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Wrong Side of the River: London's disreputable - page 14 / 25





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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 Ï20 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

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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


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 /

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