Ram Alley, a mere seven feet wide, ran southwards from Fleet Street, opposite Fetter Lane. Its end point was a footway between two legal institutions: the Inner Temple and Serjeants Inn. Edward H. Sugden also mentions that the street was well known as the rear exit from another inn, the Mitre, which fronted onto Fleet Street.
The alley was named after an inn, marked by the sign of the Star and Ram, which had originally belonged to the Knights Hospitallers but was confiscated by Henry VIII. It was taken in fee from the monarch for £54 by Robert Harrys, or Harris, and became the site of his brewery, which had a frontage on Fleet Street (Bell 247). The alley is now known as Hare Place, named after Hare House (Paige letter #154).
Ram Alley was a place of sanctuary for criminals. Those seeking to evade capture would run into Ram Alley, which, like the Whitefriars nearby, still claimed right of sanctuary: that is, the immunity from arrest. A 1603 source cited by William Kent comments that
there is a door leading out of Ram Alley to the tenement called the Miter in Fleet-streete, by which means thereof such persons as do frequent the house upon search made after them are conveyed out that way(Kent 494). The freedom was requested under common law by several of the London liberties, many of which were formerly monastic land.1 In an area known from the seventeenth century as Alsatia,2 Ram Alley was particularly renowned as a place of refuge for those in debt, and was
the resort of sharpers and necessitous persons of very ill fame, and of both sexes(Nares 719). Even in 1640, a debtor taking refuge in Ram Alley was considered by his creditor beyond pursuit (Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Charles I, 1639-40 February 20). Sugden notes,
[i]t was a place of evil reputation, inhabited chiefly by cooks, bawds, tobacco-sellers, and ale-house keepersand adds that
[t]he worst of its dens was the Maidenhead, near the Temple end of it(Sugden 426). Walter George Bell calls it
Ram Alley of evil association, perhaps the most pestilent court in London(Bell 252). Perhaps this unsavoury reputation is why it is not mentioned by John Stow in A Survey of London.
Parish records show a fear that the alley should become a refuge of the poor, with residents taking in unwelcome lodgers—particularly foreigners—into their midst. One such incident is noted in the wardmote inquests of St. Dunstan from 1598:
Item, we present Margaret Lylly, who came to dwell in Ram Alley within three months last past and lodgeth one Symon Dominico, a frenchman borne and his wife in her house, who [...] are like to be a charge to the p’ishe and the cittie(St. Dunstan’s parish reigsters, 1598 qtd. in Bell 244).
The eponymous setting of a comic play, Ram Alley’s famous inns were invoked by Lording Barry, who juxtaposes them with its lawyers and prostitutes. Written in 1607-8, the play was performed by the short-lived Children of the King’s Revels company, based in the theatre at Whitefriars and funded by a group of investors including Barry.3 In the play, Throat, a dubious man of law who perhaps has his qualification from an Inn of Chancery, comments on the conjunction of food, drink and legal work:
And though Ramme ſtinks with Cookes and ale, / Yet ſay thers many a worthy lawyers chamber, / Buts vpon Rame-alley(Barry sig. C1v). Later, he makes reference to the predatory sexuality for which the area was also known, demanding,
Elizabeth Hanson comments on the play’s(Barry sig. E4v)Will you be gon directly, are you mad?Come you to ſeeke a Virgin in Ram-alleySoe neere an Inne of Court, and amongſt Cookes,Ale-men, and Landreſſes, why are you fooles?
geographical and social specificity(Hanson 233), but, in his essay on the relationship between the audience and actors in the play, Jeremy Lopez nuances this point, arguing that the play
seems to be about being in Ram Alley, but it’s really about its spectators knowing that they’re not(Lopez 202). He suggests that the play portrays the area and uses its stereotypical attributes to appeal to those playgoers who lived in the city but outside the area of the Whitefriars itself.
The alley is referred to by several other contemporary writers, who also focus on its key associations. The alley’s reputation as a place to flee the forces of the law is again shown in Richard Brome’s A Mad Couple Well-Match’d, where the spendthrift nephew, Careless, takes sanctuary from his uncle and other creditors in Ram Alley. Having got hold of money, he announces,
I need no more inſconſing now in Ram-alley, nor the Sanctuary of White-fryers, the Forts of Fullers-rents, and Milford-lane, whoſe walls are dayly batter’d wth the curſes of bawling creditors(Brome, A Mad Couple Well-Match’d sig. C8r), giving a list of places where men could evade pursuit. In The Damoiselle, Brome continues the association of Ram Alley with sanctuary, as Bumpsey, looking for his son-in-law, enters the alley to seek information:
Ille but ſtep up / Into Ram-Alley-Sanctuary, to Debtor, / That praies and watches there for a Protection(Brome, The Damoiselle E4r).
The Rabelaisian account of the area in The Floating Island (1673) by writer and bookseller Richard Head also focuses on the alley’s reputation as a refuge from pursuit. The supposed writer of the work explains its origins in a period of forced inertia in Ramallia, or Villa Franca,
a Sanctuary to all perſons whatſoever(Head sig. A2v).
