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Index to Stow's original Survey of London written in 1598

SPORTS AND PASTIMES OF OLD TIME USED IN THIS CITY

“Let us now,” saith Fitzstephen, “come to the sports and pastimes, seeing it is fit that a city should not only be commodious and serious, but also merry and sportful; whereupon in the seals of the popes, until the time of Pope Leo, on the one side was St. Peter fishing, with a key over him, reached as it were by the hand of God out of heaven, and about it this verse:

‘Tu pro me navem liquisti, suscipe clavem.’

And on the other side was a city, and this inscription on it: ‘Aurea Roma.’ Likewise to the praise of Augustus Cæsar and the city, in respect of the shows and sports, was written:

‘Nocte pluit tota, redeunt spectacula mane,’ etc.
‘All night it raines, and shews at morrow tide returne again,
And Cæsar with almighty Jove hath matcht an equal raign.’

“But London, for the shows upon theatres, and comical pastimes, hath holy plays, representations of miracles, which holy confessors have wrought, or representations of torments wherein the constancy of martyrs appeared. Every year also at Shrove Tuesday, that we may begin with children’s sports, seeing we all have been children, the school-boys do bring cocks of the game to their master, and all the forenoon they delight themselves in cock-fighting: after dinner, all the youths go into the fields to play at the ball.

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“The scholars of every school have their ball, or baston, in their hands; the ancient and wealthy men of the city come forth on horseback to see the sport of the young men, and to take part of the pleasure in beholding their agility. Every Friday in Lent a fresh company of young men comes into the field on horseback, and the best horseman conducteth the rest. Then march forth the citizens’ sons, and other young men, with disarmed lances and shields, and there they practice feats of war. Many courtiers likewise, when the king lieth near, and attendants of noblemen, do repair to these exercises; and while the hope of victory doth inflame their minds, do show good proof how serviceable they would be in martial affairs.

“In Easter holidays they fight battles on the water; a shield is hung upon a pole, fixed in the midst of the stream, a boat is prepared without oars, to be carried by violence of the water, and in the fore part thereof standeth a young man, ready to give charge upon the shield with his lance; if so be he breaketh his lance against the shield, and doth not fall, he is thought to have performed a worthy deed; if so be, without breaking his lance, he runneth strongly against the shield, down he falleth into the water, for the boat is violently forced with the tide; but on each side of the shield ride two boats, furnished with young men, which recover him that falleth as soon as they may. Upon the bridge, wharfs, and houses, by the river’s side, stand great numbers to see and laugh thereat.

“In the holidays all the summer the youths are exercised in leaping, dancing, shooting, wrestling, casting the stone, and practising their shields; the maidens trip in their timbrels, and dance as long as they can well see. In winter, every holiday before dinner, the boars prepared for brawn are set to fight, or else bulls and bears are baited.

“When the great fen, or moor, which watereth the walls of the city on the north side, is frozen, many young men play upon the ice; some, striding as wide as they may, do slide swiftly; others make themselves seats of ice, as great as millstones; one sits down, many hand in hand do draw him, and one slipping on a sudden, all fall together; some tie bones to their feet and under their heels; and shoving themselves by a little picked staff, do slide as swiftly as a bird flieth in the air, or an arrow out of a cross-bow. Sometime two run together with poles, and hitting one the other, either one or both do fall, not without hurt; some break their arms, some their legs, but youth desirous of glory in this sort exerciseth itself against the time of war.[86] Many of the citizens do delight themselves in hawks and hounds; for they have liberty of hunting in Middlesex, Hartfordshire, all Chiltron, and in Kent to the water of Cray.” Thus far Fitzstephen of sports.

These, or the like exercises, have been continued till our time, namely, in stage plays, whereof ye may read in anno 1391, a play by the parish clerks of London at the Skinner’s well besides Smithfield, which continued three days together, the king, queen, and nobles of the realm being present. And of another, in the year 1409, which lasted eight days, and was of matter from the creation of the world, whereat was present most part of the nobility and gentry of England. Of late time, in place of those stage plays, hath been used comedies, tragedies, interludes, and histories, both true and feigned; for the acting whereof certain public places[109] have been erected. Also cocks of the game are yet cherished by divers men for their pleasures, much money being laid on their heads, when they fight in pits, whereof some be costly made for that purpose. The ball is used by noblemen and gentlemen in tennis courts, and by people of meaner sort in the open fields and streets.

