Old and New London: Volume 6. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
SOUTHWARK (continued).—BANKSIDE IN THE OLDEN TIME.
ppearance of Bankside in the Seventeenth Century—The Globe Theatre—Its Destruction by Fire—Shakespeare's Early Connection with the Playhouse—James Burbage—Rebuilding of the Globe Theatre—Public and Private Theatres—The Rose Theatre—Ben Jonson—The Hope and Swan Theatres—Paris Garden—Bear-baiting—Prize-fighting—Samuel Pepys' Description of the Sport—John Evelyn's Visit to Bankside—The "Master of the King's Bears"—Bad Repute of Paris Garden—Visit of Queen Elizabeth to Paris Garden—Bear Alley—Public Gardens in Southwark—Bankside at the Time of the Great Fire of London—Dick Tarleton—The "Tumble-down Dick"—Waterside Public-houses.
In the present chapter we must ask our readers to transport themselves along with us, mentally, some 250 or 300 years, to the Bankside with which Shakespeare and Burbage, and Ben Jonson, and Beaumont and Fletcher were familiar. They will see no rows of densely-crowded courts and alleys, with their idle and dissolute, gin-drinking inhabitants; but before their eyes there will rise at east three large round structures of singular appearance, not unlike small martello towers, open to the sky above, together with one or two plots of enclosed ground scaffolded about for the use of spectators. These are the Paris Gardens, and the Globe, the Hope, and the Swan Theatres. And besides these, there are the stately palaces of the Bishops of Winchester and Rochester, as we have already shown; and all to the south are green fields and hedgerows.
"On the southern bank of the Thames," writes Mr. J. H. Jesse, in his "London," between Blackfriars Bridge and Southwark Bridge, is Bankside. Here was the Globe Theatre, immortalised as the spot where Shakespeare trod the stage; here was the celebrated 'Paris Garden;' here stood the circuses for 'bowll-baytyng' and 'beare-baytyng,' where Queen Elizabeth entertained the French ambassadors with the baiting of wild beasts. Here stood the Falcon Tavern—the 'Folken Inne' as it is styled in the ancient plans of Bankside—the daily resort of Shakespeare and his dramatic companions; here, between Southwark Bridge and London Bridge, the site still pointed out by 'Pike Gardens,' were the pike-ponds, which once supplied our monarchs with fresh-water fish; and, astly, here were the park and the palace of the Bishop of Winchester."
It will be seen at once, from the above quotaion, that the ancient topography of the southern bank of the Thames (or Bankside) between London and Blackfriars Bridges, is peculiarly interesting to the lover of dramatic lore, as well as to the student of the sports and pastimes of our ancestors. Down to the middle of the seventeenth century, and probably much later, with the exception of a few houses extending westward along the bank of the river, and sundry places of amusement, the greater part of the land hereabouts would seem to have been waste and unenclosed.
In the "History of St. Saviour's, Southwark," published in 1795, we read that "the passage which led to the Globe Tavern, of which the playhouse formed a part, was, till within these few years, known by the name of Globe Alley, and upon its site now stands a large storehouse for porter." It was called the Globe from its sign, which was a figure of Hercules, or Atlas, supporting a globe, under which was written, "Totus mundus agit histrionem" ("All the world acts a play"); and not, as many have conjectured, from its circular shape; for the Globe, though a rotunda within, was to the outward view a hexagon.
We have no description of the interior of the Globe, but that it was somewhat similar to our modern theatres, with an open space in the roof; or perhaps it more resembled an inn-yard, where, in the beginning of Queen Elizabeth's reign, many of our ancient dramatic pieces were performed. The galleries in both were arranged on three sides of the building; the small rooms under the lowest, answered to our present boxes, and were called rooms; the yard bears a sufficient resemblance to the pit, as at present in use, and where the common people stood to see the exhibition; from which circumstance they are called by Shakespeare "the groundlings," and by Ben Jonson "the understanding gentlemen of the ground." The stage was erected in the area, with its back to the gateway, where the admission money was generally taken. The price of admission into the best rooms, or boxes, was in Shakespeare's time a shilling, though afterwards it appears to have risen to two shillings and half-a-crown. The galleries, or scaffolds, as they were sometimes called, and that part of the house which in private theatres was named the pit, seem to have been the same in price, which was sixpence, while in some meaner playhouses it was only a penny, and in others twopence.
The Globe Theatre, according to Mr. Dyce, in his "Life of Shakespeare," was first opened late in 1594, or early in the following year; at all events, within twenty years of the opening of the first theatre in London. During the summer, the Lord Chamberlain's "servants,"—of whom Shakespeare was one—acted at the Globe, returning in the winter to the theatre at Blackfriars, which was more effectually sheltered from the weather. They also occasionally changed their venue by playing at the "Curtain," in Shoreditch, and at the theatre in Newington Butts.
