer tossed off the left-handed compliment: “Bears are more clean than swine, and so’s Kate Arden .”65

Contemporary brothels, of course, varied in style and character, from magnificent and costly establishments like Holland’s Leaguer in Paris Garden to private houses, where the mistress acted as bawd for her servants. And, of course, many ladies worked the streets and alleys. Prices, naturally, varied accordingly. In the 1590s Thomas Nashe described “sixe-penny whoredome” as flourishing in the suburbs, though elsewhere in the same passage he gives half-a-crown (more or less) as “the sette pryce of a strumpets soule.” At the more exclusive end of the price range, a visit to Holland’s Leaguer and a dinner with the queen of all strumpets, Bess Broughton, was reported to work out at �20 a head, which presumably did not include the cost of post-prandial entertainment.66 After the closing of the stews in 1546, however, it became more difficult to operate a bordello openly. As a result, many bawds and prostitutes moved into houses that sold ale or beer as a cover, like the resourceful Mistress Overdone, or simply frequented taverns of bad character. As early as 1550, only four years after the hopeful proclamation, Robert Crowley wrote:

The bawds of the stues In taverns and tiplyng houses

be turned all out; many myght be founde,

But some think they inhabit If officers would make serch

al England through out. But as they are bounde.

The Elizabethan anatomizer of abuses Phillip Stubbes, too, explicitly associated brothels with alehouses — or, as he called them, “the slaughter howses, the shambles, the blockhowses of the Devill, wherein he butchereth Christen mens soules, infinit waies, God knoweth.”67

The third major venue for prostitution in the borough, as already mentioned, was at the Bankside amusements, particularly at the theaters. When Dryden, late in the seventeenth century, wrote, “The playhouse is their place of traffic, where / Nightly they sit to sell their rotten ware,” he was alluding to a state of affairs that had already been widely commented upon in the Elizabethan period and earlier. One of the earliest of the London theaters was the Curtain, opening in 1576; within three years, however, Stephen Gosson in his treatise The School of Abusewas publicly accusing the playhouse of being no more than an anteroom for a brothel:

— every wanton and his paramour, every man and his mistress, every John and his Joan, every knave and his quean, are there first acquainted and cheapen [i.e. bargain for] the merchandise in that place, which they pay for elsewhere as they can agree.68

The common practice of finding a prostitute at a playhouse, of course, must have involved sums in excess of Nashe’s sixpence, and perhaps of his half- crown, too, for the professional lady in question would undoubtedly pass on to her customer the cost of her admission, most likely to one of the costlier gallery seats.

In view of Puritans’ attitudes towards the moral degeneracy of taverns and alehouses, it will come as no surprise that a similar stream of invective was launched against these “suburb sinners” and the districts in which they operated. In Thomas Dekker’s Lanthorne and Candle- light (1608), a visitor from Hell takes a first look at the suburbs: “And what saw he there? — He saw the doors of notorious carted bawds like Hell gates stand night and day wide open, with a pair of harlots in taffeta gowns, like two painted posts, garnishing out those doors, being better to the house than a double sign.” The rebuke is mild, however, compared to the more splenetic outbursts of Stubbes and Nashe: “These, (our openers to all comers,) with quickning & conceiuing, get gold. The soules they bring forth, at the latter day, shall stande vp and giue evidence against them — There is no such murderer on the face of the earth as a whore.”69 In the one hundred years before the Puritans came to power in 1642, there were numerous attempts to pass civil laws to condemn and punish sexual laxness. Not until 1650, however, did Parliament pass a law that made adultery a felony punishable by death and fornication a crime punishable by three months’ imprisonment.70 Nor, apparently, was it merely a question of assumed immorality, for in this there was a more visible sign of God’s retribution: the pox. As far as preachers and pamphleteers was concerned, venereal disease was God’s swift and painful punishment on those who made use of the prostitute’s abominable services, a foretaste on earth of the torments of hell. Phillip Stubbes, in his Anatomy of Abuses (1583), did not hesitate to give a comprehensive and detailed list of the dread consequences of whoredom.71 Prostitution was, of course, a legal offense, and was punished as such. Thomas Platter, at least, felt that “good order” was kept in London in the matter of prostitution: “special commissions are set up, and when they meet with a case, they punish the man with imprisonment and fine. The woman is taken to Bridewell, the King’s palace, situated near the river, where the executioner scourges her naked before the populace.” He admitted, however, that although close watch was kept on them, “great swarms of these women haunt the town in the taverns and playhouses.”72 Campaigners for moral reform, unsurprisingly, held such chastisements to be too lenient and called for more stringent measures. Stubbes, regretfully concluding that his ideal punishment was unacceptable — that convicted prostitutes should be “made to drinke a full draught of Moyses cuppe, that is, tast[e] of present death” — went on to suggest the next best thing: branding, on the cheek or forehead, “to the end [that] honest and chast Christians might be discerned from the adulterous Children of Sathan.”73

