Category Archives: Sex

Booze Prostitution Sex

Winchester Geese or Bankside Whores

Today’s fragments come from Robert Greene’s A Notable Discovery of Cosenage, Conie-catchers and Crossbiters published in 1592, a pamphlet written as a cautionary warning to innocents abroad in London.   Greene’s practical advice details the perils awaiting the unwary in the streets, taverns, brothels, and gaming dens, of London.

The pickpockets are ‘apparelled like honest civil gentlemen or good fellows, with smooth faces, as if butter would not melt in their mouths…[they] walk up and down Paul’s, Fleet Street, Holborn, the Strand, and such common-haunted places, where they attend only to spy out a prey.’  Their most popular location is St Paul’s, and their favoured victim ‘some plain man that stands gazing about, having never seen the church before.’ The preferred time to strike ‘is at divine service, when men devoutly go up to hear either a sermon, or else the harmony of the choir and organs. There the nip and foist [cutpurse and pickpocket], as devoutly as if he were some zealous person, standeth soberly with his eyes elevated to heaven, when his hand is either on the purse or in the pocket.’

Then there are the whores, known on Bankside and Southwark as Winchester Geese. Greene was an expert on whores, having been kept by one for several years. He warns that ‘a shameless hussy has honey in her lips and her mouth is as sweet as honey, her throat as soft as oil; but the end of her is more bitter than aloes and her tongue is more sharp than a two-edged sword.’ ‘End’ here had a double meaning; loose women would no doubt come to a bad end, but there was also the substantial risk that the whore’s ‘end’ was quite liable to give her gentleman companion the clap.

Greene particularly warns against a practise known as ‘cross-biting’: ‘Some unruly mates that place their content in lust, let slip the liberty of their eyes on some painted beauty, let their eyes stray to their unchaste bosoms til their hearts be set on fire.’ Having set his cap at the object of his desire, the young man is quickly embraced by the scheming harlot, who either leads the way to the tavern ‘to seal up the match with a bottle of Hippocras, or straight away she takes him to some bad place.’ But once the couple are in bed and have ‘set to it’, there enters ‘a terrible fellow, with side hair and a fearful beard, as though he were one of Polyphemus cut, and he comes frowning in and says ‘What has thou to do, base knave, to carry my sister, or my wife?’ The accomplice then rounds on the woman and calls her nothing better than a whore and threatens to haul them both before a local justice. ‘The whore that has tears at command, immediately falls a-weeping and cries him mercy’. The hapless victim, terrified that the publicity will get back to his wife and family, or his employer, has no choice but to pay whatever it takes to persuade the ‘husband’ or ‘brother’ to keep quiet.

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Booze Crime Propaganda Sex Vice

Drinking, fiddling, prostitutes, hangings

Final snippets from Thomas Platter’s observations of London in 1599.

There are a great many inns, taverns, and beer-gardens scattered about the city, where much amusement may be had with eating, drinking, fiddling, and the rest, as for instance in our hostelry, which was visited by players almost daily. And what is particularly curious is that the women as well as the men, in fact more often than they, will frequent the taverns or ale-houses for enjoyment. They count it a great honour to be taken there and given wine with sugar to drink; and if one woman only is invited, then she will bring three or four other women along and they gaily toast each other; the husband afterwards thanks him who has given his wife such pleasure, for they deem it a real kindness.

In the ale-houses tobacco or a species of wound-wort are also obtainable for one’s money, and the powder is lit in a small pipe, the smoke sucked into the mouth, and the saliva is allowed to run freely, after which a good draught of Spanish wine follows. This they regard as a curious medicine for defluctions, and as a pleasure, and the habit is so common with them, that they always carry the instrument on them, and light up on all occasions, at the play, in the taverns or elsewhere, drinking as well as smoking together, as we sit over wine, and it makes them riotous and merry, and rather drowsy, just as if they were drunk, though the effect soon passes — and they use it so abundantly because of the pleasure it gives, that their preachers cry out on them for their self-destruction, and I am told the inside of one man’s veins after death was found to be covered in soot just like a chimney. The herb is imported from the Indies in great quantities, and some types are much stronger than others, which difference one can immediately taste; they perform queer antics when they take it.

This city of London is not only brimful of curiosities but so populous also that one simply cannot walk along the streets for the crowd.  Especially every quarter when the law courts sit in London and they throng from all parts of England for the terms to litigate in numerous matters which have occurred in the interim, for everything is saved up till that time; then there is a slaughtering and a hanging, and from all the prisons (of which there are several scattered about the town where they ask alms of the passers by, and sometimes they collect so much by their begging that they can purchase their freedom) people are taken and tried; when the trial is over, those condemned to the rope are placed on a cart, each one with a rope about his neck, and the hangman drives with them out of the town to the gallows, called Tyburn, almost an hour away from the city; there he fastens them up one after another by the rope and drives the cart off under the gallows, which is not very high off the ground; then the criminals’ friends come and draw them down by their feet, that they may die all the sooner. They are then taken down from the gallows and buried in the neighbouring cemetery, where stands a house haunted by such monsters that no one can live in it, and I myself saw it.  Rarely does a law day in London in all the four sessions pass without some twenty to thirty persons — both men and women — being gibbeted.

And since the city is very large, open, and populous, watch is kept every night in all the streets, so that misdemeanors shall be punished. Good order is also kept in the city in the matter of prostitution, for which special commissions are set up, and when they meet with a case, they punish the man with imprisonment and fine. The woman is taken to Bridewell, the King’s palace, situated near the river, where the executioner scourges her naked before the populace. And although close watch is kept on them, great swarms of these women haunt the town in the taverns and playhouses.

More from Thomas Platter on Bears and Cock Fighting here, and on attending the theatre here 

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