No sooner did James I. ascend the throne, than he issued from Greenwich a royal proclamation, authorising, by name, "Our servants, Lawrence Fletcher, William Shakspeare, Richard Burbage," &c. &c., "freely to use and exercise the art and faculty of plays, comedies, tragedies, histories, interludes, morals, pastorals, stage-plays, &c. &c., as well within their now usual house, called the Globe, within our County of Surrey, as also within any town halls … or other convenient places within the liberties … of any other city, university, town, or borough whatever within our realms."
Shakespeare and his associates at this time were at the head of the Lord Chamberlain's company, performing at the Globe in the summer; but by virtue of it they ceased to be the Lord Chamberlain's servants, and became "the king's players." It may be added that " Mr. Shakespeare, of the Globe," is mentioned in a letter from Mrs. Alleyn to her husband, the founder of Dulwich College.
If any doubt exist as to the extent of Shakespeare's connection with the theatres in Bankside,
it will be removed by the lines of Ben Jonson,
in allusion to the fondness for dramatic performances which marked our last Tudor and our
first Stuart sovereign:—
"Sweet Swan of Avon, what a sight it were
To see thee in our waters yet appear,
And make those flights upon the banks of Thames
That so did take Eliza and our James."
"It was here," writes Charles Mackay, in his "Thames and its Tributaries," "near the spot still called the Bankside, that the Globe Theatre stood at the commencement of the seventeenth century; the theatre of which Shakespeare himself was in part proprietor, where some of his plays were first produced, and where he himself performed in them. It was of an octagonal form, partly covered with thatch, as we learn from the account in Stow, who tells us that in 1613, ten years after it was first licensed to Shakespeare and Burbage, and the rest, the thatch took fire by the negligent discharge of a piece of ordnance, and in a very short time the whole building was consumed. The house was filled with people to witness the representation of King Henry the Eighth; but they all escaped unhurt. This was the end of Shakespeare's theatre; it was rebuilt, however, apparently in a similar style, in the following year."
Theatres in those times were very different structures from what they are in the present day; they were unroofed, circular or hexagonal edifices, shielded from the rain by a canvas covering, and without scenery or decorations, as well as innocent of "stalls" or "boxes," for the more aristocratic part of the audience sat upon the stage, among the performers, drinking beer and enjoying a friendly pipe. The central area in the public theatres was termed "the yard," the word "pit" being restricted to private theatres; the pits were furnished with seats, which was not the case with the "yards." "Cressets, or large open lanterns," writes Mr. Dyce, "served to illuminate the body of the house; and two ample branches, of a form similar to those now hung in churches, gave light to the stage. The band of musicians, which was far from numerous, sat, it is supposed, in an upper balcony, over what is now called the stage-box; the instruments chiefly used were trumpets, cornets, hautboys, lutes, recorders, viols, and organs. Nearly all these theatres were of wood; and the public theatres were open to the sky, the luxury of a roof being confined to 'private' theatres—whatever these may have been. On the outside of each was a sign indicative of its name; and on the roof a flag was hoisted during the time of performance."
The peculiar construction of the theatre in
Shakespeare's time is referred to by the poet himself, for he thus speaks of the Globe Theatre in
the play of Henry V.:—
"Can this vast cockpit hold
The field of vasty France? or can we cram
Into this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt?"
In these early days of the drama, a curtain occupied the place of scenery, while the scene supposed to be represented was inscribed on a board, and hung up at the back of the stage, such, for instance, as "This is a house," or "This is a garden."
"Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts"
is the bidding of the poet; and he spoke to an audience who could do even better than that, who could forget them altogether, in their apprehension of the spiritual grandeur and magnificence that was then with them in the cockpit. "There is something, it must be owned," observes Charles Knight, in his "London," "occasionally amusing, as well as delightful, in the simplicity of the old stage: in Greene's Pinner of Wakefield, two parties are quarrelling, and one of them says, 'Come, sir, will you come to the town's end, now?' in order to fight. 'Aye, sir, come,' answers the other; and both then, we presume, move a few feet across the stage, to another part; but evidently that is all, for in the next line the speaker continues, 'Now we are at the town's end—what shall we say now?'" And yet it was here, and with such accessories as those mentioned above, that were first produced nearly all the wonderful plays of the mighty poet.
An account of the accident mentioned above is given by Sir Henry Wotton, in a letter dated July 2, 1613: "Now to let matters of state sleepe, I will entertain you at the present with what happened this week at the Banks side. The King's players had a new play, called All is True, representing some principal pieces of the reign of Henry VIII., which set forth with many extraordinary circumstances of pomp and majesty even to the matting of the stage; the knights of the order with their Georges and Garter, the guards with their embroidered coats, and the like; sufficient in truth within awhile to make greatness very familiar, if not ridiculous. Now King Henry making a masque at the Cardinal Wolsey's house, and certain cannons being shot off at his entry, some of the paper or other stuff, wherewith one of them was stopped, did light on the thatch, where, being thought at first but idle smoak, and their eyes more attentive to the show, it kindled inwardly, and ran round like a train, consuming within less than an hour the whole house to the very ground. This was the fatal period of that virtuous fabrick, wherein yet nothing did perish but wood and straw, and a few forsaken cloaks; only one man had his breeches set on fire, that would perhaps have broyled him, if he had not, by the benefit of a provident wit, put it out with a bottle of ale."