It was,he tells his reader in a prefatory epistle, an account of an imaginary journey
pen’d laſt long Vacation, when all I had to do, was to hide my ſelf from the Inquiſition of my cruel Creditors; for which purpoſe I lodg’d in Ram-alley(Head sig. A2r).
Writing the satirical The Second Return from Parnassus seventy years before Richard Head’s, the students of St John’s College, Cambridge, associate the alley with the belligerence and linguistic directness of playwright John Marston, who lived as a legal student in the Middle Temple nearby:
(The Second Part of The Return from Parnassus sig. B2v)[Marston] Cutts, thruſts, and foines at whomeſoeuer he meets,And ſtrowes about Ram-ally meditations.Tut, what cares he for modeſt cloſe coucht termes,Cleanly to gird our looſer libertines?
The association of the alley with food and drink is demonstrated by Ben Jonson’s Lickfinger, the thieving cook in The Staple of News, who is labelled
mine old hoſt of Ram-Alley(Jonson 2D2v). In Philip Massinger’s A New Way to Pay Old Debts, this connection with food is again linked to the quotidian practices of nearby lawyers when Amble says of Marrall, the attorney:
[t]he knaue thinkes ſtill hee’s at the cookes ſhop in Ramme-alley, / Where the Clarkes diuide and the Elder is to chooſe(Massinger sig. E2v). Thomas Nashe, in his Prognostication, shows that the association with food could be combined with the alley’s reputation for roguery:
but let the fiſh-wiues take heede, for if moſt of them proue not ſcoldes [...] they ſhall weare out more ſhooes in Lent then in anie two months beſide through the whole yeere, and get their liuing by walking and crying, becauſe they ſlaundered Ram alley with ſuch a tragical infamie(Nash sig. B4v). Sugden suggests the fishwives may have harangued the cooks of Ram Alley because they illicitly sold flesh on Fridays or in Lent.
The provision of food is connected with the area’s predatory sexuality, which had been referred to so casually in Barry’s play, in a salacious pamphlet of 1681 called Whipping Tom. In the account made of Tom’s sexual attacks upon London women, there features one on
the Woman that cries hot Gray Peaſe about the Streets, coming up Ram Alley in Fleete-ſtreet(Whipping Tom sig. A1v). Having laid on her his
loſt all power of Reſiſtance,and along with it her peas, which she had afterwards to
ſcrape up her Ware as well as ſhe could, for the uſe of ſuch longing Ladies as are affected with ſuch Diet(Whipping Tom sig. A1v).
As well as food and drink, the area was also known for another popular vice in the early modern capital, the smoking of tobacco—the supplying or indulgence of which habit was often found unacceptable by the members of the legal profession whose property abutted the alley. The St. Dunstan’s wardmote register of 1630 records one such offence:
Item, we present Timothy Howe (of Ram Alley, Fleet Street) and Humfry Fenne for annoying the Judges at Serjeants Inn with the stench and smell of their tobacco(St. Dunstan’s parish reigsters, 1630 qtd. in Bell 274). Bell continues to quote the wardmote from 1618 which combined complaints about drink with those against tobacco. The register
laid complaint against Timothy Louse and John Barker, of Ram Alley,(St. Dunstan’s parish reigsters, 1618 qtd. in Bell 274).for keeping their tobacco shoppes open all night and fyers in the same without any chimney and suffering hot waters [spirits] and selling also without licence, to the great disquietness and annoyance of that neighbourhood
Finally, in The Blind Beggar of Bethnal Green, John Day and his collaborator, Henry Chettle, make use of the alley’s fame as a place of popular recreation. Disguised as a
Maſter of the Motionor puppet-master, Canby promises his customers, Tom Strowd and Swash,
you ſhall likewiſe ſee the amorous conceits and Love ſongs betwixt Captain Pod of Py-corner, and Mrs. Rump of Ram-alley(Day sig. G1v-G2r). Sugden notes that Captain Pod was a well-known exhibitor of puppet shows, and that it may be presumed Mrs. Rump was equally historical.
- Mary Bly discusses right of sanctuary granted to the monastic liberties by Henry VIII.
Chapter XIIIof Bell’s Fleet Street in Seven Centuries, which examines the area’s history as a place of sanctuary and the use of this cant name. In 1688, Thomas Shadwell wrote a popular play set in the area called The Squire of Alsatia. See also John Levin’s Alsatia: The Debtor Sanctuaries of London blog.
- For more information about the Children of the King’s Revels, and the typicality of Ram Alley in that company’s repertoire, see Bly (2000).
- Barry, Lording. Ram-Alley: Or Merrie-Trickes. London: Printed by G. Eld. for Robert Wilson, 1611. Reprint. Early English Books Online. Web.
- Bell, Walter George. Fleet Street in Seven Centuries: Being a History of the Growth of London Beyond the Walls into the Western Liberty, and of Fleet Street to Our Time. London: Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons, 1912. Internet Archive. Open.
- Beresford, Edwin. The Annals of Fleet Street. London: Chapman & Hall Limited, 1912. Open.
Playing the Tourist in Early Modern London: Selling the Liberties Onstage.PMLA 122.1 (2007): 61–71.
