How To Deal With Folk Like Elynour Rummyng?

So said John Aubrey in his book Perambulation of Surrey written between 1673 and 1692. When I came across reference to the book I was hoping it was going to be an economic survey similar to The Natural History of Staffordshire from 1686 by Robert Plot. But instead it was more of a gazetteer, a recitation of things which can be found in the churches and hints as to where the bridges used to be. However, as one must, I ran a few beery words through it and the passage above sprang outThe town in question is named Letherhead alias Ledered alias Lederide by Aubrey. It is still there under the spelling Leatherhead.

And near Leatherhead lived Elenor Rumming who sold her good ale. According to Aubrey in the late 1600s. But in John Skelton’s poem, “The Tunnyng of Elynour Rummyng which celebrates its 500th anniversary (very probably… well, maybe) this year its really not the goodness of the ale that is celebrated.

And this comely dame,
I vnderstande, her name
Is Elynour Rummynge,
At home in her wonnynge ;
And as men say
She dwelt in Sothray,
In a certayne stede
Bysyde Lederhede.
She is a tonnysh gyb ;
The deuyll and she be syb.

The devil and she be siblings. And fat – a tonnish gyb. Yet also a “comely gyll” or Jill… “this comely dame”… hmm. Armed with only my trusty half-an-honours BA in English Lit from over 30 years ago, I thought about this as many other had before me. The poem is beyond unflattering. It’s libelous. Unless, of course, it is true. But what is the truth five centuries later? How to deal with such a thing. How true is it? In The Pub in Literature: England’s Altered State by Steven Earnshaw published in 2000 he argues:

Whilst John Skelton’s “The Tunnyng of Elynour Rumming” draws on a traditional view of the alehouse as wholly disreputable, its twist on Landland’s* alehouse scene is that Elynour’s establishment is graced only by women. Even though her name has been traved to an actual Alianora Romyng who kept the Running Horse near Leatherhead in Surrey, it is highly unlikely that the all-female drinking den is taken from actuality. According to Peter Clark, women would probably have been customers on special festive occasions, but not at other times. The level of the ballad derives from a genre which present groups of women together as gossips, and the list of names Skelton uses for the drinkers is mostly taken from a fifteen-century carol, “The Gossips Meeting.”

Highly uncomfortable stuff in these times. As Judith M. Bennett discusses in her 1991 work Misogyny, Popular Culture, and Women’s Work:

Literary critics laud the descriptive power, wittiness, and irony of The Tunning of Elynour Rummyng, yet its misogyny is blatant, vicious, and terrifying. Satirically twisting the traditional literary commendation of a woman 170 History Workshop Journal through a detailed catalogue of her appealing features, Skelton describes Elynour Rummyng in careful detail as a grotesquely ugly woman. Beginning by telling us that she is ‘Droopy and drowsy/Scurvy and lousy’, Skelton then details her features: her face bristles with hair; her lips drool ‘like a ropy rain’; her crooked and hooked nose constantly drips; her skin is loose, her back bent, her eyes bleary, her hair grey, her joints swollen, her skin greasy. She is, of course, old and fat. She is also ridiculous, wearing elaborate and bright clothes on holy days and cavorting lasciviously with her husband like – as she proudly tells it in Skelton’s poem – ‘two pigs in a sty’…

In the 2008 text The Culture of Obesity in Early and Late Modernity: Body Image in Shakespeare, Jonson, Middleton, and Skelton by E. Levy-Navarro there is another somewhat related view in the chapter “Emergence of Fatness Defiant: Skelton at Court.” See, Skelton wasn’t just anyone. In the late 1400s, he was he was appointed tutor to Prince Henry, later King Henry VIII of England. Bennett states “Skelton’s social world was broad, running from the royal court and various noble households, through the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge, to the lanes and fields of his parish at Diss, in Norfolk.” Levy-Navarro builds on the idea to take another view – that in the last decade or so of his life, Skelton was on the outs with court and in fact may have had a strong distaste for court:

Much scholarship has assumed that Skelton aligns himself with men in power. A long line of modern scholars makes this point when they assume that Skelton is a modern “man”… who aligns himself with the men of Henry’s court against the lowly women of the tavern world.

Levy-Navarro states that such readings ignore the discontent and defiance in Skelton’s work and, further, that “The Tunnyng of Elynour Rummyng” is a defiant statement against the courtly styles and superficiality:

Skelton offers outrageous, bulging and revolting bodies of the tavern women. These bodies may not yet be “fat” per se, but they are protofat to the extent to which they are seen as revolting against a civilized ethic.

As such, Skelton is observing a the point of the English Renaissance at which manners come into being in a sense that we can recognize as early modern, materialistic self-made people showing wealth and power through a display of expensive and even architectural clothing as well as through the dismissal of intellectual and priestly men like Skelton. In this way of reading the poem, Skelton may not admire or completely side with Elynour Rummyng but he expresses something admirable about her liberty and perhaps is noting the impending passing of that sort – as well as his own sort – of life.

Taking all that in hand, the poem is no longer just a now grotesque, obviously misogynistic romp through the low life of those found in her tavern but also a larger social commentary. It might well be, yes, making fun of the horrors found there but also lamenting a day when such a free and lewd life could no longer possible given the plans for society being made by the newly formed betters to be found in court.

If that is the case, as with science-fiction today, the structure of the alternate reality needs firm grounding in truth as it was understood by the audience. Farce and fantasy do not mix well. There needs to be substance that is credible for the commentary to be acceptable to its contemporary audience. Let’s have a look from, for ease, a modern reading of part of the text which can be found here. Notice first that the tavern sits on a hill, near a road and is readily accessible:

Now in cometh another rabble:
And there began a fabble,
A clattering and babble
They hold the highway,
They care not what men say,
Some, loth to be espied,
Start in at the back-side
Over the hedge and pale,
And all for the good ale.
(With Hey! and with Ho!
Sit we down a-row,
And drink till we blow.)

Sounds like good fun for these ale-slugging women patrons. Note also that the ale is made in the tavern.. the ale house – with a bit of a special twist as this section in the original indicates:

But let vs turne playne,
There we lefte agayne.
For, as yll a patch as that,
The hennes ron in the mashfat ;
For they go to roust
Streyght ouer the ale ioust,
And donge, whan it commes,
In the ale tunnes.
Than Elynour taketh
The mashe bolle, and shaketh
The hennes donge away,
And skommeth it into a tray
Whereas the yeest is,
With her maungy fystis :
And somtyme she blennes
The donge of her hennes
And the ale together ;
And sayeth, Gossyp, come hyther,
This ale shal be thycker,
And flowre the more quicker ;
For I may tell you,
I lerned it of a Jewe,
Whan I began to brewe,
And I haue founde it trew ;
Drinke now whyle it is new ;

So chickens run around the tavern and even into the mash vat, leaving their droppings of dung on the fermenting ale. As learned from a Jewish brewer when she was young, the hen-dung is skimmed but sometimes some is left in the yeast tray so that the ale might be thicker and the yeast “flower” quicker. And it is not just chickens. She has to “stryke the hogges with a clubbe” because they have drunk up her “swyllynge tubbe”! Note how many of the elements of her brewery operations are described.