From a letter of Mr. John Chamberlaine to Sir Ralph Winwood, dated July 8, 1613, in which this accident is likewise mentioned, we learn that the theatre had only two doors. "The burning of the Globe or playhouse on the Bankside on St. Peter's day cannot escape you; which fell out by a peal of chambers (that I know not upon what occasion were to be used in the play), the tampin or stopple of one of them lighting in the thatch that covered the house, burn'd it down to the ground in less than two hours, with a dwellinghouse adjoyning; and it was a great marvaile and a fair grace of God that the people had so little harm, having but two narrow doors to get out."
Taylor, the water poet, commemorates the event
in the following lines:—
"As gold is better that in fire's tried,
So is the Bankside Globe, that late was burn'd;
For where before it had a thatched hide,
Now to a stately theatre 'tis turn'd;
Which is an emblem that great things are won
By those that dare through greatest dangers run."
The exhibitions given at the Globe appear to have been calculated for the lower class of people, and to have been more frequent than those at the Blackfriars, till early in the seventeenth century, when it became less fashionable and frequented. The Globe was immediately contiguous to the Bear Garden; and it is probable, therefore, that those who resorted thither went to the theatre when the bear-baiting sports were over, and such persons were not likely to form a very refined audience.
It has often been said that Shakespeare, on his first arrival in London from Stratford-on-Avon, was received into the playhouse in a subordinate position, and associated with company of a mean and low rank; but Mr. Dyce sees reason for believing that "he never was attached to any other company (of players) than that which owned the Blackfriars and the Globe." Among Shakespeare's fellows at this time were Marlowe, Greene, Lodge, Beaumont, Fletcher, Peele, Chettle, Burbage, and a few others.
We have already made some mention of Burbage in our account of Blackfriars Theatre, (fn. 1) but as there is a certain sense in which "Master" James Burbage, carpenter, &c., of the parish of St. Leonard's, Shoreditch, may be regarded as the father of the English stage, some additional notice of him here, in connection with the Globe, may not be altogether out of place. Although the drama had flourished in the shape, at all events, of miracle-plays and such-like performances in the ages before the Reformation, yet under our Tudor sovereigns the drama was not held in high honour, nor was the profession of a dramatist regarded as worthy of respect. Royal and court authority had all along set its face against plays and interludes as dangerous to the morals of the young, and, therefore, things to be forbidden to the citizens of London and their apprentices. Indeed, all plays were strictly interdicted within the City; and on one occasion, when it became known that a play was to be performed at the "Boar's Head," in Aldgate, the Lord Mayor received an order from Queen Mary to stop the performance. In the early part of Elizabeth's reign it was found that the dramatic element was too strongly mixed up with human nature to be quite suppressed, and that it was better to bear with and hold in check what could not be utterly forbidden. Accordingly, in the year 1575, when the Lord Mayor had issued an edict altogether inhibiting plays within the circuit of the City, one James Burbage, a carpenter, bethought himself that he would erect a structure of wood, which would serve for a theatre, on a site just beyond the Lord Mayor's jurisdiction. Two circumstances favoured his idea: firstly, his father-in-law was a man of substance, owning a few houses at Shoreditch; and secondly, in the previous year, just prior to the revels at Kenilworth, Queen Elizabeth had permitted her favourite, the Earl of Leicester, to collect a body of actors, and to enrol them under a patent from the crown. At the head of this body was placed James Burbage. Aided by the help of his father-in-law, he obtained from a neighbour a lease of some land in Shoreditch, with permission from the landlord to build on it a theatre of wood. He did so forthwith; the play-house was opened; crowds flocked to it, and it was soon known over London as "The Theatre." Its success was so great that some opposition was soon threatened; but Burbage saw his chance, and built hard by a rival theatre, which he called "The Curtain." These two buildings became the nursery of the English stage. In the one Ben Jonson obtained his first engagement as a writer and vamper of plays, and took to the stage for a living. Encouraged by his double success at Shoreditch, James Burbage grew bolder, and soon afterwards erected a third theatre at Blackfriars, under the nose of the Lord Mayor and of the lords and ladies who lived around the Bridewell Palace; and in spite of their remonstrances, he held his own, supported, no doubt, by Leicester's influence. In the year 1576 he opened the Blackfriars Theatre, which soon became the leading play house of the metropolis, and which is connected with the name of William Shakespeare.