It is perhaps fortunate for all concerned that Stubbes’ rather draconian correctives were never adopted. It is likely, however, that the loud condemnation voiced by Puritan censurers heightened popular and official consciousness of the existing problems on the Surrey side and elsewhere. In any event, City authorities increased their efforts to suppress prostitution. In the days of the public stews there had been strict regulations for those plying their trade on Bankside, based on the ordinances passed by Parliament in 1162 and “old customs that had been there used time out of mind.” The partial list of ordinances given by Stow reflects such concerns as public health (“No stew-holder to keep any woman that hath the perilous infirmity of burning [i.e. pox]), religion (“Not to keep open his doors upon the holidays”), law and order (“The constables, bailiff, and others, every week to search every stew- house”), and exploitation (“No single woman to be kept against her will that would leave her sin”). There had also been heavy penalties against enticing men into the stews, and some means of discouragement was afforded, at least to the furtive clandestine client, by the regulation which forbade watermen to convey customers to the stews during hours of darkness.74 From the closing of the public stews in 1546, however, all brothels were unlicensed and illicit establishments, and from time to time raids were made. According to Thomas Nashe, some of the tricks used by bawds to evade the law involved considerable ingenuity: “back-doores, to come in and out by vndiscouerd. Slyding windowes also, and trappe-bordes in floars, to hyde whores behind and vnder, with false counterfet panes in walls, to be opened and shut like a wicket.”75 Not all attempts to evade dissolution, however, required trickery. In December and January of 1631-32 the most famous of London brothels, Holland’s Leaguer, located in the old manor house of Paris Garden and run by “a woman of ill repute,” Elizabeth Holland, successfully withstood what amounted to a state of siege by the forces of law and order — a feat made possible, incidentally, by its fortified position, complete with moat, drawbridge, and portcullis. In the end, Bess Holland escaped the City authorities, in spite of two summons to the Court of High Commission, and re-established her business elsewhere.76 But not many establishments had the Leaguer’s powers of resistance. In July 1641 the Lord Mayor himself announced with satisfaction that he had made a personal visit in heavy disguise to a number of houses which his spies had reported were being used as brothels. Upon confirmation that this was so — the report remains provocatively silent on the thoroughness of his investigation — he had personally seen to it that the whores were flogged and carted out of London.78On the other hand, there are many references in the literature of the time to beadles and watchmen being bribed to turn a blind eye to the brothels, one of the bribes being a free sampling of wares. “Every ‘prentice passing by them can say, — There sits a whore,'” Dekker effused. “If so, are not constables, churchwardens, bailiffs, beadles and other officers, pillars and pillows to all the villainies, that are by these committed? Are they not parcel bawds to wink at such damned abuses, considering they have whips in their own hands, and may draw blood if they please?”79 Clearly, neither denunciation by moralists, nor social reforms, nor periodic raids by the authorities, nor the dreaded scourge of pox made any real impression on the brothels of Bankside or elsewhere. Then, as now, they flourished on the very doorstep of the booming and respectable city because they answered a widely-felt social need. What was most noteworthy about the industry in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, though, was the effective “privatization” of prostitution, which made it possible to adopt new venues and operate without license restriction — particularly in an area with jurisdictional liberties and a ready clientele — and the increased vilification of these practices by outspoken moralizing preachers and pamphleteers.

It is perhaps not surprising that the very facilities which shaped Southwark’s character as a borough were reviled by lovers of good morals. The alehouse and the brothel were, after all, two commercialized nexuses of social intercourse, places where the Puritan emphasis on social discipline and family morality could be expected to hold little sway. It was, furthermore, a district which functioned mainly as a center of consumption, where men expended the revenues which they had acquired elsewhere. Thus it was for residents, even more so than for visitors, that the suburb across the river signified the haunt of pleasure and vice, where the sober citizenry as well as their less sober brethren could amuse themselves with drinking, gaming, and whoring before they crossed the water back to the walled comforts of home. But brothels and alehouses were only two convenient venues for gatherings. In order to fully account for Southwark’s reputation as the pleasure ground of London — for so it was — we must turn, finally, to that which gave it its most distinct character: the mass entertainments of Bankside and Paris Garden, with their public gardens and open spaces, bowling alleys, baiting rings, and, not least, theaters.

The association of the South Bank with pleasures of various kinds may go back as far as Roman times;80 its reputation as a center of amusements in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, however, is due entirely to jurisdictional peculiarities: had there not, fortunately, happened to exist certain illogical and absurd liberties and precincts in which the Mayor had no authority, there may well have been no theaters (to give a single example) in the neighborhood of London. In a town which was growing from about 170,000 to about 550,000 people, it was of course worth the while of a variety of professional entertainers — acrobats, actors, ballad-singers, bearwards, clowns, fencers, puppeteers — to put on a virtually continuous performance; and whereas villagers might see these kinds of shows only a few times a year, Londoners could see them all the time. If they wanted to hear ballads sung, they would go to the Bridge; if they wanted to watch a bear-baiting, they would go to Bankside, and so on. These professional entertainers were nothing new, but were successors of the medieval minstrels. What was new was that they were not itinerant, that they could make a living by staying in the same place.81 And while these places were frequently denounced by the vocal moral minority, they were popular with the majority. Lambeth marshes and St. George’s Fields, famous for the frolics of Shallow and Falstaff, provided scope for races and open air games, and music and dancing were provided at a reasonable price.82 Medicinal water and music on most days cost threepence, while on Wednesday there was a concert of “vocal and instrumental musick, consisting of about thirty instruments and voices,” for which one shilling was charged. On an annual basis, too, there were the amusements of Our Lady Fair or Southwark Fair, established in 1462 by a charter of Edward IV and originally authorized to run from 7 to 9 September, although by Pepys’ time it had extended its duration to last four fourteen days. Pepys himself twice mentions Southwark Fair. On the first occasion, in September of 1660, he merely reports seeing it from his landing at the Bridge Foot. Eight years later he paid the Fair a visit, and found it “very dirty,” although this apparently did not prevent him from enjoying himself. He notes with especial interest “the puppet show of Whittington, which was pretty to see,” adding, “how that idle thing doth work upon people that see it, and even myself too.”83 John Evelyn, writing in September 1660, found other attractions of interest:

I saw in Southwark at St. Margaret’s Faire monkies and asses dance and do other feates of activity on ye tight rope — they turn’d heels over head with a basket having eggs in it without breaking any; also with lighted candles in their hands and on their heads without extinguishing them, and with vessels of water without spilling a drop. I also saw an Italian wench daunce and performe all the tricks of ye tight rope to admiration…. Likewise here was a man who tooke up a piece of iron cannon of about 400 lb. weight with the haire of his head onely.84

It requires no stretch of the imagination to suppose that the types of communal activities taking place during fair-time attracted fire from the moral watchdogs of society; and indeed, contemporary evidence bears this out. “Go but to the town’s end, where a fair is kept,” Robert Harris asserted in 1619, “and there [drunkards] lie as if some [battle] field had been fought.”

