Category Archives: Custom

Custom Entertainment London

Whores, Pimps and Panders – Bartholomew Fair

These fragments follow on from the post on tumbling and rope-tricks at Bartholomew Fair, and come from a curiously grumpy little pamphlet which takes its reader on a guided tour of the fair in order to highlight its dangers.

Bartholomew Faire begins on the twenty fourth day of August, and is then of so vast an extent that is contained in no lesse than four parishes, namely Christ Church, Great and Little Saint Bartholomewes, and Saint Sepulchres.  Hither resort people of all sorts, High and Low, Rich and Poore, from cities, townes, and countreys.  And all conditions, good and bad, vertuous and vitious, Knaves and fooles, Cuckholds and Cuckoldmakers, Bauds, Whores, Pimps and Panders, Rogues and Rascalls, the little loud-one and the witty wanton.

And now that we may the better take an exact survey of the whole Faire.  First let us enter in to Christ Church Cloysters which are now hung so full of pictures that you would take that place or rather mistake it for Saint Peters in Rome. Being arrived through the long walke to Saint Bartholomewes hospital, that place appeares to me a fucking Exchange, and may be so termed not unfitly, for there many a handsome wench exchanges her maidenhead for a small favour.  She comes not hither with her sweet-heart, to serve her owne turne only, but also to satisfie his desire; according to the old saying one good turne deserves another.

Let us now make a progresse into Smith-field, which is the heart of the Faire, where in my heart I think there are more motions in a day to be seene, than are in a terme in Westminster Hall to be had.  But whilst you take notice of the severall motions there, take this caution along with you, let one eye watch narrowly that no one make a motion into your pocket.  The Faire is full of gold and silver drawers, just as Lent is to the Fishmonger so is Bartholomew Faire to the Pickpocket.  The Citty-Marshalls are as dreadfull to these youngsters as the Plague is to our London actors, that refraines them from playing, so they hinder them from working. You may quickly know these nimble youths and likely find them very busie bodies in quarrells, sometimes in discourse with their wenches for most part to be found in a crowd or throng of people.  Their buttocks walke up and down the Faire very demurely.

It is remarkable and worth your observation to behold the strange sights and confused noise of the Faire.  Here a Knave in a fools costume with a trumpet sounding, or on a drumme beating, invites you and would perswade you to see his puppets.  There’s a Rogue like a wild woodman desires your company to view his motion; on the other side Hocus Pocus with three yards of ribbin in his hand shewing his art.  You shall see a gray goose-cap with a larke in his mouth, standing in his boothe shaking a rattle or scraping a fiddle with which children are taken.  All these together make such a distracted noise that you would think Babell were not comparable to it.  Here there are also your gamesters in action. Some turning of a whimsey, others throwing for pewter, who can quickly dissolve a round shilling into a three half penny saucer.

Well fare the Ale houses therein, yet better may a man fare in the pig markets of Pasty Nooke or Pye corner where pigges are in all houres of the day on the stalls piping hot, and would cry come eate me, but they are so damnable deare, and the reckonings for them are so saucy that a man had as good licke his fingers in a baudy house, as at this time come into one of those houses, where the fat greasy Hostesse instructs Nick Froth her tapster to aske a shilling more for a pigs head of a woman big with child, than of another ordinary customer.

Farewell to the Faire. Preserve your Purses, whilst you please your eyes.

© 2009-2012 All Rights Reserved

Custom Entertainment London

A jig upon the rope

These snippets are from an advertisement for rope trick entertainments at Bartholomew Fair, an annual event which took place at Smithfield and began on the eve of St Bartholomew’s Day, 24th August.

At Mr Barnes’s Booth, between the Crown-Tavern and the Hospital-Gate over-against the Cross Daggers in West Smithfield, where you will see the English flag out on top of the Booth, during the time of Bartholomew-Fair, is to be seen the Famous Rope-Dancers in Europe. By these incomparable Companies (all joyn’d in one Booth) will be presented the Variety of Agility of Body, as Dancing, Tumbling, Vaulting and Walking the Slack Rope, the like was never seen since the Age of Man.

1. You will see the Morocco Woman and her Company who Vault upon the High Rope to admiration.

2. You will see the French Company who perform things too tedious here to relate.

3. You will see the two Famous High-German Children who are the Wonder of the World of their Sex performing such things the like was never seen before.