Several other playhouses now sprung up in quick succession—viz., the "Red Bull" and the "Fortune," in the north of London; and on the south of the river, in Southwark, the "Rose," the "Hope," the "Swan," and the "Globe," near the "Bear Garden." Driven out of the City, and put to their wits' end for an honest livelihood, the poor players, who now began to style themselves "Her Majesty's Servants," began to build theatres in all the suburbs; and to James Burbage is due the credit of having enabled them to do so. In fact, until he came forward to assist the poor dramatists by his skill as a carpenter, and, in some sense, manager too, there was no combined effort at producing a genuine English drama. But from the moment that James Burbage, like a second Thespis, erected his wooden theatre in Shoreditch, the calling of the player began to assume a definite character, and acting grew into the dignity of an art and a profession. Shakespeare found all these theatres, and others too, in existence when he came to London from Stratford in 1585 or the following year; and it is quite possible that, if it had not been for James Burbage, he would never have come to the metropolis, or written for us and for all time either Hamlet or Macbeth, as he would have had no stage on which to perform them. At all events, when he came to town, and joined the company at the Blackfriars, he became a fast friend of James Burbage and of his son Richard, who became the Roscius of his age, and the original actor of most of Shakespeare's principal characters. The elder Burbage did not live to see the lease of his first theatre expire, and the building demolished and carried across the river into Southwark by his son Cuthbert. But he saw the Earl of Leicester's actors formally established as members of a recognised profession, and able to influence the age in which they lived. James Burbage died about the year 1594; his son Richard survived him for twenty years, dying two years before his friend Will Shakespeare. It may be of interest to add that the whole Burbage family lived and died in Holywell (now High) Street, Shoreditch, and were buried, along with several other "poor players," in St. Leonard's churchyard.
In 1596 Shakespeare appears to have lived near the Bear Garden, in Southwark. "I have yet to learn," writes Mr. Dyce, "that the fancy of Shakespeare could not luxuriate in rural images, even amid the fogs of Southwark and Blackfriars."
Shakespeare does not appear to have sustained any loss by the burning of the Globe Theatre, for he had parted with his interest in theatrical property on retiring to Stratford-on-Avon. His late partners, however, were sufferers to a very considerable extent, and Shakespeare, in all probability, contributed—along with King James and many of the nobility and gentry of the day—to the rebuilding of the theatre in the course of the following year.
As is well known, the line quoted as a motto
to this chapter was the motto of the Globe
Theatre; but it may not be known that this
motto was the cause of two couplets of verse, by
Ben Jonson and Shakespeare respectively, quoted
by Mr. Dyce from "Poetical Characteristics," a
manuscript formerly in the Harleian collection.
"If but stage-actors all the world displays,
Where shall we find spectators of their plays?"
Besides the Globe, there were, as stated above, three other theatres on the Bankside, called the "Rose," the "Hope," and the "Swan." These appear, for some undiscovered reason, to have been called "private" theatres. "There was this difference between these and the Globe and other public theatres, that the latter were open to the sky, except over the stage and galleries; but the private theatres were completely covered in from the weather. On the roof of all of them, whether public or private, a flag was always hoisted to mark the time of the performances.
The Rose Theatre had the honour of numbering Ben Jonson, in his early days, as one of its play-writers. In Henslowe's "Diary," the manager, under date July 28, 1597, acknowledges the receipt of 3s. 9d. as part of "Bengemmens Johnsone's share;" and, from another entry, it would appear that on the same day Henslowe lent him four pounds. Early in the December of the same year, there is an entry of twenty shillings lent to Jonson upon a book which he was to write for the company before Christmas, the plot having been already shown to its members. These facts show that he had then gained some standing, though not, perhaps, a very high one, as a dramatic writer.
From the Rose we follow him to the Globe, where we find him for the first time associated with Shakespeare, on whose recommendation the company of that theatre accepted his first very successful hit, Every Man in his Humour, which drew on him the notice of Queen Elizabeth.
Whilst writing for the theatres, Ben Jonson lived on the Bankside, whence he afterwards removed to the house of a wool-comber, just outside Temple Bar, and close to the "Devil Tavern," where we have already made his acquaintance. (fn. 2)
The Rose Theatre stood at the north end of what was formerly called Rose Alley; it is mentioned by Taylor the "water-poet," in his "True Cause of the Waterman's Suit concerning Players," 1615. The Hope Theatre was near at hand, though we cannot identify its site precisely.
The Swan Theatre, near the Globe, was standing previous to 1598, and was so named from a house and tenement called the "Swan," mentioned in a charter of Edward VI., by which the manor of Southwark is granted to the City of London. It fell into decay in the reign of James I., was closed in 1613, and was subsequently used only for gladiatorial exhibitions. Yet in its time it had been well frequented; for a contemporary author says, "It was the continent of the world, because half the year a world of beauties and brave spirits resorted to it."
It may be mentioned here, in passing, that on this side of the Thames there was also another theatre at Newington Butts, of which, however, we know little except the fact that it was "frequented by the citizens in summer." In the days of the late Tudors and early Stuarts, the performances usually commenced at 3 p.m., and the prices of admission ranged from "a shilling for the best boxes or rooms," down to sixpence, twopence, and even a penny for the pit and galleries; and it is worthy of note that in the reign of the Protestant Elizabeth plays were acted both publicly and at Court on Sundays as well as on other days of the week, and under her successor at Court.