Look a bit more at more of the language about the ale. It is offered both new and stale. It is nappy and noppy. It is stated to be “good” twice. It is also worthy of a lot in payment or barter so some pledge their hatchet and their wedge, some their “rybskyn and spyndell”, even their “nedell and thymbell” because it is that good:

Some haue no mony
That thyder commy,
For theyr ale to pay,
That is a shreud aray ;
Elynour swered, Nay,
Ye shall not beare away
My ale for nought,
By hym that me bought…

By him that me bought. Christ. It is all so excellent even if, effectively, otherworldly. You may read it many ways but what you are reading is a window not only to a now uncomfortable commentary on early modern life but life within a tavern. Even if a ribald farce, it’s still a tavern as they would have known it. Lovely.

The Sensible Regulation Of Beer In New Netherlands


nnlease1640sA portion of a 1640s lease to Philip Gerritsen of a house to be used as a tavern. Click.

On the 22nd of March 1639, Cornelis van Tienhoven, secretary in New Netherland on behalf of the General Chartered West India Company received Gillis Pietersen van der Gouw, a 27 year old master carpenter who gave an account of the state of development in the colony by describing what buildings had been erected during Director Wouter van Twiller’s term on the island of Manhattan. Van der Gouw included in his report the building of an excellent barn, dwelling house, boat house and a brewery covered with tiles on farm No. 1. Van Twiller leased these lands in 1638 for two hundred and fifty Carolus guilders, payable yearly, together with the just sixth part of all the produce with which God shall bless the field. Beer would have been part of the produce.*

Director Van Twiller arrived in 1633 to run the colony in a time of great optimism and construction. The Hudson valley merchant community already had the character of an “independent sovereignty” more than a company doing business.

It owned one hundred and twenty vessels, ranging from three hundred to eight hundred tons burden, all fully armed and equipped; and employed between eight and nine thousand men. More than one hundred thousand guilders value in peltries were exported during the last year, and nearly the same quantity this year, from New Netherland. It is not surprising, then, that Van Twiller’s plans were on an extensive scale. The chief essential to the prosperity of the colony still lacked, nevertheless. Scarcely one solitary agricultural settler had been, as yet, sent over by the company, to fell the forest or reclaim the wilderness.**

The beginning of brewing on Farm No. 1 was the start of a relationship that lasted on those lands into the next two centuries. It ran directly north of the company’s garden outside the fort, from what is at present Wall-street, to Hudson-street, along Broadway in the city of New York; and went, in the time of the English, successively by the name of Duke’s farm, King’s farm, Queen’s farm. Now the site of Tribeca and the World Trade Center, it includes the lands developed in the first half of the 1700s by the Rutgers and Lispenard clan. It includes the 1760s export oriented brewery of Harison and Leadbetter and their successors into the 1800s before the good water disappeared. Legal right to the land meant control of the grain and the wealth brewing inevitably brings.

The reason for that long lasting success was, as it is today, the sensible regulation of brewing and beer consumption. Very early on in the New Netherlands experiment, the functions of grain growing, beer brewing and tavern keeping were separated and kept separate just as they were in the Netherlands. Then as now there was too much money and power inherent in the trade to allow it all under one hand. And there was too much danger in allowing it to all go unchecked. Yet, access to beer was a cultural key for the Dutch to the entire colonial undertaking. So, good laws were put in place. The most obvious sorts of laws are, like the above, the leases and transfers of land. Beer needs land. On 20 July 1638, Director General Kieft entered into a lease to one Jan Evertsen Bout for the New Netherlands Company’s farm at Pavonia in what is now New Jersey. The rents were quite specific:

For which Jan Evertsen aforesaid shall be bound yearly during the term of the lease to deliver to the aforesaid Mr. Kieft or his successor the fourth part of the crop, whether of wheat or other produce, with which God shall favor the soil; also every years two tuns of strong beer and twelve capons, free of all expense.

Brewing was part of the farming process. And sometimes too good a part of it to leave with the farmer. On 26 August 1641, Hendrick Jansen agreed to sell his property to Maryn Adriaensen. The sale included a house, barn and arable land plus a barrick all associated heriditaments together with all that is fastened by earth and nail. Excepted from the dead by were Jansen’s brew house and two brew kettels, which he was required to remove and take away “at his convenience and pleasure.”***

Just as the law recognized and protected who controlled the land and equipment that produced the beer, the law also regulated who sold the beer. Many of these sorts of laws still exist – like the laws regulating the distance a bar can be from a church and the rules about disturbing the peace during services. On 11 April 1641 the Council of New Netherlands heard the following case:

Whereas complaints are made to us that some of the Inhabitants here undertake to tap beer during divine service and also make use of small foreign measures, which tends to the neglect of religion and the ruin of this state; we, wishing to provide herein, do therefore ordain that no person shall attempt to tap beer or any other strong liquor during divine service, or use any other measures than those which are in common use at Amsterdam in Holland, or to tap for any person after ten o’clock at night, nor sell the vaen. or four pints, at a higher price than 8 stivers, on pain of forfeiture of the beer and payment of a fine of 25 guilders for the benefit of the fiscal and three months ‘ suspension of the privilege of tapping.****

This is not to say that the Dutch of New Netherlands were prudes. Far from it. Church events could be laden with alcohol. On 15 February 1700, the last of the church poor in Albany died – Ryseck, widow of Gerrit Swart. The “onkosten“ or expenses for the burial and ceremony borne by the community was recorded. The event seems to have been a social one. In addition to 150 sugar cakes and sufficient tobacco and pipes six gallons of Madeira were provided along with one of rum. In addition, twenty-seven guilders were paid by the congregation for a half vat and an anker of good beer. A similar table was set when Jan Huybertse passed away in February 1707. He was one of the “nooddruftige” or the needy and church coffers paid out for 3 gallons of wine, one of rum as well as 18 guilders for a vat of good beer. In each case, respects were paid by the local believing community with a good send off and a good drink for those in attendance.*****

Away from the church, the scenes could get more haphazard and needed locking down by municipal ordinance. Prices were fixed. On 16 January 1641 Cornelio vander Hoykens prosecuted Jan Tomasz and Philip Geraerdy for having sold beer for two stivers higher per gallon than was allowed.† On 25 August 1644, in making his defence to a prosecution that he did not pay the proper rate of excise tax on his beer, Philip Gerritsen raised the fact that a gang of sorts was at large who demanded cheaper beer. The week before the brewers declared on the record that if they voluntarily paid the three guilders on each barrel of beer, they would have the Eight Men and the community about their ears. In response, the council of New Netherlands banned harboring or even giving any food to the leaders of the Eight Men.†† The threat of violence, just as today, could play out within a tavern – as was seen on 14 March 1647 when Symon Boot met Piter Ebel:

…after the aforesaid persons had fought together, that a piece of Symon Root’s ear was cut off with a cutlass, whereof the aforesaid Symon Hoot In council demands a certificate In due form, In order that In the future, If necessary, he may make use thereof. Therefore, we, the director and council of New Netherland, [hereby certify that the ear was out off with the] cutlass In question in the place aforesaid. We request all those to whom this certificate may be shown to give full credence thereto. In token of the truth we have signed this and confirmed It with our pendent seal In red wax, this 14th of March, to wit, the certificate given to Symon Hoot.†††