Nevertheless, the proclamations of 1630, 1636, and 1637 which forbade Our Lady Fair to take place did so not from any puritannical zeal but on account of the plague which threatened the borough and the City in those years. In fact, the right to hold Southwark Fair was confirmed to the City in 1663, and it continued to be a place of great resort for the citizens of London. In 1712 there is reference to the “Bartholomew Fair, which they keep up still in the borough, though it be left off in the City” — indicating, of course, that it had become a place of even more riotous pleasures.85

In addition to these more lighthearted amusements, Bankside was the chief home of the rougher and crueller delights of bear-baiting and bull-baiting, which consisted largely of harassing and tormenting an animal by the setting-on of dogs, although other methods could be used. One example of the range and savagery of this sport is drawn from a Jacobean notice for a Thursday exhibition at one of the Bankside beargardens: “The gamstirs of Essex,” it advertises, “chalenge all comers — to plaie .v. dogges at the single beare for .v. pounds and also to wearie a bull dead at the stake.” In addition, there was to be “plasant sport with the horse and ape and whiping of the blind beare.”86 The association of Southwark with these kinds of diversions dates from as early as 1526, when the Earl of Northumberland is recorded as visiting Paris Garden to view the bear-baiting. The poet Crowley, the author of certain “Epigrams” against abuses, made a similar reference in 1550:

Every Sunday they will spend One penny or two, the bearward’s living to mend. At Paris Gardens each Sunday, a man shall not fail To find two or three hundred for the bearward’s vale.87

The popularity of the sport is shown by the simple facts that there was not only baiting in Paris Gardens, but also two rings or amphitheaters in the Clink Liberty, marked as “The bolle bayting” and “The Beare bayting” on Agas’ 1560 map, and that in the High Street itself, nearly opposite St. George’s Church, there was permanently established a bull ring to which an animal could be tied whenever one was found fit for the purpose.88 Bulls were, as a rule, baited to death, but the bears were not. On the contrary, they were known to the people by name, and were valued in proportion to the sport they afforded. Some, such as blind bear Harry Hunks, became famous enough to be celebrated in verse; “Hunks of the Beare-garden to be feared, if he be nigh on,” wrote Henry Peacham in 1611.89 Pepys visited the Bear Garden in August 1666 and in May 1667 to see prize fights and “good sport of the bull’s tossing of the dogs.” He regarded it as a “very rude and nasty pleasure,” but this did not prevent him from going again in September 1667 and April 1669.90

Nor were such exhibitions mounted solely for the pleasure of the masses. It was not for nothing that posts such as “Master of the Queen’s game in Paris Garden” and “Master, Guyder and Ruler of our Beares and Apes” were official court offices. In addition, a visit to Bankside was normally included in the itinerary of foreign visitors to London who wished to be shown the sights of the town. In a contemporary diary it is related that the French ambassadors, on 25 May 1559, were entertained at Court with a dinner, and after dinner with a bull- and bear- baiting, the Queen herself looking on from a gallery; the next day, they were taken down the river to see the baiting at Paris Gardens.91 It need hardly be said, however, that such entertainment, even with the claim of being a “royal” sport, had its detractors. The collapse of the scaffold at a Sunday bear-baiting in Paris Garden, in which a number of spectators were killed, was snatched up by celebrated Presbyterian John Field as the theme for his treatise A Godly Exhortation, by occasion of the late judgement of God, shewed at Parris-garden — given to all estates for their instruction, concerning the keeping of the Sabbath day (1583). Pointing to the disaster as a sure manifestation of God’s wrath — “although some wil say (and as it may be truly) that [the wood] was very old and rotton” — Field went on to emphasize that divine displeasure would not be appeased until such places, including theaters, had been closed down completely, and not just on Sundays. A similar moral was drawn from a disaster at a puppet show in 1599 and from the fires at the Globe in 1613 and at the Fortune in 1621.92 When, a few years later, Gloucester MP Anthony Bridgeman introduced a bill in Parliament calling for “a restraint of profaning the Sabbath Day, especially with minstrelsy, baiting of bears and other beasts, and such like,” he became one of the first to appeal to the secular arm as the instrument of moral regeneration, a course of action which would become increasingly popular over the next half-century.

Finally — playhouses. It appears that there were players, if not playhouses, on the Surrey side as early as 1547, and already causing trouble: after the death of Henry VIII, Gardiner proposed to have a solemn dirge in memory of the King, but, he complained to the Council, the players of Southwark said that they also would have “a solemne playe to trye who shal have most resorte, they in game, or I in ernest.”93 Play-actors were formally expelled from the City by the Corporation in 1574, but the effect of this official hostility was to encourage the establishment of playhouses just outside its jurisdiction. Thus, the first public playhouse was established by the Burbages north of the City in Shoreditch in 1576, but performances were being given at Newington Buttes to the south, “on that parte of Surrey without the jurisdiccion of the said Lord Maior,” as early as the spring of 1580. These public theaters were open to anyone who could afford the penny entrance (1d .) fee, which meant that shopkeepers, craftsmen and their apprentices could afford to go and did. Within a short time, waterman-poet John Taylor reported that three or four thousand people were being carried over every day to the plays on the Bankside.94 It is quite certain that before the end of the sixteenth century there were four theaters there: the Rose in Rose Lane, built at least as early as 1584; the Swan near Paris Garden landing, which was used for fencing exhibitions in James I’s reign; the Hope in Bear Gardens, which was built only in 1610 and was devoted to plays for most of the week (Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair was first produced there in 1624) but was used for bear-baiting on Tuesdays and Thursdays; and the Globe in what is now Park Street, built by Richard Burbage in 1599 from the timbers of the theater at Shoreditch when the former’s lease ran out. All of these theaters can be found on maps and views of the period. Of the four, the Globe is certainly the most famous. It is referred to unmistakably as a new theater in the prologue toHenry V (1599), quite possibly its opening piece, and indeed is best known for its associations with Shakespeare as part proprietor, as an actor in the Lord Chamberlain’s Company (later the King’s Men), and as a dramatist. Many of his plays were produced there, but so were many of those of Jonson, Dekker, Webster, Fletcher, Massinger, Field, and Ford. Thomas Platter, who saw Julius Caesar performed there, described the Bankside theaters:

daily at two in the afternoon, London has two, sometimes three plays running in different places [in 1559], competing with each other, and those which play best obtain most spectators. The playhouses are so constructed that they play on a raised platform, so that everyone has a good view. There are different galleries and places, however, where the seating is better and more comfortable and therefore more expensive…. And during the performance food and drink are carried round the audience, so that for what one cares to pay one may also have refreshment.95