But the theatres were not, as already hinted, the only places of public amusement along the Bankside. A sort of circus, called at the time the Paris Garden, was erected and opened here about the middle of the sixteenth century, as a place for bear-baiting. The public were admitted by the payment of a penny at the gate, a penny at the "entry of the scaffold" or raised seats, and a third penny for "quiet standing." So popular indeed did the sport become that it even trenched on the theatres proper, and reduced their receipts. In 1591, as Mr. Chambers tells us in his "Book of Days," an order was issued from the Privy Council forbidding plays to be acted on Thursdays, because that day had been long set apart for "bear-baiting and such pastimes." The Lord Mayor of London appears to have followed with a public notice complaining that "in some places the players do use to recite their plays to the great hurt and destruction of the game of bear-baiting and such like pastimes, which are maintained for her Majesty's pleasure." It may be remarked that Elizabeth had been right royally entertained by Lord Leicester at Kenilworth with combats of dogs and bears, and no doubt often amused herself by witnessing the same scenes nearer home; so that in all probability she was occasionally present at Bankside, when, as we are told, "the baiting of bulls and of bears was the favourite holiday pastime of her Londoner subjects."
In Aggas's plan of London, taken in 1574, and in the plan taken by Braun about the same time, the bear-gardens are represented as plots of ground with scaffolding for the spectators, bearing the names of the "Bowlle Baytyng," and the "Beare Baytynge." "In both plans," says Thomas Allen, in his "History of Surrey," "the buildings appear to be circular, and to have been evidently intended as humble imitations of the ancient Roman amphitheatre. They stood in two adjoining fields, separated only by a small strip of land; but some differences are observable in the spots on which they are built. In Aggas's plan, which is the earlier of the two, the strip of land; but some between them contains only one large pond, common to the two places of exhibition; but in Braun's this appears divided into three ponds, besides a similar conveniency near each theatre. The use of these pieces of water is very well explained in 'Brown's Travels' (1685), where we find a plate of the 'Elector of Saxony his beare garden at Dresden,' in which is a large pond, with several bears amusing themselves in it, the account of which is highly curious:—'In the hunting-house in the old town are fifteen bears, very well provided for, and looked unto. They have fountains and ponds to wash themselves in, wherein they much delight; and near to the pond are high ragged posts or trees set up for the bears to climb up, and scaffolds made at the top to sun and dry themselves; where they will also sleep, and come and go as the keeper calls them.' The ponds and dog-kennels for the bears on the Bankside are clearly marked in the plans alluded to; and the construction of the amphitheatres themselves may be tolerably well conceived, notwithstanding the smallness of the scale on which they are drawn. They evidently consisted, withinside, of a lower tier of circular seats for the spectators, at the back of which a sort of screen ran all round, in part open, so as to admit a view from without, evident in Braun's delineation by the figures who are looking through on the outside. The buildings are unroofed, and in both plans are shown during the time of performance, which in Aggas's view is announced by the display of little flags or streamers on the top. The dogs are tied up in slips near each place of 'baytyng,' ready for the sport, and the combatants are actually engaged in Braun's plan. Two little houses for retirement are at the head of each theatre."
The "Bear Garden," as this place came in process of time to be called, was still a place of frequent and favourite resort among the cavaliers of the reign of Charles I.; but the sport of bear-baiting went against the consciences, or, at all events, the stomachs, of the "Roundheads," who did their very best to suppress it. At the Restoration, however, it was revived (with some of the least good points of the Royalist faith and practice), and the Paris Garden again looked up, though only for a time.
As a specimen of the sort of amusements which went on here under the Stuart kings, let us take the following out of Samuel Pepys's "Diary" for 1666. He writes, under date of August 14, a few days before the Great Fire of London:—"After dinner, I went with my wife and Mercer to the BearGarden, where I have not been, I think, of many years, and saw some good sport of the bulls tossing the dogs—one into the very boxes; but it is a very rude and nasty pleasure. We had a great many Hectors in the same box with us (and one very fine went into the pit and played his dog for a wager, which was a strange sport for a gentleman), where they drank wine, and drank Mercer's health first, which I pledge with my hat off."
On the 28th of May in the following year, Pepys was again here; for under that date we find him writing:—"Abroad, and stopped at Bear-garden Stairs, there to see a prize fought. But the house so full there was no getting in there, so forced to go through an ale-house into the pit, where the bears are baited; and upon a stool did see them fight, which they did very furiously, a butcher and a waterman. The former had the better all along, till by-and-by the latter dropped his sword out of his hand, and the butcher, whether or not seeing his sword dropped I know not, but did give him a cut over the wrist, so as he was disabled to fight any longer. But Lord! to see in a minute how the whole stage was full of watermen to revenge the foul play, and the butchers to defend their fellow, though most blamed him: and there they all fell to it, knocking and cutting down many on each side. It was pleasant to see; but that I stood in the pit and feared that in the tumult I might get some hurt. At last the battle broke up, and so I away."
