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Wrong Side of the River: London's disreputable - page 19 / 25





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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


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

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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

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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

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