Guest Author - Nicola Jane Soen
What was it like to live in Stuart England? What lifestyles did they have?
As history has altered; so have the things that are quintessentially English.
In Tudor times it was epitomised by Henry VIII with rich clothing and low beamed houses, the Has Puts jutting out over the street to the neighbours’ roof. The stink of the Thames, is what most visitors would say! By the Stuart times, not much had changed. Feathered plumes and periwigs for the men, but everything else was much the same..
In Stuart times, one of the things that was known about England was how much she smelled! The garbage ran through the streets, Chamber pots were emptied out of the bedroom windows, onto the unsuspecting walker beneath!
People rarely bathed. In fact, most thought that bathing was very bad for you! Elizabeth the First was proud of the fact that she used to have a bath every few months!
Pigs ran through the streets eating the refuse. On the floor in houses or huts; rushes, (cut reeds) were used as a covering instead of carpet, which had not reached England yet. The rushes in some homes were never changed and consequently disease was rampant.
The poor lived in absolute stinking poverty, and groups of beggars were absolutely lethal if they caught a wealthy man or woman on a dark night. That is why link boys as they were known, would carry a light at night, to light up the darkness and get the wealthy man to safety if necessary; of course the danger was the link boy could be killed too. The night watchman could be heard yelling ‘turn out yer light.’
Criminals had their own special trades, Foists and Horn thumbs jostled the crowds waiting for the opportunity of getting a little money that was not their own. They often worked with the local Ballard seller, who would have printed out the latest song or verse and be singing it to sell on a street corner. The stocks often had someone who had committed a crime in full view of the public, to be mocked by them and have refuse thrown at them.
The Bells of London would all ring out with their own particular melodies, some with strange tales attached; like the church of St. Michael Arch Angel, who was supposed to have the devils claw mark deeply scratched in its windowsill. Going with the clanging of the bells would be the shouts of the stalls and ware sellers crying out to passers by: ‘Frrrrrrrresh Fish’ ‘buy a pie, Penny each,’ each seller had a personal chant for the particular goods they sold. The noise was extremely loud, but the Londoners loved it.
If you needed work you could go to the Qusi door in St. Paul’s and see what kind of employment was advertised, rough wood cuts, cheaply printed would be stuck on the door. And one could sit on a bench and wait to be inspected by potential employers. Children worked too, unless they were of wealthy parentage and had been sent out as pages or to school. Boys were often brought up in the home of a wealthy sponsor and taught with the sponsors own children. Often marriages were arranged between families this way. Although girls were not sponsored; they learned skills at home, needlework and how to manage servants. They would sometimes go to live with the family of their betrothed though, to learn the tutelage of housekeeping under their prospective husband’s mother’s stern eye. Travel was a crowded affair.
There was much hustle and bustle, carts and domestic animals crossing the London Bridge, and often the shout of ‘FIRE’ as most houses were built of wood. Then the fire men would come with their hand held fire quirters, and long pulling poles and pull down the offending, burning building, and sometimes the house next to it. It is surprising there is only one major fire incident; the dreadful fire of 1666.
The fire of 1666 changed the face of London forever. Right through to Cripplegate from the Thames and from the Temple Stairs to Brewers Key had London been burned. Many thousands were homeless. However the fire was a blessing in a small way, it did halt the spread of plague which had been killing thousands since it spread badly in 1665. Londoners including King Charles himself helped to put out the fire and then began the rebuilding of the city. London would never be the same again.