Again he writes, under date September 9th of the same year: "To the Bear Garden, where now the yard was full of people, and those most of them seamen, striving by force to get in. I got into the common pit, and there, with my cloak about my face, I stood and saw the prize fought, till one of them, a shoemaker, was so cut in both his wrists, that he could not fight any longer; and then they broke off. His enemy was a butcher. The sport very good; and various humours to be seen among the rabble that is there."
The inimitable secretary would seem to have been rather partial to this rough kind of sport, for we again find him here on the 12th of April, 1669, as shown by the following entry, under that date in his "Diary:"—"By water to the Bear Garden, and there happened to sit by Sir Fretchville Hollis, who is still full of his vain-glorious and prophane talk. Here we saw a prize fought between a soldier and a country fellow, one Warrel, who promised the least in his looks, and performed the most of valour in his boldness and evenness of mind, and smiles in all he did, that ever I saw; and we were all both deceived and infinitely taken with him. He did soundly beat the soldier, and cut him over the head. Thence back to White Hall, mightily pleased all of us with the sight, and particularly this fellow, as a most extraordinary man for his temper and evenness in fighting."
John Evelyn went on one occasion to witness the "sports" at Bankside, but apparently he was too disgusted to go there again. Here is the record of his visit, as told in his "Diary" under date of 16th of June, 1670:—"I went with some friends to the Bear Garden, where was cock-fighting, dogfighting, beare and bull baiting, it being a famous day for all these butcherly sports, or rather barbarous cruelties. The bulls did exceeding well, but the Irish wolfe-dog exceeded, which was a tall greyhound, a stately creature indeede, who beate a cruell mastiff. One of the bulls toss'd a dog full into a lady's lap, as she sat in one of the boxes at a considerable height from the arena. Two poore dogs were kill'd, and so all ended with the ape on horseback, and I most heartily weary of the rude and dirty pastime."
Chambers, in his "Book of Days," quotes a statement from the learned Erasmus, who visited England in the reign of Henry VIII., to the effect that the royal establishment included a "Master of the King's Bears," and that even the great noblemen had their bear-wards; and that "many 'herds of bears' were regularly trained for the arena." He also extracts from Laneham's account of the festivities at Kenilworth Castle the following picturesque description of a bear-baiting held on July 14, 1575, the sixth day of her Majesty's stay, when thirteen bears and a number of ban-dogs (a kind of mastiff) were tied up ready in the inner court. Laneham quaintly writes, comparing the baiting to a scene in Westminster Hall:—"The bears were brought forth into the court, the dogs set to them, to argue the points, even face to face. They had learned counsel also of both parts (i.e., on both sides) . … Very fierce, both th' one and tother, and eager in argument. If the dog in pleading would pluck the bear by the throat, the bear, with traverse, would claw him again by the scalp; confess an he list but avoid he could not that was bound to the bar: and his counsel told him that it could do him no policy in pleading. Therefore, thus with fending and fearing, with plucking and tugging, scratching and biting, by plain tooth and nail to (the one) side and tother, such expense of blood and of leather was there between them as a month's licking, I ween, will not recover; and yet they remain as far out as ever they were. It was a sport very pleasant of these beasts to see the bear with his pink eyes leering after his enemy's approach, the nimbleness and weight of the dog to take his advantage, and the force and experience of the bear again to avoid the assault: if he were bitten in one place, he would pinch in another to get free: if he were taken once, then what shift with biting, with clawing, with roaring, tossing, and tumbling, he would work to wind himself from them, and when he was loose, to shake his ears twice or thrice, with the blood and the slaver about his phisnomy (sic) was a matter of goodly relief."
Ben Jonson is reproached by Dekker with having
been so degraded as to have performed at Paris
Garden. These places seem always to have been
in bad repute even when they flourished most.
Crowley, a versifier of the reign of Henry VIII.,
thus speaks of the Paris Garden:—
"What folly is this to keep with danger
A great mastiff dog and foul ugly bear,
And to this anent, to see them two fight
With terrible tearings, a full ugly sight:
And methinks these men are most fools of all
Whose store of money is but very small.
And yet every Sunday they will surely spend
One penny or two, the bearward's living to mend.
"At Paris Garden, each Sunday, a man shall not fail
To find two or three hundred for the bearward's vale:
One half-penny apiece they use for to give,
When some have not more in their purses, I believe.
Well, at the last day their consciences will declare
That the poor ought to have all that they may spare.
If you, therefore, go to witness a bear-fight,
Be sure God His curse will upon you light."
Pennant, who quotes these verses, seems to
consider the last two lines as a prophecy of the
calamity that happened at the Garden in the year
1582. An accident, "heaven-directed," as he says,
befell the spectators; the scaffolding, crowded with
people, suddenly fell, and more than a hundred
persons were killed or severely wounded. The
Bear Garden, it may be added, in spite of its name,
would appear to have been chiefly used, during the
latter period of its existence, for bull-baiting.