Rather than leave it to the law of fist and knife, the Council required the giving of proper evidence to substantiate events as set out in the complaint. Order was imposed. A particular form of regulation related to violence was the troubled relationship the Dutch had before establishing peace and alliance with the local indigenous population, not helped in the slightest by Willem Kieft’s decision to attack them without any reasonable prospect of winning let alone actual sufficient cause. On 1 July 1647, the Council stated:

Whereas large quantities of strong liquors are dally sold to the Indians, whereby heretofore serious difficulties have arisen in this country, so that it is necessary to make timely provision therein; Therefore, we, the director general and council of New Netherland, forbid all tapsters and other inhabitants henceforth to sell, give or trade In any manner or under pretext whatsoever any beer or strong liquor to the Indians, or to have It fetched by the pail and thus to hand It the Indians by the third or fourth hand, directly or Indirectly, prohibiting them from doing so under penalty of five hundred Carolus guilders, and of being In addition responsible for the damage which might result therefrom. ††††

Things came to a point that early on in his term as Governor, Peter Stuyvesant made a general proclamation on 10 March 1648 respecting a wide range of they ways beer impose upon public order. No new ale-houses, taverns, nor tippling places could set up without council’s unanimous consent. Tavern keepers could not sell the businesses and had to immediately report all altercations. They could not “admit or entertain any company in the evening after the ringing of the curfew-bell, nor sell or tap beer or liquor to any one, travelers or boarders alone excepted, on Sunday before three o’clock in the afternoon, when divine service is finished, under the penalty thereto provided by law.” They were bound not to receive, directly or indirectly, into their houses or cellars any wines, beer or strong liquors before these are entered at the office of the receiver and a permit therefor has been received, under forfeit of their business and such beer or liquors and, in addition, a heavy fine at the discretion of the court.†††††

Notice how similar these laws from 370 years ago are to the sorts of regulation we see today. Not because the Dutch were puritanical or that the paranoia of a Randian was in anyway justified then as now. It’s because beer and taverns are both pervasive and a huge challenge to social order. Regulation and control not only are about ensuring taxes are paid and limbs go unbroken. While beer may be a consistent element of western culture, it is not all about sunny days on the middle class patios. And it’s an industry that generates massive economic wealth. So it is taxed. And it is controlled. Then and now. Because it is beer.

*Volume 1, Register of the Provincial Secretary, 1638–1642 (translation), pages 6, 108:
** History of New Netherlands: Or, New York Under the Dutch, Volume 1 by Edmund Bailey O’Callaghan, 1846, page 155-157.
***Volume 1, Register of the Provincial Secretary, 1638–1642 (translation), pages 72-73, 358-359:
****Volume 4, Council Minutes, 1638–1649 (translation) at page 106.
*****Upper Hudson Valley Beer, Gravina and McLeod, pages 35 to 36.
Volume 4, Council Minutes, 1638–1649 (translation) at page 134.
††Volume 4, Council Minutes, 1638–1649 (translation) at page 235.
†††Volume 4, Council Minutes, 1638–1649 (translation) at pages 360-361.
††††Volume 4, Council Minutes, 1638–1649 (translation) at pages 380-381.
†††††Volume 4, Council Minutes, 1638–1649 (translation) at pages 496-500.

The Steelyard, Stillyard, Stylyard and Spelling


Ah, the Hanseatic League. I posted about the Hanseatic League earlier this year, pointing out how it was likely the conduit for the first introduction of hopped beer into England – and, by implication, not the Dutch. I think that might be the case for no other reason that the Dutch were introduced to hopped beer by shipments from the Hanseatic League, the Renaissance corporate port towns of the Baltic which had that handy corporate navy with corporate cannon to enforce its idea of open trade.

Renaissance and Elizabethan brewing and drinking in England is particularly interesting as the period ties a lot of later things together…. or founds them… or whatever. For example, Hull was a 1600s brewing town that also was a Hanseatic depot. Hull ale was a contemporary of Northdown as being a premium drink in London in second half of the 1600s. It’s a coastal ale of the sort that governs until the canals reach deeper into the countryside releasing the odd sulfurous and maybe hoppier beers of Burton in Staffordshire upon the national and international market. Like the railways in the mid-1800s Ontario that gave rural Labatt and Carling the opportunity to explode out into the world, England’s canals of the early 1700s also placed brewing at scale nearer the grain fields, likely cutting out middlemen and displacing premium coastal brewing perhaps by undermining existing price. Theory. Working theory.

What was displaced was the model set by the Hanseatic League. Renaissance Hamburg was the greatest brewing center in the history of beer – 42% of the workforce was involved in brewing. The Hanseatic depot at King’s Lynn still stands, one of the branch locations of Hanseatic activity. London was the Kontor with its headquarters of import / export operation located just west of London Bridge on the north shore of the Thames where Cannon Street station now stands. One of the coolest thing is that there have basically been two owners of that site since perhaps 1250 as the vestigial Hanseatic League interests in Lübeck, Bremen and Hamburg sold it to the South-Eastern Railway Company in 1852. The presence of the Hanseatic League cannot be minimized at the critical point in the 1400s. Consider this passage from 1889’s bestseller The Hansa Towns by Helen Zimmern. It has a certain ripe Victorian style but does explain things like this:

Nor was London by any means their only depôt. It was the chief, but they also had factories in York, Hull, Bristol, Norwich, Ipswich, Yarmouth, Boston, and Lynn Regis. Some mention of them is found in Leland’s “Itinerary.” Under an invitation to the Hanseatics to trade with Scotland we find the name honoured in legend and song of William Wallace. In John Lydgate’s poems we also meet with our Hanseatics. In relating the festivities that took place in London city on the occasion of the triumphal entry of Henry VI, who had been crowned king at Paris some months previously, the poet narrates how there rode in procession the Mayor of London clad in red velvet, accompanied by his aldermen 196 and sheriffs dressed in scarlet and fur, followed by the burghers and guilds with their trade ensigns, and finally succeeded by a number of foreigners.

“And for to remember of other alyens,
Fyrst Jenenyes (Genoese) though they were strangers,
Florentynes and Venycyens,
And Easterlings, glad in her maneres,
Conveyed with sergeantes and other officeres,
Estatly horsed, after the maier riding,
Passed the subburbis to mete withe the kyng.”

A love of pomp and outward show was indeed a characteristic of the Hanseatics in England who thus perchance wished to impress upon the natives a sense of their wealth.