It must be remembered, of course, that dramatic performance in the age of public playhouses enjoyed none of the upper-class associations of the modern theatrical experience. Audiences were heterogeneous, containing persons of almost every social degree from low-born spectators to raffish upper-class punters and courtiers.96 Not watchful silence but rather active and vocal participation was the usual audience reaction to a play that caught their interest. If it turned out to be a bad play, this was likely to take the form of hissing and pelting the unfortunate actors with oranges. During an indifferent play, however, the audience diverted itself with a variety of activities ranging from dicing and card-playing — sometimes on the stage itself — to swearing, spitting, munching apples, cracking nuts, making passes at the women, and, for some, cutting purses.97In addition to its distinctly low-brow character, play-acting could be politically risqué; Stephen Gardiner certainly found it so, and requested the Lord Protector’s assistance in restraining the Southwark players. Much more dangerous was the Globe acting company’s acceptance of the Earl of Essex’s commission to perform the deposition and murder of Richard II on the eve of what turned out to be an abortive rebellion.98 Under other circumstances, Essex found the players less accommodating, when, at the nadir of his fortunes, he wrote to the Queen: “as if I were thrown into a corner like a dead carcase, I am gnawed on and torn by the basest creatures upon earth — and shortly they will play me upon the stage.”99

The City, with its keen eye to business and its strong Puritan traditions, looked askance at theaters and the irregularities which frequently accompanied them, and was glad that they should remain on the south side of the river. Unsurprisingly, sermonic literature denouncing plays and interludes flourished during the period. As Sir Walter Besant so appositely put it: “There was dancing in it, music, mockery, merriment, satire, low comedy; all these things the misguided flock enjoyed and the shepherd deplored.”100 The main Puritan line of argument was that the plays fostered immorality: “Players and Playes,” wrote Northbrooke in his 1577 Treatise , “are not tollerable nor sufferable in any com mon weale, especially where the Gospell is preached — it is a spectacle and schoole for all wickednesse and vice to be learned it.” “The blessed word of GOD,” added relentless killjoy Phillip Stubbes, “is to be handled, reuerently, grauely, and sagely, with veneration to the glorious Majestie of God — and not scoffingly, flowtingly, & iybingly, as it is upon stages in Playes & Enterluds” — often, moreover, mixed incongruously with wanton and bawdy matter.101 The effect of such strident denunciation was to create a pamphlet war between these godly crusaders on the one hand and, on the other, embattled defenders of the theater, who argued that, far from fostering immorality, most plays pointed the moral that sin was punished and virtue rewarded. Jonson, noting some criticisms of the stage, declared in his dedication to Volpone that the office of the common poet was “to imitate justice and instruct to life, as well as purity of language, or stir up gentle affections.” John Taylor, penning a commendatory poem for Heywood’s Apology for Actors (1612), followed Hamlet’s “but thinking makes it so” argument:

A Play’s a briefe Epitome of time Where man may see his vertue or his crime Layd open, either to their vices shame, Or to their vertues memorable fame. A Play’s a true transparant Christall mirror, To shew good minds their mirth, the bad their terror: Where stabbing, drabbing, dicing, drinking, swearing Are all proclaim’d vnto the fight and hearing, In vgly shapes of Heauen-abhorrid sinne, Where men may see the mire they wallow in. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . For Playes are good or bad, as they are vs’d, And best inuentions often are abus’d.

And some, of course, were more unaffected in their apology: Nathan Field (son of John Field of Godly Exhortation fame) accused a preacher at St. Mary Overies of disloyalty in sermonizing against play- actors, who were, after all, licensed and patronized by the King.102

At the same time, religious opposition to playgoing extended beyond Puritan sabbatarianism. Replying to the Privy Council’s April 1582 request that, now that the dangers of the plague had passed, plays might be resumed within the City on holidays if not on Sundays, the Lord Mayor protested that it was not just on the Sabbath that playgoing was objectionable.103 Indeed, civic attitudes seem to have been determined more by disapproval of the theatergoing milieu than the actual contents of the plays. In its call for licensing of plays and playing-places in 1574, the Common Council asserted that sundry great disorders and inconveniences have been found to ensue to this city by the inordinate haunting of great multitudes of people, specially youth, to plays, interludes, and shows, namely occasion of frays and quarrels, evil practices of incontinency in great inns having chambers and secret places adjoining to their open stages and galleries.

With the coming of permanent theaters — and, indeed, the other amusements of Bankside — additional complaints arose, such as the gathering of vagrant and lewd persons on the pretense of coming to the plays, and the fear of increased incidence of plague due to population growth and overcrowding.104 As a result, City authorities adduced all kinds of reasons to restrain plays. Theaters, they argued, drew apprentices away from their work and then corrupted them by presenting stories that were “wanton and profane.” They were also frequented by “light and lewd disposed persons, as harlots, cutpurses, cozeners, pilferers &c., who under colour of hearing plays, devised divers evil and ungodly — conspiracies.” Pepys tells how, on a visit to Southwark in 1668, he left with his waterman gold and other valuables in the value of �40, for fear of his pockets being cut during his stay.105 Nor did it go unremarked that the theaters on Bankside were situated conveniently close to London’s most notorious brothel district, and that themselves provided cover for assignations of the most dubious kind. “Pay thy twopence to a player,” related Thomas Dekker, “in his gallery mayest thou sit by a harlot.”106

As always, however, the real concern of the City governors was the maintenance of law and order; and whereas many theater historians have readily assumed that municipal authorities were, ipso facto , Puritan sympathizers, the factor which probably weighed most heavily in their attitudes was that playhouses might attract what, in the absence of an effective police force, was most difficult to control — a large and excited crowd. The fear that large audiences might get out of hand when plays dabbled in topical and inflammatory political issues was not without foundation; witness the events surrounding Middleton’s Game at Chess (1625), in which the Black King and his men, representing Spain and the Jesuits, were checkmated by the White Knight, Prince Charles. In the final scene the whole Spanish nation was consigned to hell. And all this at a time when England and Spain stood poised on the brink of war. This political satire drew rowdy crowds to the Globe in unprecedented numbers, until the Spanish ambassador protested and James I suppressed the play.107