Randolph, in his "Muse's Looking-glass," makes
the following reference to this particular species of
"——Lastly, he wished
The bull might cross the Thames to the Bear Garden,
And there be sorely baited."
It was to the Globe Theatre and the Bear Garden probably that Hentzner alludes in his "Travels in England," published in the reign of Elizabeth, when he writes:—"Without the city are some theatres, where actors do represent almost every day some tragedy or comedy to numerous audiences: these are concluded with excellent music, a variety of dances, amid the excessive applause of those that are present. There is also another place, built in the form of a theatre, which serves for the baiting of bulls and of bears; they are fastened behind, and then worried by great English bull-dogs, but not without great risque to the dogs, from the horns of the one, and the teeth of the other; and it sometimes happens they are killed on the spot; fresh ones are immediately supplied in the places of those that are wounded or tired. To this entertainment there often follows that of whipping a blinded bear, which is performed by five or six men, standing circularly with whips, which they exercise upon him without any mercy, as he cannot escape from them because of his chain; he defends himself with all his force and skill, throwing down all who come within his reach, and are not active enough to get out of it; on which occasions he frequently tears the whips out of their hands, and breaks them. At these spectacles, and everywhere else, the English are constantly smoking tobacco. In the theatres, fruits, such as apples, pears, and nuts, according to the season, are carried about to be sold, as well as ale and wine."
The theatres and gardens at Bankside, however, in spite of their bad reputation, were occasionally patronised by royalty; for we read that Queen Elizabeth, on the 26th of May, 1599, went by water with the French ambassadors to Paris Gardens, where they saw a baiting of bulls and bears. Indeed, Southwark seems to have long been of sporting notoriety, for, in the Humorous Lovers, printed in 1617, one of the characters says, "I'll set up my bills, that the gamesters of London, Horsley-down, Southwark, and Newmarket may come in and bait him [the bear] here before the ladies," &c. It may here be added, as a scrap of antiquarian information, that the first exhibition of bear-baiting in England of which we read, was in the reign of King John, at Ashby-de-laZouch, where "thyss straynge passtyme was introduced by some Italyans for his highness' amusement, wherewith he and his court were highly delighted."
It is clear that the "sport" to be witnessed in the Bear Garden was still under the patronage and countenance of royalty some century or so later than the reign of Elizabeth, for in 1675 we read of a warrant signed by Lord Arlington, ordering ten pounds to be paid to Mr. James Davies, the "master of his Majesty's bears, bulls, and dogs," for "making ready the rooms at the Bear Garden, and baiting the bears before the Spanish ambassadors."
The celebrated actor, Alleyn—the founder of Dulwich College, of whom we shall have more to say anon—enjoyed this lucrative post as "keeper of the king's wild beasts, or master of the Royal Bear Garden, situated on the Bankside in Southwark." The profits of this place are said by his biographer to have been "immense," sometimes amounting to £500 a year; and will account for the great fortune of which he died possessed. A little before his death, he sold his share and patent to his wife's father, a Mr. Hinchtoe, for £580.
Isaac D'Israeli, in his "Life of Charles I.," mentions the fact that the Sabbatarian view of Sunday was much advanced in London by the accident mentioned above which occurred here in 1582:—"At Paris Garden, where public amusements were performed on Sundays, a crowded scaffold gave way; and by this accident, some were killed, and many were wounded." The Lord Mayor (who was a leading Puritan) made religious capital out of the fact by sending a formal notice of it to Lord Burleigh, as a "judgment of heaven for the violation of the Sabbath," thereby confusing the seventh with the first day of the week.
We find that, in spite of his Puritan education, King James I. had the good sense to legalise those rational amusements without which life in a crowded metropolis would be past endurance. It is well known that he published the "Book of Sports," but it is not equally well known that in 1620 he issued his royal licence to Clement Cottrell, the groom-porter of his household, to license certain houses for bowling-alleys and tennis-courts, and even for cards and dice. Twenty-four bowling-alleys were licensed under this authority in London and Westminster, four more in Southwark, one in St. Catherine's, one in Shoreditch, and two in Lambeth. Within these same limits, fourteen tennis-courts were allowed, and also forty "taverns or ordinaries for playing at cards and dice." The reasons alleged for this royal grant are stated by Anderson, in the quaint language of the time, to have been for "the honest and reasonable recreation of good and civil people, who for their quality and ability may lawfully use the games of bowling, tennis, dice, cards, tables, nine-holes, or any other game hereafter to be invented."
The Puritans' aversion to the sport, however, as Macaulay remarks, arose not so much from pity for the bull or the bear, as from envy at the pleasure felt by the spectators. Verily, an amiable and saint-like trait! On the Restoration of Charles II., and the downfall of the Puritan faction, it can hardly be a matter of surprise to find that the legislation which had so long been applied to the suppression of even rational amusements should have taken a swing in the opposite direction.
