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Wrong Side of the River: London's disreputable - page 17 / 25





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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.78 On 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,

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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.

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