Significantly, however, the disorders which revolved around the theaters were more frequently perpetrated by mobs which were not part of the theater audience. Such was certainly the case with the ritualized but nonetheless violent attacks by apprentices and others on places of entertainment during Shrovetide. The June 1592 riot outside the Marshalsea began when a crowd of feltmongers’ apprentices assembled “by occasion and pretence of their meeting at a play.”108 Whether assembled within or without the playhouse, however, the fear that there was an underlying political subtext, that (as Northbrooke articulated it) playgoing taught people to “rebell agaynst Princes” and “to ransacke and spoyle cities and townes,” was enough to arouse the hostility of the City authorities.109 What made Southwark particularly threatening in this regard was its situation in the liberties and outparishes, and that the playhouses were close enough in radical sentiment to the people who flocked to them to provide a medium for expressing dissatisfaction with what was popularly seen as a jurisdictionally oppressive municipal authority. In spite of this, the theaters in Paris Garden and the Clink Liberty continued to defy efforts to regulate them. When plague threatened in 1580, the City had readily complied with an order of the Privy Council to suppress playacting within their jurisdiction, but the Surrey justices needed to be separately exhorted to do the same. Seven years later, the county magistrates again had to be reminded to do their duty, this time in enforcing due observance of the Sabbath by restraining plays, as the Lord Mayor had already done within his own liberties. In other words, the theaters of Bankside — the Rose, the Swan, the Hope, and the Globe — were outside the control of the City justices, and the only way that they could bring pressure to bear was by requesting the Privy Council to give orders to the Surrey justices.110

It is hardly surprising that the area in and around Southwark became the main center of dissipation of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century London. In its range of purveying (with all its shades of meaning) and social and communal functions, it had its own existence within and yet separate from established society. Added to this, however, was a more defined jurisdictional distinction: it was a place where the Mayor’s writ, if not always the King’s, did not run. Those who had no place in the paternal hierarchy of society — the “masterless” men — came here, bringing with them the alleged baggage of crime and sedition. The expansive apprentice population made it a traditional place of disorder, especially when political protest was incited; even its topography seems to have encouraged it. Combine with this the number and, indeed, supposed increase in the number of degenerate establishments — from bowling alleys to brothels to baiting rings — and Southwark’s disreputable reputation was assured. It is equally certain, however, that the growth of contemporary concern over London’s pleasure garden was not merely the straightforward product of suburban expansion and proliferation of places of resort. It also betokened a heightened consciousness of a pre-existing problem, a consciousness which owed something to puritan sentiment, though it was certainly not confined to Puritans.


  1. Donald Lupton, London and the Countrey, quoted in Ben Weinreb and Christopher Hibbert, eds. The London Encyclopaedia (London: Macmillan, 1983), 582.
  2. John Stow, The Survey of London, ed. Ernest Rhys (London: J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd., 1929), 362; G.E. Mitton, ed.,Maps of Old London (London: Black, 1908), I, II, IV, V, VI.
  3. James F. Larkin and Paul L. Hughes, eds.,Stuart Royal Proclamations (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973-1983), I. 345.
  4. “Introduction,” A.L. Beier and Roger Finlay, eds., London 1500-1700: The making of the metropolis (London: Longman Group Ltd., 1986); Robert Ashton, “Popular Entertainment and Social Control in Later Elizabethan and Early Stuart London,” The London Journal IX (1983), 3; F.J. Fisher, “The Development of London as a Centre of Conspicuous Consumption in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society XXX, 4th ser. (1948), 37.
  5. The term “London” refers to the metropolitan area generally, while the term “City” means the parts under the authority of the aldermen and Lord Mayor.
  6. From Acts of the Privy Council of England, quoted in Normand Berlin, The Base String: The Underworld in Elizabethan Drama (Cranbury, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1968), 17; Thomas Dekker, Lanthorne and Candle-light (1608), in A.V. Judges, ed., The Elizabethan Underworld (London: George Routledge & Sons, Ltd., 1930), 348.
  7. Norman G. Brett-James, The Growth of Stuart London, Publ. for London & Middlesex Archaeological Society (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1935), 405; Sir Walter Besant,South London (New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1898), 124 ff.
  8. H.E. Malden, ed., The Victoria History of the County of Surrey, Publ. for the Institute of Historical Research (London: Oxford University Press, 1902, repr. 1967), IV, 125.
  9. deodand: anything, animate or inanimate, which is the instrument that brings about the death of a person.
  10. “The Charter of Edward VI, 23 April 1550” in David J. Johnson, Southwark and the City, Publ. for the Corporation of London (London: Oxford University Press, 1969), Appendix I, 395-406.
  11. Southwark was accompted within the County of Surrey, whereas London north of the Thames was accounted part of Middlesex.
  12. Victoria County History of Surrey, 138; Valerie Pearl, London and the Outbreak of the Puritan Revolution (London: Oxford University Press, 1961), 28-9.
  13. Johnson, Southwark and the City, 148; Pearl, London and the Outbreak of the Puritan Revolution, 28.
  14. Judges, The Elizabethan Underworld, lxix; Frank F. Foster, The Politics of Stability (London: Royal Historical Society, 1977), 184-85.
  15. John Strype, The Survey of London, quoted in Pearl, London and the Outbreak of the Puritan Revolution, 14; Victoria County History of Surrey, IV, 150.
  16. Jeremy Boulton, Neighbourhood and Society: A London Suburb in the Seventeenth Century (Cambridge: The University Press, 1987), 19-21, 43, 58-9.
  17. See Mitton, Maps of Old London, passim.
  18. Pearl, London and the Outbreak of the Puritan Revolution, 15.
  19. John Strype, The Survey of London, quoted in Pearl, London and the Outbreak of the Puritan Revolution, 14; C[alendar of] S[tate] P[apers] D[omestic], 1638-1639, 562-63, 579.
  20. C.S.P.D., 1619-23, 334; Victoria County History of Surrey, IV, 140-41.
  21. From Index to Remembrancia, quoted in Frank Aydelotte, Elizabethan Rogues and Vagabonds (London: Frank Cass & Co., Ltd., 1967), 73-74.
  22. See especially M.J. Power, “The Social Topography of Restoration London,” in Beier and Finlay, London 1500-1700, ch. 7.
  23. Stow, Survey of London, 362; Victoria County History of Surrey, IV, 128; Mitton, Maps of Old London, I.
  24. Paul L. Hughes and James F. Larkin, eds., Tudor Royal Proclamations (New Haven and New York: Yale University Press, 1964), II, no. 649; Larkin and Hughes, Stuart Royal Proclamations, I, no. 25, and passim. Building restrictions in the suburbs found their way, too, into contemporary drama and literature:

Pompey. You have not heard the proclamation, have you?