4. You will see the English Company, Mr Appleby and Mr Barnes who are the two Only Famous Men in the whole World for Tumbling and Rope Dancing; where Mr Barnes dances with a Child standing on his shoulders and two at his feet, with Rolls, Baskets, Boots, and dances a Jig upon the Rope with such Variety of steps that few or no Dancing Masters in England exceed him on the ground, keeping exact time to the Musick.  He likewise walks the Slack Rope, not bigger than a Penny Chord, and swings himself several Yards distance, standing upright, with the Pole in his hand.  Also you will see such Tumbling performed by the English Company as throwing Hoops over Halbards, over 16 mens Heads, over an Horse with a Man on his back, and two Boys standing upright on his Shoulders.  In short there is no Agility of Body, as Walking, Vaulting or Tumbling, but what is performed in this Booth.

You will likewise be entertained with Good Musicke and the Merry Conceits of Pickle-Herring and his son Punch. 


Easter is banned

During the English Civil Wars, Parliament banned many public celebrations and festivals, including Christmas.  In 1647, the celebrating of Easter was also prohibited.

Forasmuch as the Feasts of the Nativity of Christ, Easter, and Whitsuntide, and other Festivals commonly called Holy-dayes, have beene heretofore superstitiously used and observed, Bee it Ordained by the Lords and Commons in Parliament assembled, That the said Feasts of the Nativity of Christ, Easter, and Whitsuntide, and all other Festivall dayes, commonly called Holy-dayes, be no longer observed as Festivals or Holy-dayes within this Kingdom of England and Dominion of Wales… And to the end that there may be a convenient time allotted to Schollers, Apprentices, and other Servants for their Recreation, be it Ordained by the Authority aforesaid, That all Schollers, Apprentices, and other Servants shall with the leave and approbation of their Masters respectively first had and obtained, have such convenient reasonable Recreation and Relaxation from their constant and ordinary Labours on every second Tuesday in the Month throughout the year, as formerly they have used to have on such aforesaid Festivals, commonly called Holy-days. And that Masters of all Schollers, Apprentices and Servants shall grant unto them respectively such time for their Recreations on the aforesaid second Tuesdays in every Month, as they may conveniently spare from their extraordinary and necessary Services and Occasions. And it is further Ordained by the said Lords and Commons, that if any difference shall arise between Master and Servant concerning the Liberty hereby granted, the next Justice of the Peace shall have power to order and reconcile the same.

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

Custom Dining Family Household

The Elizabethan House

 Little Moreton, Cheshire

In response to several requests, today’s snippets are on Elizabethan & Jacobean homes. Having blogged  for the past six months or so now, what has struck me repeatedly is the fascination people have with the more mundane aspects of early modern life. Poetry and art certainly have their place, but it appears people equally enjoy early modern sausages or a whirlwind history of the chamber pot. I spend most of my waking life immersed in the intricacies of 17th century drama and politics, so a delve into a 16th century recipe book, or the inner workings of a flushing cistern, usually comes as welcome relief.

A brief word about building materials. Timber was a major building material in the Elizabethan period but as time progressed more and more homes were constructed of brick, particularly in London, which did something to a certain extent at least, to limit the great fire of 1666.  Of all the timber used, the preference was usually for oak, which was both waterproof and durable.

Just as today, homes in the late 16th and early 17th centuries differed according to the wealth and status of their owners or tenants, but they shared a basic commonality when it came to function. And like today, cash bought space and luxuries. And chimneys. Great Elizabethan houses could incorporate multiple chimneys thanks to the advances in coal mining. And chimneys meant warmth and an end to smoky medieval halls where families huddled around just the one fire. These multiple chimneys in turn led to a new division of space, with rooms assigned to particular activities, such as dining or sleeping. In addition, windows underwent a redesign. In the past, windows had been necessarily small for two very good reasons; glass was extremely costly, and small windows offered a better defence against invading hordes.  But thanks to the imports of foreign glass and the skill of stone masons, windows could finally begin to let in the light. This increase in light and space really opened houses up. Huge ornate wooden staircases replaced the tight windy stone steps of older homes, and a long sun-filled gallery was de rigueur; whether to show off the family portraits, stroll about on a rainy day, or pass the time playing skittles. Ceilings were now plastered, and wainscots were introduced, which brought an end to cold plastered walls and dangling moth-eaten tapestries. Now rooms were enveloped in panels of warm wood.



