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Wrong Side of the River: London's disreputable - page 10 / 25





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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

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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

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