The marching forth of citizens’ sons, and other young men on horseback, with disarmed lances and shields, there to practise feats of war, man against man, hath long since been left off, but in their stead they have used on horseback to run at a dead mark, called a quinten; for note whereof I read,[110] that in the year of Christ 1253, the 38th of Henry III., the youthful citizens, for an exercise of their activity, set forth a game to run at the quinten; and whoever did best should have a peacock, which they had prepared as a prize. Certain of the king’s servants, because the court lay then at Westminster came, as it were, in spite of the citizens, to that game, and giving reproachful names to the Londoners, which for the dignity of the city, and ancient privilege which they ought to have enjoyed, were called barons, the said Londoners, not able to bear so to be misused, fell upon the king’s servants, and beat them shrewdly, so that upon complaint to the king he fined the citizens to pay a thousand marks. This exercise of running at the quinten was practised by the youthful citizens as well in summer as in winter, namely, in the feast of Christmas, I have seen a quinten set upon Cornehill, by the Leaden hall, where the attendants on the lords of merry disports have run, and made great pastime; for he[87] that hit not the broad end of the quinten was of all men laughed to scorn, and he that hit it full, if he rid not the faster, had a sound blow in his neck with a bag full of sand hung on the other end. I have also in the summer season seen some upon the river of Thames rowed in wherries, with staves in their hands, flat at the fore end, running one against another, and for the most part, one or both overthrown, and well ducked.

On the holy days in summer the youths of this city have in the field exercised themselves in leaping, dancing, shooting, wrestling, casting of the stone or ball, etc.

And for defence and use of the weapon, there is a special profession of men that teach it. Ye may read in mine Annals how that in the year 1222 the citizens kept games of defence, and wrestlings, near unto the hospital of St. Giles in the field, where they challenged, and had the mastery of the men in the suburbs, and other commoners, etc. Also, in the year 1453, of a tumult made against the mayor at the wrestling besides Clearke’s well, etc. Which is sufficient to prove that of old time the exercising of wrestling, and such like, hath been much more used than of later years. The youths of this city also have used on holy days after evening prayer, at their masters’ doors, to exercise their wasters and bucklers; and the maidens, one of them playing on a timbrel, in sight of their masters and dames, to dance for garlands hung athwart the streets; which open pastimes in my youth being now suppressed, worse practices within doors are to be feared. As for the baiting of bulls and bears, they are to this day much frequented, namely, in Bear gardens,[111] on the Bank’s side, wherein be prepared scaffolds for beholders to stand upon. Sliding upon the ice is now but children’s play; but in hawking and hunting many grave citizens at this present have great delight, and do rather want leisure than goodwill to follow it.

Of triumphant shows made by the citizens of London, ye may read,[112] in the year 1236, the 20th of Henry III., Andrew Bockwell then being mayor, how Helianor, daughter to Reymond, Earl of Provance, riding through the city towards Westminster, there to be crowned queen of England, the city was adorned with silks, and in the night with lamps, cressets, and other lights without number, besides many pageants and strange devices there presented; the citizens also rode to meet the king and queen, clothed in long garments embroidered about with gold,[88] and silks of divers colours, their horses gallantly trapped to the number of three hundred and sixty, every man bearing a cup of gold or silver in his hand, and the king’s trumpeters sounding before them. These citizens did minister wine, as bottelers, which is their service, at their coronation. More, in the year 1293, for victory obtained by Edward I. against the Scots, every citizen, according to their several trade, made their several show, but especially the fishmongers, which in a solemn procession passed through the city, having, amongst other pageants and shows, four sturgeons gilt, carried on four horses; then four salmons of silver on four horses; and after them six and forty armed knights riding on horses, made like luces of the sea; and then one representing St. Magnus, because it was upon St. Magnus’ day, with a thousand horsemen, etc.

One other show, in the year 1377, made by the citizens for disport of the young prince, Richard, son to the Black Prince, in the feast of Christmas, in this manner:—On the Sunday before Candlemas, in the night, one hundred and thirty citizens, disguised, and well horsed, in a mummery, with sound of trumpets, sackbuts, cornets, shalmes, and other minstrels, and innumerable torch lights of wax, rode from Newgate, through Cheape, over the bridge, through Southwarke, and so to Kennington beside Lambhith, where the young prince remained with his mother and the Duke of Lancaster his uncle, the Earls of Cambridge, Hertford, Warwicke, and Suffolke, with divers other lords. In the first rank did ride forty-eight in the likeness and habit of esquires, two and two together, clothed in red coats and gowns of say or sandal, with comely visors on their faces; after them came riding forty-eight knights in the same livery of colour and stuff; then followed one richly arrayed like an emperor; and after him some distance, one stately attired like a pope, whom followed twenty-four cardinals, and after them eight or ten with black visors, not amiable, as if they had been legates from some foreign princes. These maskers, after they had entered Kennington, alighted from their horses, and entered the hall on foot; which done, the prince, his mother, and the lords, came out of the chamber into the hall, whom the said mummers did salute, showing by a pair of dice upon the table their desire to play with the prince, which they so handled that the prince did always win when he cast them. Then the mummers set to the prince three jewels, one after another, which were a bowl of gold, a cup of gold, and a ring of gold, which the prince won at three casts. Then they set to the prince’s mother,[89] the duke, the earls, and other lords, to every one a ring of gold, which they did also win. After which they were feasted, and the music sounded, the prince and lords danced on the one part with the mummers, which did also dance; which jollity being ended, they were again made to drink, and then departed in order as they came.