Floors were usually constructed of timber, and where they might once have been strewn with rushes and herbs, they were now covered with woven mats, or rugs, if money were no object. The number of rooms in a house depended on its size and function. It was traditional for a house to have a dining chamber and a bed chamber, in addition there might be a little ‘house of easement’ or water closet for the very rich, or an outside privy for those of more modest means (see my post In the privy that annoys you for more on this aspect of early modern life). Baths were taken by the fire. The following image depicts the typical rooms in a house belonging to a well-to-do family. It’s worth noting that this is a representative diagram, and the layout would not have followed this plan (the kitchen, for example, would not be upstairs!).


From top right to bottom left: 

Bedroom, study, dining room, kitchen, buttery, well, privy, stables, cellar, chamber 

Samuel Pepys, in his diary, lists the number of rooms in his lodgings as follows: A study for himself, A parlour, A ‘little room’ taken over from his neighbour, A nursery, Elizabeth’s bed chamber, A dining room, A ‘matted chamber’, A new dining room in the roof extension, Elizabeth’s closet, A study for Samuel’s secretary, The ‘red chamber’, The ‘green chamber’, A new closet for Elizabeth in the roof extension, The upper best chamber or music room, The ‘dancing room’, A ‘new closet’, An old closet now ‘my little dining room’, The ‘great chamber’, A ‘long chamber where the girl lies’, The ‘blue chamber’, A dressing room, and a room ‘for Elizabeth’s woman’. This is all in addition to a kitchen and various pantries. Of course Pepys was reasonably  wealthy, and the rooms he lists may all have been quite small, but he does provide a fascinating glimpse into the function and nature of early modern homes.


Furniture and furnishings were evolving too. It’s hard to imagine, but at the beginning of Elizabeth’s reign, many people were content to sleep on straw pallets with a ‘good round log’ for a pillow. It was a sign of great prosperity if a man could afford a feather bed. However four-poster beds were soon all the rage, with soft mattresses, fancy drapes and ornate hangings. The Great Bed of Ware (above, dated 1590), now in the V & A, is a good example of a luxurious item of bedroom furniture from the period, although by early modern standards it was enormous. The inventory of a 16th century landowner’s house sheds some light on the sort of furnishings in use in bedchambers at the time: Twelve bedsteads, two truckle beds, a dozen sheets (four linen, the rest probably hemp), six blankets, three bolsters, two valances, two coverlets and four cushions.

The family meals would be taken in the dining chamber. The table (or ‘bord’) had evolved from the simple trestle of earlier times, and often had leaves which could be used to extend it. The head of the household would sit in a chair with a back and arm rests, and around the table would be a collection of stools or benches for the rest of the family to sit on.



A cupboard (or cup boards as they were known) was a vital addition to any dining chamber. In essence it was a wooden shelf, or set of shelves, upon which the household valuables could be displayed – often pieces of silver or pewter, and fancy glassware. Dining chambers also had a buffet – another shelf on which the wine or beer was kept during meals. A drink would be dispensed from the buffet in a glass or tankard, and once consumed, the empty vessel would then be whipped away and swilled in a tub of clean water.  Venetian glass was imported into England and favoured by the wealthy, since English glass-blowing techniques had not yet become sufficiently refined. Knives were manufactured in Sheffield and widely available, and it was often the case that a dining guest would bring his or her own knife. A pitcher or bowl of water on the table was provided, so diners could sluice their cutlery and their hands between courses.  Forks were still a rarity – see my post on Jacobean dining for more.



In addition to the dining chamber, other rooms in the house would have cupboards, and these were known as ‘presses’, ‘court cupboards’, ‘livery cupboards’, or ‘aumbries’. Mirrors hung in various rooms, especially in bedrooms; known as ‘glasses’ they were often made from polished steel. Typical homes were lit with either candles or tapers. Tapers were thin, cheap, lightweight candles; more expensive candles were reserved for special occasions.

Most homes of a decent size would have had a garden. This was more than just an outside space. It provided essential supplies for both the kitchen and the medicine cabinet. In a future post I will explore the importance and delights of the Elizabethan garden.


In addition to my own research into primary sources, I’ve referred to both A H Dodd’s Elizabethan England, & Liza Picard’s Restoration London & Elizabeth’s London

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

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