Mistress Overdone. What proclamation, man?

Pom. All houses in the suburbs of Vienna must be plucked down.

Mistress O. And what shall become of those in the city?

Pom. They shall stand for seed: they had gone down too, but that a wise burgher put in for them.

Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, I.ii.85-95.

  1. John Northbrooke, A treatise wherein dicing, dauncing, vaine playes, or enterluds, with other idle pastimes, &c., commonly used on the Sabboth day, are reproued by the authoritie of the word of God and auntient writers (1577), ed. Arthur Freeman (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1974), 51; A.L Beier, “Vagrants and the Social Order in Elizabethan England,”Past and Present LXIV (Aug. 1974), 10-11.
  2. Johnson, Southwark and the City, 142, 325.
  3. Beier, “Vagrants and the Social Order in Elizabethan England,” 26.
  4. C.S.P.D., 1591-1594, 464; Hughes and Larkin, Tudor Royal Proclamations and Stuart Royal Proclamations, passim.
  5. See Berlin, The Base String, ch. 1; F.W. Chandler, The Literature of Roguery, 2 vols. (Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1907); and Judges, The Elizabethan Underworld.
  6. Gamini Salgado, The Elizabethan Underworld (London: J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd., 1977), 51.
  7. Robert Greene, The Second Part of Cony- Catching (1591), in Judges, The Elizabethan Underworld, 165; Gilbert Walker (?), A Manifest Detection of the most vile and detestable use of Dice-play, and other practices like the same (1552), Ibid., 48-49; Thomas Harman, A Caveat or Warning for Common Cursitors, Vulgarly Called Vagabonds (1566), Ibid., 72 & n.
  8. Johnson, Southwark and the City, 148.
  9. William B. Rye, ed., London as seen by Foreigners in the days of Elizabeth and James the First (New York: Benjamin Blom, Inc., 1967), 7.
  10. [William] Harrison’s Description of England in Shakspere’s Youth, ed. Frederick J. Furnivall, Publ. for the New Shakspere Society (London: N. Tr�ber & Co., 1878), 32.
  11. Index to Remembrancia, quoted in Judges, Elizabethan Underworld, xliii.
  12. According to Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, the people of the City and suburbs used the fields surrounding the City Walls as places of assembly for initiating campaigns and organizing petitions. Such meetings, he asserted, were held in Southwark and particularly in St. George’s Fields, “where the arms and magazines were kept”. Pearl, London and the Outbreak of the Puritan Revolution, 234.
  13. Ibid., 107-8, 235; Larkin and Hughes, Stuart Royal Proclamations, II, no. 301.
  14. C.S.P.D., 1581-1590, 344; Aydelotte, Elizabethan Rogues and Vagabonds, 67.
  15. Each of London’s fourteen prisons had its different grades of accommodation, and which one a prisoner ended up in depended not on the nature of the offense he was charged with or the severity of the sentence but entirely on how much money (“garnish” was the technical term) he was prepared to lay out in bribes to gaolers, keepers, tipstaffs and others. Life on the Master’s Side could be as comfortable as life outside for those who had money: the inmate could eat and drink as he pleased, smoke whenever he had a mind, have his friends in for an evening’s gambling, or a woman from the local brothel to warm his bed. He could even bribe a gaoler to escort him out of doors. On the Common Side, however, a penniless man might actually starve to death if he failed to secure relief, primarily obtained by begging through the grated prison windows. A riot in the King’s Bench prison in 1620 was sparked when the Marshal walled up the window through which the inmates obtained food. The best known account of prison life is William Fenner’s The Counter’s Commonwealth, or, a Voyage made to an Infernal Island (1617), in Judges, Elizabethan Underworld, 423 ff. See also Richard Byrne, Prisons and Punishments of London (London: Harrap Books Ltd., 1989); Sidney and Beatrice Webb, English Prisons Under Local Government (New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1922); Clifford Dobb, “London’s Prisons,” Shakespeare Survey XVII (Cambridge, 1964), 87-100; and Salgado, Elizabethan Underworld, 168-80.
  16. Johnson, Southwark and the City, 336; The Diary of Samuel Pepys, ed. Robert Latham and William Matthews (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1983), III, 165 & n. The White Lion was the smallest of Southwark’s prisons, and from its name we can deduce that it had once been an inn, adapted to the minimal security need to contain debtors and petty offenders. But when other Southwark prisons became too overcrowded the White Lion was available to receive their surplus, including religious detainees. It seems frequently to have come under attack, and by 1681 it was so ruinous that it was no longer a place of safe custody, and its population was absorbed into the neighboring gaols. Byrne, Prisons and Punishments of London, 102-3; Victoria County History of Surrey, 141.
  17. Stow, Survey of London, 367.
  18. Ashton, “Popular Entertainment and Social Control,” 10; Peter Clark, “The Alehouse and the Alternative Society,” in Puritans and Revolutionaries: Essays in Seventeenth-Century History presented to Christopher Hill, ed. Donald Pennington and Keith Thomas (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978), 50. When German traveller Thomas Platter came to England in the 1590s, he declared: “I have never seen more taverns and alehouses in my whole life than in London.” Many other visitors before 1640 orchestrated the same theme. Thomas Platter’s Travels in England 1559, trans. Clare Williams (London: Jonathan Cape, 1937), 189.
