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Wrong Side of the River: London's disreputable - page 11 / 25





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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

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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

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