Henry IV was crowned the King of England in 1399. Hanseatic League ambassadors are in the procession when he enters London for the first time. They are somebodies. And they are powerful. They had a wee war with England from 1469-74… and won entrenching their right to trade. Hopped beer was not introduced to England by a few straggling sailors showing up at a few coastal towns. It was brought along – even imposed perhaps – by a massive commercial and military complex. Let’s look at some maps at how the Hansa QH has been described:








The illustration to the left is a detail of the 1633 reprint of the 1561 Agas map. You can see the location of London’s Hanseatic Steelyard in blue to the west of London Bridge. Above way at the top of the text is a much finer detail of the site. Notice it is referred to as the “Stylyarde.” In the middle is a 1720s map of Elizabethan London. Notice the site is now referred to as the “Stillyard.” And to the right is a diagram of the site of the Steelyard itself in this case called the “Stahlhofes” – as it was in 1667 according to a late 1800s German atlas. So, we have four ways of spelling the name of the site. Which means that each needs to be run through the dark Satanic
research mills if we are going to have an idea of what’s going on. In a note to the discussion of John Stow‘s Survey of London (editions from 1598 to 1603), British History Online has an extended discussion in a footnote on the variously described Stillyard / Steelyard / Stilliard / Stelehouse / Steleyard which states that there was a trade presence from Cologne there as early as 1157. It also indicates that the German version Stahlhof that appears rather early on means a stall hall – a marketplace. Stow himself describes the site and operations at length in his narrative map of London including the following:

Next to this lane, on the east, is the Steelyard, as they term it, a place for merchants of Almaine, that used to bring hither as well wheat, rye, and other grain, as cables, ropes, masts, pitch, tar, flax, hemp, linen cloth, wainscots, wax, steel, and other profitable merchandises.

Interestingly, as Stow notes, past the intervening church, near the Steelyard in Haywharf Lane in the late 1500s there was a “great brew-house” operated in the past by Henry Campion and then by his son Abraham. Life in the district was… lively. In the poem by Isabella Whitney (1548–1573) “The Wyll and Testament of Isabella Whitney” we read the following:

At Stiliarde ſtore of Wines there bée,
your dulled mindes to glad:
And handſome men, that muſt not wed
except they leaue their trade.
They oft ſhal ſéeke for proper Gyrles,
and ſome perhaps ſhall fynde:
That neede compels, or lucre lures
to ſatiſfye their mind.

So, as we see on the image to the right, there is a wine house. I assumed it was a wholesale depot but it appears to be an Elizabethan retail party palace where lads and lassies mingle as they consider drink, lust and lucre. February 1582 government orders issued by the Privy Council to the Lord High Treasurer show the Stillyard being excused from certain taxation – right under another order allowing the export of 1,000 tuns of beer from London. Elizabethan brewing and trading at scale. You don’t hear about that often. Leaping ahead into the next century, Samuel Pepys, diarist and high government official, records a number of visits to the site in the 1660s. On Friday, 13 December 1661 he wrote:

…to the office about some special business, where Sir Williams both were, and from thence with them to the Steelyard, where my Lady Batten and others came to us, and there we drank and had musique and Captain Cox’s company, and he paid all, and so late back again home by coach, and so to bed.

On Monday 26 January 1662/63 he stated that he was “up and by water with Sir W. Batten to White Hall, drinking a glass of wormewood wine at the Stillyard… while on Sunday, 2 September 1666 he uses it as a location in his description of the Great Fire of London. Perhaps most gloriously, he gives us this image of a part of his day on Wednesday, 21 October 1663:

Thence, having my belly full, away on foot to my brother’s, all along Thames Streete, and my belly being full of small beer, I did all alone, for health’s sake, drink half a pint of Rhenish wine at the Still-yard, mixed with beer.

Rhenish mixed with beer. There’s a challenge to today’s sense of yum. Thankfully, he also drank Northdown and Hull so it was not all weird for Sammy. I am going to leave it there but to review, then, what we have seen is that the Hanseatic League was a massive trading partner which had a huge export trade in beer in the 1400s. It had a very significant governmental foothold in the middle of London which was recognized from at least 1399 to the 1660s as something to be reckoned with. The business presence stretched for 700 years from the 1150s to the 1850s. They ran a retail and entertainment hall of some sort exactly when beer is coming into England at the same time that they operate the largest brewing center in the world at Hamburg.

Suffice it to say, there is more to be found about the role of the Hanseatic League and the history of hopped beer in England. Does it support the rough overlapping sequence Haneastic hopped beer (say Hamburg and later Flemish 1300s to 1600s) => coastal hopped beer (like Hull and Northdown, say, late 1400s-1712) => canal based hopped beer (Burton after 1712)? Could be. Need to find out.

Slavery, Servitude and The Interests of Patroons


What a sad image to come across. A human for sale. It’s from from the 15 April 1734 edition of the New York Weekly Journal. Apparently the sale didn’t come to pass as she was still for sale half a year later. Unless that is another unnamed woman for sale with the same skills. The colonial economy of the Province of New York included slavery. It’s a fact you have to keep in mind when researching the colonial brewing economy. This is not to point fingers. It’s just tragic reality one cannot reach back and undo. There were people enslaved here in my town well after the relocation of the Loyalists from New York to here – some even fighting with their enslavers on behalf of the Crown. The North American economy simply included the use of and trade in forced labour in areas other than what became the Confederacy. Brewing business included. People, both slaves and indentured, were commodities.







How did you deal with oppressive conditions in the 1700s? Options were limited and often at the drastic settling in those times. You could kill your captain if he earned himself a mutiny. You could run away. Look at the first thumbnail. Henry Rutgers, brewer, posted a notice in the New York Mercury of 9 June 1760 offering a reward for a runaway (aka freedom seeking) woman named as Jenny. And it wasn’t just slavery. Under the other thumbnail you will see another notice. In 1753, two indentured servants – both Frenchmen – ran and the one was noted as being a cooper. A maker of barrels. And it was not only about economic oppression. A brewer could even escape from jail – although I am not sure where a brewer named Sybrant Van Schaack could hide.

These sorts of hardships were the lot of mankind through most of time and space. I am sure there are enslaved brewers still today. But in the 1600s, 1700s and even into the 1800s, New York had a special sort of restriction on liberty. The system of patroonship. The patroons were a Dutch introduction, a form of landed gentry in the Hudson Valley which somewhat dysfunctionally off-setted the colonial power of the Governor of the West India Company. Like the seigneurial system in New France, these landlords controlled large tracts with the goal of maximizing economic output – including, as we stated in our book, the brewing trade:

In 1643, the patroon van Rennselaer contracted Evert Pels to work as a public brewer for six years between 1643-1649, in the colony at what would become the colonial brewery in Greenbush. Pels had recently arrived in the colony on the ship Houttuyn or “the woodyard”. He traveled in the company of a Rev. Megapolensis and family a surgeon named Abraham Staes, as well as more farmers, and farm-servants. The ship carried a great volume of supplies for the colony including four thousand tiles, and thirty thousand stone for building. It also carried between 200 to 3000 bushels of malt for the brewery of Mr. Pels.

The Manor of Rensselaerswyck was likely the most successful of these estates and certainly the most relevant to Albany. The original plan for the brewery was that it would supply all the beer for the entire New Netherlands enterprise. The founder of the Rutgers clan, Rutgers Jacobson, brewed for the patroon. In no small part due to the support given to the Federalist leadership during the Revolution, the system lasted through eleven or twelve patroons over 200 years until the 1850s when the last leases were sold off by the van Rensselaer family. Being a controlled community for much of that time, the patroon ultimately controlled the crops as well as the infrastructure like breweries. The fourth patroon married the daughter of a brewer, Maria van Cortlandt, who herself set up a brewery on the estate in 1662. For generations, control of all aspects of the estate’s economy generated vast profits. The last patroon, Stephen III, is considered the tenth most wealthy American of all time. Not the sort of thing a Jeffersonian expected would exist still half a century after the Revolution was won. Rents were to be paid in wheat, a crop which was especially not well suited to the western portion of the estate. Also, the patroon retained all water rights. Not exactly the circumstances which might trigger individual investment in an independent brewery.