  19. Beier and Finlay, London 1500-1700, 22; Peter Clark, The English Alehouse: a social history 1200-1830 (London: Longman Group Limited, 1983), 49; Ashton, “Popular Entertainment and Social Control,” 11; Dekker, Lanthorne and Candle-Light, in Judges, The Elizabethan Underworld, 347. Water poet John Taylor dedicated an entire section of hisCarriers’ Cosmography to “The Inns and Lodgings of the Carriers which come into the Borough of Southwark out of the counties of Kent, Sussex and Surrey.” John Taylor, The Carrier’s Cosmography; or, a Brief Relation of the Inns, Ordinaries, Hostelries, and other lodgings in and near London (1637), in Social England Illustrated: A Collection of XVIIth Century Tracts, ed. Andrew Lang (New York: Cooper Square Publishers, Inc., 1964), 359-60.
  20. Quoted in Clark, “The Alehouse and the Alternative Society,” 47.
  21. Ben Jonson, Every Man In His Humour, II.i.56-63.
  22. Clark, The English Alehouse: a social history, 123-4, and “The Alehouse and the Alternative Society,” 48-49; John Earle, Microcosmography; or, a piece of the world characterized(London: J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd., 1934), 22.
  23. Ashton, “Popular Entertainment and Social Control,” 10; Thomas Platter’s Travels in England, 170.
  24. Clark, The English Alehouse: a social history, 108-9.
  25. Ashton, “Popular Entertainment and Social Control,” 13.
  26. Clark, The English Alehouse: a social history, 111.
  27. Johnson, Southwark and the City, 247-48; Clark, The English Alehouse: a social history, 154, and “The Alehouse and the Alternative Society,” 63; Ashton, “Popular Entertainment and Social Control,” 8.
  28. Stow, Survey of London, 95.
  29. Johnson, Southwark and the City, 225.
  30. See Robert Greene, A Notable Discovery of Cozenage, The Second and Third Parts of Cony Catching, &c., in Judges, The Elizabethan Underworld, 119 ff., and Berlin, The Base String, 22 and passim.
  31. Clark, “The Alehouse and the Alternative Society,” 57.
  32. An Impartial account of the late discovery of the persons taken with fire-balls in Southwark [microform] (London: Printed for J.C., 1688), f. 1r.
  33. Clark, The English Alehouse: a social history, 145.
  34. Clark, “The Alehouse and the Alternative Society,” 66-67.
  35. Thomas Nashe, Christs Teares Over Jerusalem (1593), in Works, vol. 2, ed. F.P. Wilson (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1958), 148; Dekker, Lanthorne and Candle-light, in Judges, The Elizabethan Underworld, 349-50. Originally a stew was a sweating or steam-bath, a legacy from the Roman conquest. The association between such baths and brothels was doubtless reinforced by the practice of sweating as a cure for venereal disease. See OED.
  36. That an area which consisted mainly of brothels should have been episcopal property will surprise no one who knows anything about the activities of early prelates or about the equivocal attitude of the Church towards the sin of lust and lechery, at least where prostitution was concerned. “Suppress prostitution,” wrote St. Augustine, “and capricious lusts will overthrow society.” Aquinas was even more explicit: “Prostitution in the towns is like the cesspool in the palace; take away the cesspool and the palace will become an unclean and evil-smelling place.” Salgado, The Elizabethan Underworld, 49-51.
  37. It has long been rumored that Bishop of Winchester Stephen Gardiner cemented his friendship with King Henry VIII by providing him with a supply of “Winchester geese” (an epithet which came to apply to prostitutes generally as a result of their episcopal association in Southwark) for the royal pleasure. Primary source evidence to support this, however, has not been forthcoming.
  38. “A Whore” (1630), in All the Works of John Taylor the Water Poet (London: The Scolar Press, 1977), 37.
  39. Sermons by Hugh Latimer, ed. George Elwes Corrie (Cambridge: The University Press, 1987), 133-34.
  40. Stow, Survey of London, 361; Wallace Shugg, “Prostitution in Shakespeare’s London,” Shakespeare Studies X (1977), 296; Pepys’s Diary, IV, 261-62. Bawds have traditionally acquired their professional experience by serving as prostitutes, becoming “managers” in their later years when no longer able to attract customers themselves.
  41. Epigrammes CXXXIII, “On the Famous Voyage” (ll. 117-18), and Under-wood VL, “An Execration upon Vulcan” (ll. 148-49), in The Complete Poetry of Ben Jonson, ed. William B. Hunter (New York: The University Press, 1963), 71, 192; Shugg, “Prostitution in Shakespeare’s London,” 297.
  42. Nashe, Christs Teares Over Jerusalem, 148-49; Ashton, “Popular Entertainment and Social Control,” 14.
  43. Quoted in “Introduction” to Nicholas Goodman, Hollands Leaguer, ed. Dean Stanton Barnard, Jr. (The Hague: Mouton & Co., 1970), 37; Phillip Stubbes, The Anatomie of Abuses(1583) (Amsterdam: Theatrum Orbis Terrarum Ltd., 1972), f. O8v.
  44. Quoted in Salgado, The Elizabethan Underworld, 51, 58. Pepys records a conversation in 1669 with the manager of the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, in which the latter revealed his intentions to have house prostitutes provided at theaters as a convenience for special patrons of the arts. This, however, was an arrangement intended only for private theaters. Pepys’s Diary, IX, 425.
  45. Dekker, Lanthorne and Candle-Light, in Judges, The Elizabethan Underworld, 347; Nashe, Christs Teares Over Jerusalem, 150.
  46. Shugg, “Prostitution in Shakespeare’s London,” 312.
  47. The Elizabethan Underworld, 54, 56; Stubbes, The Anatomy of Abuses, f. H4r. Stewed prunes, a supposed cure for syphilis, was a staple dish offered in brothels.
  48. Thomas Platter’s Travels in England, 174-75. The whipping at the house of correction was a very formal affair conducted in the presence of the board of governors. One is invited, however, to recall the wild outpourings of Lear:

Thou rascal beadle, hold thy bloody hand! Why dost thou lash that whore? Strip thine own back; Thou hotly lusts to use her in that kind For which thou whipp’st her.

Shakespeare, King Lear, IV.vi.158-161.