The like was in Henry IV., in the 2nd of his reign, he then keeping his Christmas at Eltham, twelve aldermen of London and their sons rode in a mumming, and had great thanks.

Thus much for sportful shows in triumphs may suffice. Now for sports and pastimes yearly used.

First, in the feast of Christmas, there was in the king’s house, wheresoever he was lodged, a lord of misrule, or master of merry disports,[113] and the like had ye in the house of every nobleman of honour or good worship, were he spiritual or temporal. Amongst the which the mayor of London, and either of the sheriffs, had their several lords of misrule, ever contending, without quarrel or offence, who should make the rarest pastimes to delight the beholders. These lords beginning their rule on Alhollon eve, continued the same till the morrow after the Feast of the Purification, commonly called Candlemas day. In all which space there were fine and subtle disguisings, masks, and mummeries, with playing at cards for counters, nails, and points, in every house, more for pastime than for gain.

Against the feast of Christmas every man’s house, as also the parish churches, were decked with holm, ivy, bays, and whatsoever the season of the year afforded to be green. The conduits and standards in the streets were likewise garnished; amongst the which I read, in the year 1444, that by tempest of thunder and lightning, on the 1st of February, at night, Powle’s steeple was fired, but with great labour quenched; and towards the morning of Candlemas day, at the Leaden hall in Cornhill, a standard of tree being set up in midst of the pavement, fast in the ground, nailed full of holm and ivy, for disport of Christmas to the people, was torn up, and cast down by the malignant spirit (as was thought), and the stones of the pavement all about were cast in the streets, and into divers houses, so that the people were sore aghast of the great tempests.

In the week before Easter had ye great shows made for the[90] fetching in of a twisted tree, or with, as they termed it, out of the woods into the king’s house; and the like into every man’s house of honour or worship.

In the month of May, namely, on May-day in the morning, every man, except impediment, would walk into the sweet meadows and green woods, there to rejoice their spirits with the beauty and savour of sweet flowers, and with the harmony of birds, praising God in their kind; and for example hereof, Edward Hall hath noted, that King Henry VIII., as in the 3rd of his reign, and divers other years, so namely, in the 7th of his reign, on May-day in the morning, with Queen Katherine his wife, accompanied with many lords and ladies, rode a-maying from Greenwitch to the high ground of Shooter’s hill, where, as they passed by the way, they espied a company of tall yeomen, clothed all in green, with green hoods, and bows and arrows, to the number of two hundred; one being their chieftain, was called Robin Hoode, who required the king and his company to stay and see his men shoot; whereunto the king granting, Robin Hoode whistled, and all the two hundred archers shot off, loosing all at once; and when he whistled again they likewise shot again; their arrows whistled by craft of the head, so that the noise was strange and loud, which greatly delighted the king, queen, and their company. Moreover, this Robin Hoode desired the king and queen, with their retinue, to enter the green wood, where, in harbours made of boughs, and decked with flowers, they were set and served plentifully with venison and wine by Robin Hoode and his men, to their great contentment, and had other pageants and pastimes, as ye may read in my said author.

I find also, that in the month of May, the citizens of London of all estates, lightly in every parish, or sometimes two or three parishes joining together, had their several mayings, and did fetch in May-poles, with divers warlike shows, with good archers, morris dancers, and other devices, for pastime all the day long; and toward the evening they had stage plays, and bonfires in the streets. Of these mayings we read, in the reign of Henry VI., that the aldermen and sheriffs of London, being on May-day at the Bishop of London’s wood, in the parish of Stebunheath,[114] and having there a worshipful dinner for themselves and other commoners, Lydgate the poet, that was a monk of Bury, sent to them, by a pursuivant, a joyful commendation of that season, containing sixteen staves of metre royal, beginning thus:—

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“Mightie Flora! goddess of fresh flowers,—
Which clothed hath the soyle in lustie greene,
Made buds spring, with her sweete showers,
By the influence of the sunne shine.
To doe pleasance of intent full cleane,
Unto the States which now sit here,
Hath Vere downe sent her owne daughter deare.
Making the vertue, that dared in the roote,
Called of clarkes the vertue vegitable,
For to transcend, most holsome and most soote,
Into the crop, this season so agreeable,
The bawmy liquor is so commendable,
That it rejoyceth with his fresh moysture,
Man, beast, and fowle, and every creature,” etc.

These great Mayings and May-games, made by the governors and masters of this city, with the triumphant setting up of the great shaft (a principal May-pole in Cornehill, before the parish church of St. Andrew), therefore called Undershaft, by means of an insurrection of youths against aliens on May-day, 1517, the 9th of Henry VIII., have not been so freely used as afore, and therefore I leave them, and will somewhat touch of watches, as also of shows in the night.[115]