The system failed after the Panic of 1819 and the collapse of wheat prices. Tenants declared they were living in a form of slavery but nothing changed until, in the 1840s, there was open revolt. The Anti-Rent or Helderberg War was well underway. Once won, it didn’t take long for the region’s hop plantations to take off. The NY state crops centered in the region expanded nine-fold from 1840 to 1860. Today, Deitrich Gehring is growing hops and barley in the same lands of Helderberg for the Indian Ladder Farmstead Brewery And Cidery. I have met Deiter, through Craig, a few times. He has co authored The Hop Grower’s Handbook: The Essential Guide for Sustainable, Small-Scale Production for Home and Market with Laura Ten Eyck. Such are the fruits of freedom.

A Theory: From Brimstone Alehouse To Burton Ale


Early this January just past I posted that image above and told you all that it was my new favorite quote about sulfurous brewing waters from around Burton in Staffordshire, England. It’s from The Natural History of Staffordshire from 1686 by Robert Plot. The beer was brewed as a local health tonic but – now as then – I love that it was available especially at theBrimstone Alehouse. Why this particular penny did not drop connecting this post to one that I posted one month before is now beyond me. I posted in my own comments about the first mention of Staffordshire’s sulfurous Burton ale in a high society establishment, the Vauxhall Garden aka Spring Garden, in the nation’s capital of London as described in an issue of The Spectator from 1712. Just 26 years after the reference to the Brimstone Alehouse in the book by Robert Plot. Hmm.

This hit me like a slap on the back of my head as I watched an episode of a Michael Portillo train show Great Continental Railway Journeys on TV. He was at a central European spa, having a steam bath one moment and a mud bath the next. Then he drinks the water. He appears to almost gag. It was full of sulfur. Like the water in Staffordshire 330 years ago. Horrible stuff taken for only medicinal reasons. Made palatable by brewing with it. Double Hmm.

Now, Martyn checked my story about the arrival of Burton ale in the greater marketplace around 1712 and gave it a good hard shake and it appears to be pretty solid, a real myth buster. Which leads to a quandary and a theory. Here’s the quandary. How does this gak water beer from Staffordshire get just one rustic small mention in an agricultural and industrial guide to the county from 1686 and then show up on a very expensive table before the finest of society no earlier and also no later than 26 years later. As you can see above, in each case it is sought out for a quality. But not the same quality.

That leads to the theory. It appears to me to be a bit of a longer distance from the Brimstone Tavern of 1686 to the Spring Garden of 1712 than just the intervening years. What was in the beer itself? Did the brewer of the Brimstone Tavern in 1686 bang in an incredibly high volume of hops to overcome the stated vomit inducing taste of the water? There is no mention that the experience in 1712 was at all unpleasant. Could it be in those 24 years that the hopping technique became refined and the sulfurous waters diluted? Were the waters calmed? I don’t know how I might go figuring out, how to determine if that was the case. But it’s an interesting theory. Somehow, it went from horrible to haute in 26 year.

What The Heck Was Going On in 1680s Staffordshire?


That’s my new favorite quote about sulfurous brewing waters from around Burton. It’s from The Natural History of Staffordshire from 1686 by Robert Plot. It’s slightly misleading as the beer was brewed as a local health tonic but I love that it was available at the BrimstoneAlehouse. I want a black t-shirt from that place. What’s that, you say? What’s with another 1600s blog post? Where is this coming from? Well, Martyn mentioned it in a comment but nowhere near as well as in the email he sent that started…

Curse you, Alan, for sending me on a winding chase across many volumes … and proving to me again that you can never trust any other fecker’s references, you always have to confirm them yourself. Peter Mathias’s reference in The Brewing Industry in England (p150) to Burton ale allegedly first being sold at the Peacock in London in 1623 appears to be completely wrong:

Secondary sources. They always let you down.

Where were we? Burton ale. From Staffordshire. A joy and comfort to Britain from, let’s say, 1750 to 1950. Where the particular beers are brewed from particular waters have extremely sulfurous water – though, to be fair, maybe a bit less than the water found at the Brimstone Alehouse. Yet, is a beer being good for scab or itch enough to get it a commercial market in London in the 1600s? I don’t think so. Mathias shouldn’t have been trusted. It’s certainly not something perhaps to travel for. Don’t get me wrong. There was a road from nearish Derby to London in the era, as mapping from 1675 by John Ogilby shows. But in 1675 are you really going to seek out the ales of the area unless you are, you know, (i) scabby and itchy and (ii) in the know? Likely not. And if you are the brewer do you send it off by ox cart to a urban world you’ve never seen down roads you couldn’t possibly trust? Likely not. Why? We have to obey the chronology. Not only was the Trent only made navigable in 1712 or so but that other big transportation innovation, the turnpike, only shows up a few years later. Practically speaking, reasonably good roads are one or two generations away. The Staffordshire County government has an exceedingly interesting and exceedingly lengthy report on the turnpike markers of the area which states:

Throughout the early years of the 18th century parishes were complaining that the upkeep of the roads through them was impossible due to the increased traffic. This is especially true of Staffordshire: so many through routes were being used, the travellers along them having no business with the parishes concerned. Steps were taken to remedy the situation with the increasing turnpiking of major routes, effectively privatising the main roads. Turnpike Trustees were appointed to oversee the collection of tolls, which they used in order to maintain the highways, any theoretical profit returning to the trustees.

Being on the cusp of greatness does not make one great. Safe commercial connections for moving beer in the medium future does not make it safe in the present. So, it may well be those sitting around the bar at the Brimstone Alehouse in 1686 lived long enough to see the ales of Burton on Trent be recognized for being something bigger than a balm for the scab and itch. But in that year they may have been among the few enjoying the particular delights of the region’s sulfurous brew.

Does The Natural History of Staffordshire written at the time help with the question? To be fair or even just honest, Plot’s book is a survey of the natural and economic characteristics of the county, a scientific study based largely on the four humours. It’s not a gazetteer of commerce like you might find in the 1800s. Trades are referenced in connection to the considerations of the air, water and soils. Burton itself gets passing mention and mainly what is mentioned is the bridge. Brewing is not a focus. The word “malt” only shows up once. Yet beer and ale are mentioned. We are told that they have an Art in the county of making good ale.* Folk are described as paying respect to certain wells on the saint’s days “whose name the well bore, diverting themselves with cakes and ale, and a little music and dancing.” One noted human oddity of the county, however, was a person who “drinks neither wine, ale or beer.” Another, a baby who lived only three days even though it “took milk and beer freely enough.” And, perhaps crucially, the setting up of a cheese factory by Londoners is described in some detail as is another group making salt by evaporation – including using in one process “the strongest and stalest ale they can get” to make the crystals set as desired.