  1. Stubbes, The Anatomie of Abuses, f. H6r.
  2. Stow, Survey of London, 360-61; Ashton, “Popular Entertainment and Social Control,” 15.
  3. Nashe, Christs Tears Over Jerusalem, 152.
  4. C.S.P.D., 1631-33, 221; Victoria County History of Surrey, 150-51. The event figured in three separate works published within a four-month period: Shakerley Marmion’s playHolland’s Leaguer (in Dramatic Works, New York: Benjamin Blom, 1967), Nicholas Goodman’s pamphlet Hollands Leaguer (actually a parable of the Church of England from a Protestant point of view, the premise being that the C. of E. had itself become another “Whore of Babylon”), and Lawrence Price’s ballad “Newes from Holland’s Leaguer” (in Goodman, Appendix C).
  5. Ashton, “Popular Entertainment and Social Control,” 15.
  6. Salgado, The Elizabethan Underworld, 53; Dekker, Lanthorne and Candle-Light, in Judges, The Elizabethan Underworld, 348.
  7. The discovery of a gladiator’s trident suggests the presence of a Roman circus or arena there.
  8. Peter Burke, “Popular Culture in Seventeenth-Century London,” The London Journal III (Nov. 1977), 148.
  9. Brett-James, Growth of Stuart London, 463. For Shallow and Falstaff, see Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part 2, III.ii.189-90: “O, Sir John, do you remember since we lay all night in the Windmill in Saint George’s Field?”
  10. Pepys’s Diary, I, 242 & n., IX, 313.
  11. Quoted in Besant, South London, 180-82. Evelyn’s name for the Fair came from its location between St. Margaret’s Hill and St. George’s Church.
  12. Robert Harris, The drunkards cup (1619), quoted in Clark, The English Alehouse: a social history, 73; Larkin and Hughes, Stuart Royal Proclamations, II, nos. 137, 225, 242; Victoria County History of Surrey, 140.
  13. E.K Chambers, The Elizabethan Stage (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1923, repr. 1965), II, 458.
  14. Brett-James, Growth of Stuart London, 461; Crowley, quoted in Besant, South London, 215.
  15. The two baiting rings are also marked on maps of 1572 and 1593. Mitton, Maps of Old London, II, IV, VI; Besant, South London, 211.
  16. Henry Peacham, Sights and Exhibitions in England, Temp. James I (1611), in Rye, London as Seen by Foreigners, 140. Blind bears seem to have held a peculiar attraction for English audiences, as evidenced by the Jacobean notice cited above. They could still be dangerous, though: On 9 December 1554 a blind bear escaped from one of the Bankside theaters and caught a serving man by the leg, “and bytt a grete pesse away, and after by the hokyll bone, that within .iii. days after he ded.” Besant, South London, 216.
  17. Pepys’s Diary, VII, 245-6, VIII, 239, 429-30, IX, 516-17.
  18. C.S.P.D., 1547-1580, 6; Ashton, “Popular Entertainment and Social Control,” 8-9; Besant, South London, 212.
  19. John Field, A Godly Exhortation (New York and London: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1974), f. B8r and passim; Ashton, “Popular Entertainment and Social Control,” 6; Flagellum dei, or, A collection of the several fires, plagues, and pestilential diseases that have happened in London especially [microform] (London: Printed for C.VV., 1668), 8-9.
  20. C.S.P.D., 1547-1580, 1; The Letters of Stephen Gardiner ed. James Muller (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1933), 253-54.
  21. Johnson, Southwark and the City, 224; Burke, “Popular Culture in Seventeenth-Century London,” 148; Taylor quoted in Besant, South London, 217.
  22. Victoria County History of Surrey, 133-34; Thomas Platter’s Travels in England, 166-67.
  23. In a recent study of the playgoing public, Ann Jennalie Cook argues convincingly that insufficient regard has been paid by modern scholars to some of the more obvious economic deterrents to plebeian playgoing: notably, the fact that theater inevitably competed with labor in the use of daylight (Sunday performances were prohibited in 1586 for their adverse effect on church attendance), and the difficulty involved in finding even the minimum admission price of one penny, since attendance itself meant sacrificing an afternoon’s wages. Ann Jennalie Cook, The Privileged Playgoers of Shakspeare’s London, 1576-1642 (Princeton: The University Press, 1981), chapter VI: “Plebeian Playgoers”.
  24. Pepys’s Diary, IX, 415; Salgado, The Elizabethan Underworld, 41.
  25. Letters of Stephen Gardiner, 253-54; C.S.P.D., 1547-1580, 1; Ibid., 1598-1601, 575, 578.
  26. Ibid., 1598-1601, 435.
  27. Besant, South London, 222.
  28. Northbrooke, A Treatise, 58-59; Stubbes, Anatomie of Abuses, ff. L5r, L8r. Nor did opinion change much over the next century: “as if we were resolved to out-do the Impieties of the very Heathens, Prophaneness, and even Blasphemy, was too often the Wit and Entertainment of our Scandalous Play-Houses.” Josiah Woodward, An account of the societies for reformation of manners in England and Ireland, 3rd ed. [microform] (London: Printed for B. Aylmer and A. Bell, 1700), 3.
  29. Ben Jonson, Volpone or The Fox, ed. David Cook (London: Methuen & Co., Ltd., 1962), 58; Thomas Heywood, An Apology for Actors (1612) and A Refutation of the Apology for Actors (1615) by I.G., ed. Richard H. Perkinson (New York: Scholars’ Facsimiles & Reprints, 1941), ff. A7v- A8r; Besant, South London, 223-24.
  30. Ashton, “Popular Entertainment and Social Control,” 5-6.
  31. C.S.P.D., 1595-1597, 310.
  32. Index to Remembrancia, quoted in Ashton, “Popular Entertainment and Social Control,” 5; Pepys’s Diary, IX, 313.
  33. Dekker, Lanthorne and Candle-light, in Judges, The Elizabethan Underworld, 323.
  34. “Introduction” in Thomas Middleton, A Game at Chess, ed. J.W. Harper (London: Ernest Benn Limited, 1966), xii.
  35. Index to Remembrancia, quoted in Judges, Elizabethan Underworld, xliii.
  36. Northbrooke, A Treatise, 68.
  37. Johnson, Southwark and the City, 224.

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