- Bly, Mary. Queer Virgins and Virgin Queans on the Early Modern Stage. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000.
- Brome, Richard. A Mad Couple Well-Match’d. Five New Playes. London: Humphrey Moseley, Richard Marriot, and Thomas Dring, 1653. Sig. A5v-H2r. Reprint. Richard Brome Online. Ed. Richard Cave. Royal Holloway, University of London and Humanities Research Institute, University of Sheffield. Web. Open.
- Brome, Richard. The Demoiselle, or the New Ordinary. London: T[homas] R[oycroft] for Richard Marriot, and Thomas Dring, 1653. Reprint. Richard Brome Online. Ed. Richard Cave. Royal Holloway, University of London and Humanities Research Institute, University of Sheffield. Web. Open.
- Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Charles I, 1639-40. Ed. Wiliam Douglas Hamilton. London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1877.
- Day, John [and Henry Chettle]. The Blind-beggar of Bednal Green. London: R. Pollard and Tho. Dring, 1659. Reprint. Early English Books Online. Web.
English Literary History 72.1 (2005): 209-238.
There’s Meat and Money Too: Rich Widows and Allegories of Wealth in Jacobean City Comedy.
- Head, Richard. The Floating Island, or a New Discovery. London: Published by Franck Careless [i.e., Richard Head], 1673. Reprint. Early English Books Online. Web.
- Jonson, Ben. The Staple of Newes. The Works. Vol. 2. London: Printed by I.B. for Robert Allot, 1631. 2A1r-2J2v. Reprint. Early English Books Online. Web.
- Kent, William. An Encyclopedia of London. 1937. Rev. Godfrey Thompson. London: J.M. Dent, 1970.
- Levin, John. Alsatia: The Debtor Sanctuaries of London. Web. Open.
- Lopez, Jeremy.
Success the Whiitefriars Way: Ram Alley and the Negative Force of Acting.Renaissance Drama 38 (2010): 199-224.
- Massinger, Philip. A New Way to Pay Old Debts. London: Printed by E[lizabeth] P[urslowe] for Henry Seyle, 1633. Reprint. Early English Books Online. Web.
- Nares, Robert. A Glossary; Or, Collection of Words, Phrases, Names, and Allusions to Customs, Proverbs, etc., which have been Thought to Require Illustration in the Words of English Authors, Particularly Shakespeare and His Contemporaries. New ed. Ed. James O. Halliwell and Thomas Wright. Vol. 2. London: John Russell Smith, 1867.
- Nashe, Thomas. A Wonderfull Strange and Miraculous Astrologicall Prognostication for this Yeere 1591. London: Thomas Scarlet, 1591. Reprint. Early English Books Online. Web.
- Ogilby, John and William Morgan. A Large and Accurate Map of the City of London Ichnographically Describing All the Streets, Lanes, Alleys, Courts, Yards, Churches, Halls and Houses, &c. Actually Surveyed and Delineated by John Ogilby, esq., His Majesties Cosmographer. London, 1676. Reprint. The A to Z of Restoration London. Introduced by Ralph Hyde. Indexed by John Fisher and Roger Cline. London: London Topographical Society, 1992.
- Paige, John. The Letters of John Paige, London Merchant, 1648-58. Ed. G.F. Steckley. London Record Society 21. London: London Record Society, 1984. British History Online. London: London Record Society, 1984. Open.
- The Returne from Pernassus, or the Scourge of Simony. London: Printed by G. Eld. for Iohn Wright, 1606. Reprint. Early English Books Online. Web.
- Rocque, John. A Plan of the Cities of London and Westminster, and Borough of Southwark with Contiguous Buildings. London: Printed by John Rocque, 1746. Reprint. The A to Z of Georgian London. Introduced by Ralph Hyde. London: London Topographical Society, 1982. [We cite by index label thus: Rocque 15Db.]
- Shadwell, Thomas. The Squire of Alsatia. London: Printed for James Knapton, at the Queen’s Head in St. Paul’s Churchyard, 1688. Reprint. Early English Books Online. Web.
- Stapleton, Alan. London Alleys, Byways, and Courts. London: John Lane The Bodley Head Ltd., 1924.
- Stow, John. A suruay of London· Conteyning the originall, antiquity, increase, moderne estate, and description of that city, written in the yeare 1598. by Iohn Stow citizen of London. Since by the same author increased, with diuers rare notes of antiquity, and published in the yeare, 1603. Also an apologie (or defence) against the opinion of some men, concerning that citie, the greatnesse thereof. VVith an appendix, contayning in Latine Libellum de situ & nobilitate Londini: written by William Fitzstephen, in the raigne of Henry the second. London: John Windet, 1603. STC 23343. University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign Campus) copy Reprint. Early English Books Online. Web.
- Sugden, Edward. A Topographical Dictionary to the Works of Shakespeare and His Fellow Dramatists. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1925..
- Whipping Tom brought to Light, and Exposed to View: In an Account of Several Late Adventures of the Pretended Whipping Spirit. London: Printed for Edward Brooks, 1681. Reprint. Early English Books Online. Web.
Last modification: 2016-05-27 14:37:29 -0700 (Fri, 27 May 2016) (tlandels)