Robert Plot describes the Staffordshire he visited in pastoral tones. If there was a trade to London in beer like there was in cheese he might be expected to have mentioned it. But he didn’t. Coming 26 years before the navigation improvements made to the river Trent and many more before the improvement of the roads it’s most likely that the markets did not yet exist for brewing at scale for export beyond the local market. It didn’t not yet sit even in the shadow of other noted brewing centres like Hull and Margate. One record I do not have and which may not exist would be helpful. The excise duties on beer and ale introduced in the 1660s, which came into being with the Restoration of Charles II to his thrown might be quite helpful if they drilled down into county by county assessment, town by town. It would help sort out where the brewing was going on by providing a contemporary primary record. For now, a book like Plot’s is the best we have. Certainly, it seems, better than Peter Mathias’s… at least on this point. We only know what the records tell us so far.

Does Canal Based Burton Ale Defeat Coastal Ales?

A detail from a 17th century map of Hull by
Wenceslaus Hollar. “K” to lower left is Brewer Street. Full map here

Dependencies. Things change in large part because other things have changed first. In the mid-1980s, change happens to beer because other things have changed that lay the groundwork first. Cable TV has brought Julia Child, The Galloping Gourmet, Jacques Pepin and then the Frugal Gourmet into the home. People drinking wine on TV in the middle of the afternoon. Imported beer brought different branding and tastes into the home which in turn lead to home brewing which is also dependent on 1970s home gardening and your mother baking bread. These changes are as important to the triggering of the start of micro brewing as social media was to the last ten years of craft. When I was researching and writing the period 1900-1984 for Ontario Beer I realized there was a fabulous marker right at the end of that span that helps understand where we were just before micro takes off.

There was one last display of pride in Canada’s industrial beer. For a few years Bob and Doug McKenzie were among the most well-known comedy duos in North America. As a regular feature of legendary sketch comedy programme SCTV, the McKenzie Brothers appeared on the CBC in Canada and then late Friday night on NBC across the United States. In each short episode, the brothers from a suburb near Toronto gave their drunken thoughts on a topic in the news while smoking, drinking and grilling back bacon for sandwiches. On the set, cases of stubbies from both Molson and Labatt were featured prominently next to an outsize map of the country. Played by Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas, the skits spun out a top selling comedy album, a hit single featuring Geddy Lee from Rush, and a feature movie all largely centered on their love for and dependency on Canadian beer.

SCTV was big. It wins the 1982 Emmy for variety TV writing after gaining most of the nominations. The McKenzie Brothers skit was big – two knuckleheads and their love of macro. The movie, Strange Brew, comes out in 1983 to mixed review and the moment passes. No mention is made of microbrew despite the entire film and the entire schtick of the skit being about beer. Because it has not been caused yet even if the context has been prepared. We must obey chronology.

northd1After writing my notes about Northdown Ale yesterday, that premium ale from 1640s to the 1690s, I started thinking more about that grump and his complaints published in 1681 about the high price of the stuff. Here it is again. It’s from the 1681 treatise entitled Ursa major & minor: or, A sober and impartial enquiry into those pretended fears and jealousies of popery and arbitrary power, in a letter. The author advocates for the return of the dunking stool for corrupt brewers and in his litany of falsified ales he includes “Hull Ale”. Hull ale has been mentioned in recent writings. In Peter Mathias’s The Brewing Industry in England 1700-1830 published in 1959 by the reputable Cambridge University Press it is stated that the Hull ale diarist Samuel Pepys noted drinking in the 1660s was probably really Burton ale. I am not sure this is correct because the context does not appear to me to exist in that particular decade and perhaps not for another half century. The notion is repeated in Pete Brown’s Hops and Glory while Mitch Steele takes a bit of a step back from that conclusion in his 2013 book IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes and the Evolution of India Pale Ale noting just the shipping port connection of Hull to the inland brewing at Burton. Here is what the chronology looks like to me. See what you think:

=> Records exist of brewing at Hull before the 1600s with plenty of activity from the 1630s to the 1690s.
=>The first consignment of Hull ale is sold in London at the Peacock, Grey’s Inn Lane in 1623 according to Mathias at page 150 with a specific footnote.
=> In the mid-1640s, Members of Parliament including the Speaker of the Commons are noted as being sent Hull ale by the municipal corporation as a bit of a thank you and a bit of a home town PR boost.
=> Pepys drank Hull ale in 1660. He also drank Northdown ale in the same year. And Margate ale. All strong coastal ales.
=> In his 1881 book Old Yorkshire, William Smith recites a line from a 1662 poem what is apparently proverbial “Hull cheese” and states “Hull in the days of yore was a noted place for good ale.”
=> Around the 1660s, the scientist Robert Boyle is studying freezing and uses Hull ale in an experiment.
=> In 1681, the grumpy guy makes his complaint about overpriced over strong Hull ale and does not list Burton among the fellow accused.
=> In 1708, Benjamin Printon became Burton’s first common brewer.
=> In 1711, George Hayne obtained the lease of rights to undertake the work of making the Trent river navigable between Burton and Wilden Ferry, to the southwest of Nottingham.
=> In issue 383 of The Spectator from 20 May 1712, Addison notes going out for the day in London with his pal Sir Roger. A couple of high society lads, they have a glass of Burton ale at an outdoor pleasure grounds, the Spring Garden at “Fox-Hall” or Vauxhall.
=> In Poor Robin’s Almanac of 1759, Hull ale is still included in a list of great British beers being compared to Canary wine. Burton is not.
=> Hull remains a significant and growing brewing center in the 1800s.

So, (i) if there was no canal access out of Burton until 1711 or 1712 and (ii) if there was no common brewer active in Burton until 1708 and (iii) if Addison notes it in 1712 as being in one of the trendier spots in London it is likely new at that point. If that is the case, Pepys’s Hull ale was not made in Burton at all but in Hull as one would expect. But that is not the end of it. Well, it is an end but another sort of ending. Remember in that passage from a travel guide called All About Margate and Herne Bay reviewed an 1865 magazine named The Athenaeumthat it states:

Quoting largely from the Rev. John Lewis’s account of Margate, written in 1723, he notices the once famous beverage, known to Charles the Second’s thirsty subjects by the names of “Northdown Ale” and “Margate Ale” of which drink Lewis says, “About forty years ago, one Prince of this place drove a great trade here in brewing a particular sort of ale, which, from its being brewed at a place called Northdown in this parish, went by the name of Northdown Ale, and afterwards was called Margate Ale. But whether it’s owing to the art of brewing this liquor dying with the inventor of it, or the humour of the people altering to the liking the pale north-country ale better, the present brewers send little or none of what they call by the name of Margate ale, which is a great disadvantage to their trade.”

