Hand in hand with lucre


If you are ever lucky enough to take a tour of the reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe, perched on the side of the Thames at Southwark, near Cardinal’s Cap Alley, you will be told gleefully just how ambiguous the church’s role in society was, back when the bard’s actors were treading the boards.

The text books have always told us that the Elizabethan theatre had a place for gentry and a place for the rest of society. The groundlings. When they excavated the site of the original south-of-the-river Globe they found a layer of nutshells, the Elizabethan equivalent of popcorn. You paid your penny and you stood and watched.

And throughout the performance, the Bishop of Winchester’s whores would circulate, touting for business.

You may have heard of them: the Winchester Geese, overseen by the Bishop of Winchester from his Southwark Palace, plied their trade across Southwark; and the rent from their brothels went straight into the Bishop’s pocket.

The church could be pragmatic where money was concerned.

The other day I was searching for a pulpit hourglass. There was one, the guidebooks told me, in a church just down the road; a spectacular example. And so on Friday lunchtime I rolled up at St Nicholas, Hurst, to take a look.

But the church was locked.

I fumed. My days off are sacred, set aside for research, and I did not wish to waste one second of one day.

Opposite the church is a pub. These days, it’s called The Castle. And standing outside the pub was a man who turned out to be the publican.

“You all right?” he asked as I stormed by.

I explained my plight. I wanted to see the church, but the church was locked. Could he tell me when it was open?

You may well ask. Why ask a publican about the church? It was a long shot; but it paid off in spades.

“Hold on,” he said affably. “I’ll just give the Warden a call.”

He fished an iPhone from his pocket and dialled. “Hello? Sue? Got a lady down here wants to see the church.” Silence. Then: “I’ll pass you over to have a word, shall I?”

Turns out, the church built the pub. And it still owns it today. It’s part of a trust, and the money raised from the pub is used for the upkeep of the fabric of the church. All the publican had to do was ring the landlord, with whom it appears he is on close cahoots. There’s a set of almshouses – houses for the poor or infirm of the village- in the mix too: the publican said there’s a separate trust which deals with those.

Next to the pub is a bowling green, one of the first to be laid in England; it is said it was created for Charles I, who used to stay at The Castle when he went hunting in Windsor Forest. Β And the pub’s charms do not end there: it has a bread oven where the village’s bread used to be baked; and upstairs are the remains of the workshop where the coffins used to be made for funerals at the church.

The warden was incredibly kind. She was popping out to Henley in half an hour and could let me in for 15 minutes or so. Why didn’t I sit down and have lunch at the pub, she suggested, and she would come and get me when she arrived?

The church and the state: their relationship has been well documented over a thousand years. But church and commerce: well, that’s a more ambiguous relationship all together.

A veritable marriage of convenience.

Written in response to Side View’s weekend theme: Ambiguous, which you can find here.

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32 thoughts on “Hand in hand with lucre

  1. You may have heard of them: the Winchester Geese, overseen by the Bishop of Winchester from his Southwark Palace, plied their trade across Southwark; and the rent from their brothels went straight into the Bishop’s pocket.

    The church could be pragmatic where money was concerned.

    Was this Anglican or Catholic? No matter really, the false prophets are everywhere.

  2. Ask and you shall receive, or something like that! Never hurts to ask… I am not religious but I think our concept of “church” is a lot different from days of yore… back then the church was an integral part of every day life and not separated in any way, so nothing surprises me.

    1. I think you’re absolutely right. Now that I remember it, the nuns used to run the grain mill in Winchester back when this church was built. Like you say, there wasn’t the demarcation then.

    1. I’d love to say they did, Gale, but no. They were even buried in a separate grave yard in Southwark, the Cross Bones graveyard. I don’t think prostitutes have ever received a fair deal. They continue to be reviled and exploited and dominated.

      There. You have me as close to a rant as I get πŸ™‚

  3. I agree with Gale. It is a lovely arrangement and frankly, should more churches consider the other parts of our lives, they’d be in better shape financially. Mine has a fee-based preschool and a coffee shop. But I didn’t see whether or not you found the hourglass?

  4. Great post.
    There’s a pub in the City, St Magnus the Martyr, which used to administer several pubs. I am not sure if it still owns any of the local ones that are left, but i shouldn’t be surprised. Apparently centuries ago the ckergy there were rebuked for too much drinking, womanising and fishing. As one explained to em a few years back, it is all different now; none of them likes fishing.

      1. They used to farm pike, I believe! Yeurgh….I never knew there was a fish farm once close to the Tate Modern! You don’t happen to know which church was in command, do you?

  5. Such a kind and civil reception, Kate! It’s rare for me to hear of anyone going out of their way to answer a request such as yours. The practicality of the pub subsidizing the maintenance of the church is an interesting contract. I tend towards being practical myself and could find justification if necessary. πŸ™‚ Did you ever find the hourglass?

  6. A community all entangled up to make things work. Take out the pub and the rest would be in trouble? The dependancies if the rest are somewhat less clear, aren’t they? Though from the poorhouse into the grave was probably quite a quick step at one time.

    The power-grabbers and mobey-grabbers are always the same peiple, aren’t they when you look behind the scenes.

    1. What an interesting point, Sidey. yes: take away the pub and nothing would work as well, even today. I believe the church is still kept ship-shape by the proceedings from the pub.

  7. Well, the popes had their mistresses, so maybe supplying prostitutes to theater goers wasn’t such a leap…. And maybe this monetary relationship is why so many pubs/bars have traditionally been located near churches?

  8. I’m just reading the Lark Rise to Candleford trilogy, Kate, and just finished up reading about the communal baker’s oven and coffin makers and such. The author’s reminisces are too sweet for other forms of, er business, but, your post came up at just the right moment for me in my readings.

    We have had just this sort of thing happen; the building is closed when we expected it to be open, and a few questions bringing about a private tour. It never hurts to ask. I’m glad you did.

  9. That makes a crazy kind of sense. If you are going to arouse guilty baser desires by ranting aganst dens of iniquity it helps to make sure there are dens of iniquity to rant against. Knowing, of course, that there is no such thing as bad publicity …

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