The 17th Century Yorkshire Alehouse
Alcohol was an essential part of 17th Century life, and would be drunk as water was often too unclean to drink. Most homes would brew their own ale; the problem was that it only kept for a few days and would need to be drunk. Therefore, the humble alehouse took over most of the brewing of ale and it became primarily a commercial entity. With the growing popularity of these establishments, they became centres of male drinking and sociability but also hostility, disorderly behaviour, religious disobedience and at times, murder. At the time, their popularity grew among the lower echelons of society and they started to be frequented by ‘the lower sort’ to escape poverty, cramped conditions, noise and hunger. They also became places of masculinity where customers would strike bargains, argue over politics, swap news and gossip, sing and gamble at cards and dice. Strong Yorkshire ale would cost a groat (four pence) for an individual ‘jack’ of ale; however, it was more common for a group at a table to buy a shared jug and perhaps even bring their own ceramic, leather, or pewter mug. An excerpt from the novel ‘Skulduggery’ … Thomas ducked his head going through the doorway and was immediately stunned by the sharpness of the smell, urine-soaked straw and rotting food that had been thrown or dropped on the muddy, manure-covered floor. A man stumbled with a toilet bucket spilling more over the sides than what he was putting in. He tried at drunken modesty when he saw Margery, turning toward the wall to save embarrassment. Another man used a form as a bed, face down, still clinging to the almost empty Jack, a leather waterproofed mug lightly held for a future swig before staggering home. The window had no glass and shutters kept out the evening air, which on some nights, depending on the way of the wind, rid the room of the layers of smokiness. The shutters also served the purpose of denying the vicar’s representative, that occasionally walked by, to collect notes on the immoral goings on after dark. Three- legged stools and the odd cut barrel were used as a gaming table. Wide, rough planks rested on full size-barrels separating the barkeeper from the clientele and shelves behind housed pewter dishes, leather jacks and the odd pewter tankard for the patron with a more modest income. Most of the light came from the fire in the hearth, but the odd tallow candle chandelier and grease lamp provided enough light for the card games, arguments and political debates. The serving wench tracked backwards and forwards, replacing empty jacks with full ones for the patrons, on occasion disappearing upstairs for more physical pursuits and monetary gain…. In the 17th century, some feared that alehouses not only promoted drunkenness and intoxication, but also at times fostered political subversion and sedition. Equally troublesome was the husband who spent his shillings on drink, gaming or other women. It was believed that the alehouse was a place for men to recreate, to sing, revel, tell jokes and stories and of course drink. Often the ‘ale house widows’ were left at home to look after their starving children much to their detriment and anger. There were usually other women in attendance at the alehouse such as the good-looking, young alewife who, with her flirtatious ways, often acted as a major asset attracting the male customers to infidelity and poor behaviour. Some women sacrificed their respectability by entering alehouses, but it wasn’t always hospitable or safe and often their presence was often intended for prostitution, and even if it wasn’t, they were subjected to verbal and sexual abuse. In most cases, prostitutes would ply their trade and the alehouse would often double as a brothel and became a place of sexual promiscuity for married men. Poor women often used the alehouse as a place to get out of the weather and to sell their victuals such as tobacco and biscuits. They would often drink to excess and become vulnerable to men’s sexual advances. The alehouse provided them with the comfort of a fire and the ale would blur the harshness of their daily life. At times they would use the alehouse as cover for swindling and theft much to the annoyance of the patron who would reach for his purse only to find both it and the woman gone. The early modern alehouse was an interesting place and were just places for common people to relax and socialise, as well as to drink. Crimes were committed and tensions between families and friends, religious power struggles, local political tensions and disobedience to authority abounded. There were bizarre and curious behaviours between people, but the truth is the humble alehouse gave early society a place to escape poverty, to socialise and to hear and be heard. Paul Rushworth-Brown is the author of three novels: Skulduggery- The bleak Pennine moors of Yorkshire; a beautiful, harsh place, close to the sky, rugged and rough, no boundaries except the horizon, which in places, went on forever. Green pastures and wayward hills, the colours of ochre, brown and pink in the Spring. Green squares divided the land on one side of the lane, and on the other; sheep with thick wool and dark snouts dotted the hills and dales. The story, set on the Moors of West Yorkshire, follows wee Thomas and his family shortly after losing his father to consumption. Times were tough in 1603 and there were shenanigans and skulduggery committed by locals and outsiders alike. Queen Bess has died, and King James sits on the throne of England and Scotland. Thomas Rushworth is now the man of the house being the older of two boys. He is set to wed Agnes in an arranged marriage, but a true love story develops between them. "A glorious read of a period well versed and presented with accuracy and authentic telling by an author who is as much engrossed in his prose as the reader he shares with...masterful and thoroughly enjoyable...5 stars." Adrian, Indibook reviewer Winter of Red- Come on this historic journey, which twists, turns and surprises until the very end. If you like history, adventure and intrigue with a dash of spirited love, then you will be engrossed by this tale of a peasant family unexpectedly getting caught up in the ravages of the English Civil War in 1642. "A fictional, historical novel about a loving peasant family caught up in a 1642 shocking Civil War. Humour, romance, adventure and excitement are here to enjoy. A great story. "Dream of Courage- Soon to be released! The much anticipated story of the Rushworth family and their journey out of poverty. King Charles has been executed and England becomes a Republic under the leadership of Oliver Cromwell. Highwaymen, thief-takers, pirates and wool broggers tell the story in this mysterious and bone chilling historical thriller.