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a tale of Restoration intrigue by

Molly Brown

Villages south of the Thames

For centuries Southwark was a recreation centre for Londoners, teeming with gaming houses, bear gardens, brothels, theatres, and taverns. It had a wild and dangerous atmosphere and sudden violence was common. Drivers and passengers of stagecoaches would often arrive wounded after having been ambushed and robbed by masked men lurking by the roadside. At the end of the twelfth century, a monk offered this advice to a visitor: "Do not associate with the crowds of pimps; do not mingle with throngs in the eating houses; avoid the dicing and the gambling and the theatre and the taverns... the number of parasites is infinite. Actors, jesters, smooth-skinned lads, Moors, flatterers, pretty-boys, effeminates, paederasts, singing and dancing girls, belly dancers, quacks, sorceresses, extortioners, magicians, night-wanderers, mimes, beggars and buffoons - all this tribe fill the houses."

The character of the area changed considerably during the Protectorate. Not only were the theatres closed, but Southwark became home to some of the sourest Puritans in London. After the Great Fire, displaced businesses such as brewers and dyers moved there from the city - not the most desirable neighbours due to the smells these businesses generated.

Southwark was also home to the prison whose name has come to stand for prisons everywhere: The Clink. The Clink began as a section of the palace of the Bishop of Winchester in the 12th century; located in various buildings through the centuries, it became famous both as a debtor's prison and as the principal prison for religious offences (Catholics, Puritans and Protestants all took their turns at being starved and abused in this gaol - depending on who was in power at the time).

With the exception of Southwark, most of the area south of the river was sparsely populated. Lambeth and Newington Butts were country villages; Vauxhall and Peckham were rural resorts.

The Spring Garden at Vauxhall (also called Fawkes Hall) opened to the public in 1661. The gardens were laid out in formal avenues of trees and bushes, with less formal and more secluded walks along the outside. In the centre were several elaborate buildings in which balls and musical performances were held. A favourite springtime pleasure at Vauxhall was the eating of tarts and cheesecakes.

At the end of John Dryden's Tyrannick Love or the Royal Martyr, Nell Gwyn in the role of Valeria, would die and come to life again to speak the epilogue:

london bridge bedlam deptford start of tour home

(c) 1996 Molly Brown