See, that quip about “the humour of the people altering to the liking the pale north-country ale better”? That is Burton. In 1723, the Rev. Lewis linked the death of Northdown / Margate ale, the darling of 1600s Restoration London to the rise of Burton. In that time – that year of 1712 – did Burton have some sort of advantage over dominant the coastal Northdown / Margate ale and likely Hull ale to a lesser degree? €Price? Clarity? Rarity? I don’t know even if plenty has been written on its properties. But something caused change, that is for sure. There was change and the change was caused by making the Trent navigable to Burton in 1711-1712. Without that, there is no means for Burton to become so popular outside its local market. As cable TV cooking shows were to microbrewing, that canal work provided Burton its opportunity.

So What Was Northdown Ale In The Later 1600s?

Before the curse that is social media was thrust upon us, one key promise of beer blogging was collective research. With the most welcome news that Lew is back into the beer blog game, he reminds us of the point of doing this day after day:

A bit over two years ago, I stopped writing this blog. It wasn’t because blogs are dead — I refuse to believe that — and it wasn’t because I got bored, and it certainly wasn’t because I was running out of things to say. Blogs, good blogs, relevant blogs still are vital, and they don’t have to be on Tumblr, or run through a microplane grater and splattered onto Twitter, or covered in kitties and posted on Facebook. Blogs are the place to do long-form writing, and I like to think I was able to balance somewhere between a tweet and tl;dr.

Even though I shared in the publication of two histories the year before, 2015 was the year I think I took my interest in brewing history most seriously. That few care about the state of brewing and porter selling in New York City in the decades around the Revolution is no concern of mine. It’s important just to write about it. Same with the centuries of brewing on Golden Lane and life in London, England’s district St. Giles’s Cripplegate. These things are interesting because they are true.

We are children of the Enlightenment. Three things we depend on for understanding were all invented and popularized in the 1700s: the application of science in practical matters, mass communications and commercial branding of products. Each is a means to create a lasting record, each a self-archiving activity. People are led to believe, as a result, that things prior to the advent of these phenomena were unlike today. No scientific brewing? No pale ale. No newspaper? No news. Folk actually believe these things. They believe folk didn’t know how to make fine things with available resources. We are slaves to records. We need to distrust them more even as we dive more deeply into them. Which leads us today’s new topic: Northdown ale. Never noticed the stuff until Jay tweeted this quotation from Pepys yesterday. Which got me looking for more information and found an excellent blog post from November 2014 posted on the excellently titled blog Things turned up by Sally Jeffery while looking for something else as well as this passage from a travel guide called All About Margate and Herne Bay reviewed an 1865 magazine named The Athenaeum:

Quoting largely from the Rev. John Lewis’s account of Margate, written in 1723, he notices the once famous beverage, known to Charles the Second’s thirsty subjects by the names of “Northdown Ale” and “Margate Ale” of which drink Lewis says, “About forty years ago, one Prince of this place drove a great trade here in brewing a particular sort of ale, which, from its being brewed at a place called Northdown in this parish, went by the name of Northdown Ale, and afterwards was called Margate Ale. But whether it’s owing to the art of brewing this liquor dying with the inventor of it, or the humour of the people altering to the liking the pale north-country ale better, the present brewers send little or none of what they call by the name of Margate ale, which is a great disadvantage to their trade.” This was the beer which Evelyn calls “a certain heady ale ” ; and it is probable that its popularity with London beer-drinkers influenced the generation of brewers who fixed the immutable properties of “stout.”

So, an 1865 citation of an account from 1723 recalling a drinking experience from forty years before that. Northdown Ale. In her blog post, Ms. Jeffery surveys the evidence and seeks to determine if she can “get a better idea of what the ale was like by looking at how it was made.” Let’s now see if we can add anything. First, I like the reference to Herrick. In one edition of his book, there is a footnote to another poet’s line of verse anthologized in 1661: “For mornings draught your north-down ale / Will make you oylely as a Whale.” Pepys was drinking Northdown ale the year before. I am not sure why one might want to be so oily. Franklin referenced “he’s oil’d” in his 1730’s Drinker’s Dictionary. I am going to assume it means the beer is staggeringly strong for the moment. In The Curiosities of Ale & Beer: An Entertaining History from 1889, Herrick’s own lines on Northdown Ale from “A Hymne to the Lares”¹ are quoted:

The neighbouring county of Hereford, now a great cider-drinking locality, had in former times at least one town with a reputation for good ale. “Lemster bread and Weobley ale” had passed into a proverb before the seventeenth century. The saying seems, however, to have been affected chiefly by the inhabitants of the county, who, perhaps, were not quite impartial. Ray, writing in 1737, ventures to question the pre-eminence ascribed to the places mentioned. For wheat he gives Hesten, in Middlesex, “and for ale Derby town, and Northdown in the Isle of Thanet, Hull in Yorkshire, and Sandbich in Cheshire, will scarcely give place to Weobley.” Herrick mentions this celebrated Northdown ale in the lines:—

That while the wassaile bowle here
With North-down ale doth troule² here,
No sillable doth fall here,
To marre the mirth at all here.

Did you see that? Wheat. Is this strong wheat ale? Or is that just a juxtaposition of two products of the region? Not sure. Likely the latter, given Jeffery’s references to an excellent but short lived barley malting trade concurrent with the height of Northdown ale’s prominence. Also, the diarist, botanist and courtier to Charles II John Evelyn describes being in Margate, one mile west of Northdown, on 19 May 1672 and states:

Went to Margate; and, the following day. was carried to see a gallant widow, brought up a farmeress, and I think of gigantic race, rich, comely, and exceedingly industrious. She put me in mind of Deborah and Abigail, her house was so plentifully stored with all manner of country provisions, all of her own growth, and all her conveniences so substantial, neat, and well understood; she herself so jolly and hospitable; and her land so trim and rarely husbanded, that it struck me with admiration at her economy. This town much consists of brewers of a certain heady ale, and they deal much in malt, etc. For the rest, it is raggedly built, and has an ill haven, with a small fort of little concernment, nor is the island well disciplined ; but as to the husbandry and rural part, far exceeding any part of England for the accurate culture of their ground, in which they exceed, even to curiosity and emulation.

Which tells us there were many brewers and much malting in a rich farming district. And notice another thing from the quoted text further up. Thanet. Which reminds us to ask the particular question – where exactly is Northdown? That image above is from this map from 1711. If you click here you will see a supremely confusing cross-referencing of the 1711 map with a 1623 image on Jeffery’s post. See, before branding, newspapers and scientific brewing you needed to know where a beer or ale was from to figure out what to expect. Northdown is located in southeast England in the county of Kent – as in land of the noted hops. But the land of hops most noted about 200 years after Herrick wrote his lines. It was, also, the site of the October 2015 drinking session of the year as recorded by Team Stonch. So in the 1600s, the 1800s and the twenty-first century, a place of good beer but in each era quite distinct good beers.

northd1Click on that image to the right. It’s a paragraph from a 1681 treatise entitled Ursa major & minor: or, A sober and impartial enquiry into those pretended fears and jealousies of popery and arbitrary power, in a letter.Clearly an unhappy guy. But what he’s unhappy about is how, in tough economic times, brewers are making undue profits by not only jacking up prices but doing so by having “devised several name” for drinks including China ale, Hull ale – and Northdown ale. Sound familiar? Double the price for poorer beer? And you thought craft beer invented that trick. It appears to have been quite popular with the well placed in addition to the poets. John Donne – the Younger³ – recounts being sent a poem along with “a dosen bottles of Northdown ale and sack” which means it was good enough to bottle and, seeing as it was sent by Lord Lumley, good enough for the Peerage. Which might explain the jacked up price. A premium ale for those that can afford it.