It may be added, that although bear-baiting and bull-baiting never flourished under our later Stuart or our earlier Hanoverian sovereigns, it was not until 1835 that the practice was actually put down by Act of Parliament, which forbade the keeping of any house, pit, or other place for baiting or fighting any bull, bear, dog, or other animal. "And thus," observes Mr. Chambers, "after an existence of at least seven centuries, this ceased to rank among the amusements of the English people."
Strype, in his first edition of "Stow," published in 1720, speaking of Bear Alley, on this spot, says, "Here is a glass-house, and about the middle a new-built court, well inhabited, called Bear Garden Square, so called, as being built in the place where the Bear Garden formerly stood, until removed to the other side of the water; which is more convenient for the butchers and such like, who are taken with such rustic sports as the baiting of bears and bulls."
In the early part of the last century it would seem that another Bear Garden at Hockley in-the-Hole, near Clerkenwell, had superseded this place of amusement in the public favour, probably on account of the absence of bridges across the Thames; and consequently, when it is suggested in the Spectator of August 11th, 1711, that those who go to theatres merely for a laugh had better "seek their diversion at the Bear Garden," in all probability the reference is not to Bankside.
The old Paris Garden—the name of which, too, still survives in this locality—was circular, open to the sky, surrounded with a high wall, without external windows; the scaffolds, or boxes, were in a wooden structure in the interior, surmounted by a high-pitched roof and a cupola.
The names of these and of many other such places of amusement bear testimony to the spirit of national jollity on the part of Londoners during the eighteenth century. But pleasure-gardens are almost as transitory as pleasure itself; of all these not one now remains "the sad historian of the pensive tale" of bygone mirth and merriment. The jests have passed away, and so are the trees beneath which, and the walls within which, those jests were uttered, and those who pealed back echoes of the loudest laughter are silent in their graves.
In the neighbourhood of the theatres were several public gardens near the Thames, then a pellucid and beautiful stream. There were the Queen's Pike Gardens (now Pye Gardens), where pike were bred in ponds; the Asparagus Garden, and Pimlico Garden. The last-named was a very fashionable resort, and famous for the handsome dresses of the promenaders. Indeed, to "walk in Pimlico" was a proverbial phrase for an introduction to the very élite of society.
In Chambers' "Book of Days" is given a view of London during the Great Fire in 1666, as seen from the rear of Bankside, from a print of the period by Visscher. The foreground is poetically raised, so as to represent a fairly high hill, though there is no high ground all the way down to Clapham; on it are sitting well-dressed citizens coolly surveying the disaster, while their dogs are lying asleep by their side. Evelyn writes in his "Diary:"—"2 Sept. This fatal night, about ten, began that deplorable fire neere Fish Streete in London.—3. I had public prayers at home. The fire continuing, after dinner I took coach with my wife and sonn, and went to the Bankside in Southwark, where we beheld the dismal spectacle, the whole Citty in dreadfull flames neare the water side; all the houses from the Bridge, all Thames Street, and upwards towards Cheapside, downe to the Three Cranes, were now consum'd. . . . . The poore inhabitants were dispers'd about St. George's Fields, and Moorefields as far as Highgate, and severall miles in circle, some under tents, some under miserable hutts and hovells, many without a rag or any necessary utensils, bed or board, who from delicatenesse, riches, and easy accommodations in stately and well furnish'd houses, were now reduced to extreamest misery and poverty."
Chambers tells us, in his work above quoted, that there was an ale-house in Southwark, which had on its walls an authentic portrait of Dick Tarleton, the eccentric comic actor of Elizabeth's time. No doubt this "ale-house" was in the neighbourhood of Bankside; but though Dick's name was kept up by tradition for upwards of a century, and though his jests were collected and published, with notes and illustrations, by the Shakespeare Society, it is impossible now to identify the house in which many of Shakespeare's players no doubt used to congregate.
Another old tavern, formerly standing in the
neighbourhood, bore the sign of "The Tumbledown Dick," which afforded, as the "Adventurer"
says, a fine moral on the instability of human
greatness, and the consequences of ambition. It
refers, of course, to Richard Cromwell, and his
fall from the power bequeathed to him by his
father Oliver. An allusion to this tumbling propensity occurs in Butler's "Remains," in the tale
of the "Cobbler and the Vicar of Bray:"—
"What's worse, old Noll is marching off;
And Dick, his heir apparent,
Succeeds him in the Government,
A very lame Vice-Gerent.
He'll reign but little time, poor tool!
But sink beneath the state,
That will not fail to ride the fool
'Bove common horseman's weight."
Of several of the old inns and taverns of Southwark we shall have occasion to speak when dealing with the High Street; but we may remark here that those in Bank side, and along by the river generally, had a peculiar characteristic of their own, which has been well described by Charles Dickens in "Our Mutual Friend" and some other of his works. George Augustus Sala, too, in his "Gaslight and Daylight," tells us, with a certain amount of drollery, how that "the Surrey shore of the Thames, at London, is dotted with damp houses of entertainment;" and then he goes on to describe the typical waterside public-house, the "Tom Tug's Head," as "surrounded on three sides by mud, and standing on rotten piles of timber, and with its front always unwashed."