Notice one more thing. Sally Jeffery suggests there was indication that the ale was dark but also sees that “[t]he wheat stubble that is left is either mown for the use of the Malt-men to dry their Malt…” which, as we know, would make the sweetest, palest malt during that era. Enough to confirm anything? Nope. All we see from this set of records is clearly (i) a premium product, (ii) defined quite clearly to a time and place which was (iii) notably strong and (iv) bottled. The best ale during the Restoration? Maybe.

¹Here is the whole text of the poem:

It was, and still my care is,
To worship ye, the Lares,
With crowns of greenest parsley.
And garlick chives not scarcely:
For favours here to warme me,
And not by fire to harme me;
For gladding so my hearth here,
With inoffensive mirth here;
That while the wassaile bowle here
With North-down ale doth troule here,
No sillable doth fall here,
To marre the mirth at all here.
For which, o chimney-keepers!
(I dare not call ye sweepers)
So long as I am able
To keep a countrey-table,
Great be my fare, or small cheere,
I’le eat and drink up all here.

²I understand troule means to “pass about.”

³“…an atheistical buffoon, a banterer, and a person of over free thoughts…”

Ben Jonson And The Devil Tavern Rules, 1624

In 1939, Percy Simpson published his article “Ben Jonson and the Devil Tavern” in The Modern Language Review, Vol. 34, No. 3. Jonson lived from 1572 to 1637, a poet and playwright whose early career overlapped with Shakespeare. The Apollo was the room at the Devil and Saint Dunstan tavern near the north end of Middle Temple Lane in London, on Fleet Street near Temple Bar – the City gate of the Knights Templar. You can see the location on this map from Jonson’s time.

The Devil was where Jonson and his literary contemporaries Herrick, Carew and others met, subject to this code that Jonson wrote. They are described as Leges Convivales by Simpson – the laws of conviviality.The name of the room itself is an allusion from Plutarch, a reference to an excellent room of hospitality. Excellent. The more saintly congregation of St. Dunstans still gather, though a bit back from the road since the 1830s.


Trials Of Ale House Crime In Cripplesgate Without


Like so many of the digitized records related to beer and brewing through the internet available to us now, Old Bailey Proceedings Online is a fabulous resource. One of the great levelers of the beery discourse is going to be more and more access to open records so that we won’t be subject to the great man theory of beer too much longer. The down side is that the mass of data is going to require a careful eye aware of greater context as well as the skill sets required to receive the information in itself. This post over at The Many Headed Monstergive us a taste. So, it’s just clean fun to come across a data set that one can really get one’s teeth into given the career path to date. What am I talking about? I am talking crime. Crime like this evidence from a case from 1780 in which the evidence of Cornelius Murphy was received:

I kept a public-house in Golden-lane . On the 7th of June, between six and seven o’clock, a great mob surrounded my house, some with swords and some with bludgeons. They came into the tap-room and had what liquor they wanted. They examined my books and were going off satisfied.

Was the prisoner among the mob? – “Not at that time. After giving three huzza’s in the house they went down the street some way. One Clark and his wife called the mob back, and said I was a Papist, and they must down with my house. The mob returned immediately, and began pulling down the house.

When did you see the prisoner? – “About half an hour after they began he was in the bar, drawing the liquor and drinking it.

Had you ever seen the prisoner before? – “Yes; he had been several times at my house; I am positive he is the man.

Did you see him do any thing else? – “I saw him break part of the bar down.

What was the rest of the mob doing? – “Pulling down the house and drinking the liquor.

Court. Whether the mob were pulling down the house during that hour in which you say the prisoner was in it? – “Yes, they were.

Be particular in describing what they did to the house, the wainscoting, and window frames? – “They had iron crows beating them down.

Excellent. An anti-Papist crowd rips apart a public house and someone gets nabbed. The funniest thing is apparently the particular accused was sent into the riot to save the spirits, the hard liquor from being part of the bust up – by the distiller who sold it to the place. The guy got off because he was folloing his boss’s orders: “he desired some of our men might go and assist him to get his liquor from the bar.” Not sure I’ve seen “bar” used for a public house that early but someone will correct me, will be better informed.

That’s what was going on on Golden Lane on one nutty day about 27 years before the image up there of the Golden Lane Brewery was created. You will recall Golden Lane and its ties to hundreds of years of perhaps unremarkable brewing history. It appears to also have associations with hundreds of years of drinks, ale and brewing related crime, too. What else went on there?

• A few generations earlier, one Joseph Towle, was tried for theft on October 10, 1694: “Joseph Towle was Tried for stealing 3 l. in Money, from William Underhill Esq ; at the Three Arrows Brewhouse in Golden-Lane ; the Prisoner was seen to come out of the Counting house, (being Cooper to the Brewhouse) and afterwards the Drawers were found open, and the Money gone; and he being strictly examin’d about it, confest.” Sticky fingered coopers. How often do you see that? He pleaded that he was drunk but was sentenced to a good hand branding anyway.

• Martha Purdew , of St. Giles without Cripplegate was sentenced to death in 1720 for stealing a money bag off someone who offered her a lift en route to Islington when they stopped for a dram of brandy.

• In 1726, Albertus Burnaby, a brewer who formerly lived on Golden Lane was brought before the court to explain himself for defrauding his creditors while being a bankrupt. He was acquitted for a lack of evidence.

• In 1752, Thomas Barnes was sentenced to transportation for stealing a silver tankard while at a public house on Golden Lane: “On the 26th of December, about three o’clock in the morning, two men came in and called for three pints of beer: before the boy could get down into the cellar, one of the men said, I am surprized to see you so dilatory, to be up yourself and have your cellar window open, than opens in the street: immediately the boy, in the cellar called out Aunt! Aunt! here is a thief in the cellar. I ran down, saw the prisoner at the bar, with a silver tankard in his hand…

• One more. In 1766, Sarah Stanley was sentenced to death for stealing money from her employer, the keeper of a public house. When confronted, a scene ensued: “She equivocated a great deal, and said she knew nothing of it; at last she said, they were at the foot of the bridge; in going, they met them both together accidentally by Cripplegate church; I was not there. They went in at the Ship-ale-house, in Whitecross-street, and I and the constable were sent for. The father used me there in a very abrupt manner; he pushed me down flat on my face, and threw beer over me and another…

It’s all so fabulous. In that last case, the details include one drinker testifying that “I had a pint of beer; I said to the girl, put a bit of toast in it…” while the tavern keeper cried out in despair “I am ruined, I am robbed of all I got; it is not mine, it is the brewer’s money“. Hints about serving options and the business of running a tavern all hidden in the sad tale of the thieving serving lass who met her death. Not to mention the glamorous testimony “I felt a knob in his fob.” Fun stuff. A great source of 18th century low life and public house manners – not to mention Stuart and Georgian sentencing horrors. The otherness of the past laid plain before you.

Image #1 for Note #5 below in the first comment: