Guest Post by BK

The Idle Prentice turnd away and sent to Sea

The Idle Prentice turnd away and sent to Sea

A song called Cuckolds All In A Row was popular with Cavaliers as a dig against the London Roundheads. A contemporary ballad records a pleasure boat trip downriver to Greenwich.

‘And when they reach Cuckold’s Point they make a gallant show.
Their wives bid the Musick play Cuckolds All In A Row.’

Cuckold’s Point features in the play Eastward Hoe by Ben Jonson. This scene sums up much of our discussion.

Enter SLITGUT with a pair of ox-horns, discovering Cuckold’s Haven.

   Slit. All hail, fair haven of married men only! for there are none but married men cuckolds. For my part, I presume not to arrive here but in my master’s behalf, a poor butcher of Eastcheap, who sends me to set up, in honor of Saint Luke, these necessary ensigns of his homage. And up I got this morning, thus early, to get up to the top of this famous tree, that is all fruit and no leaves, to advance this crest of my master’s occupation. Up then! — Heaven and Saint Luke bless me, that I be not blown into the Thames as I climb, with this furious tempest.

Industry and Idleness - Hogarth

Industry and Idleness – Hogarth

The theme of Eastward Hoe; two youths, one is industrious and prospers, the other is lazy and falls on hard times was taken up by Hogarth in his series of engravings Industry and Idleness. In Plate 5 the idle apprentice is sent to sea. He is being rowed out to his boat around Cuckold’s point; although the antler pole has been replaced by a gibbet. The boy can clearly be seen making the sign of the horn as a gesture of contempt for his new masters.
Horn’s, and their ribald associations, became the main theme of the Charlton Horn Fair. A large crowd from all over London and Kent would gather at Cuckold’s Point to parade to Charlton. Many would dress as characters from the founding legend, The King, the miller or his wife. Cross-dressing of the sexes was common; and the wearing of horns was, more or less, ubiquitous. A contemporary account of the parade states:

“at Horn Fair, a party of humorists of both sexes (query, of either sex) cornuted in all the variety of bull-feather fashion, after perambulating round Cuckold’s Point, startled the little quiet village of Charlton on St. Luke’s Day, shouting their emulation, and blowing voluntaries on rams’ horns, in honour of their patron saint.”

When the parade reached the fair, which was held on The Common in front of Charlton House, things got even more riotous. Daniel Defoe wrote:

Charleton, a village famous, or rather infamous for the yearly collected rabble of mad-people, at Horn-Fair; the rudeness of which I cannot but think, is such as ought to be suppressed, and indeed in a civiliz’d well govern’d nation, it may well be said to be unsufferable. The mob indeed at that time take all kinds of liberties, and the women are especially impudent for that day; as if it was a day that justify’d the giving themselves a loose to all manner of indecency and immodesty, without any reproach, or without suffering the censure which such behaviour would deserve at another time.

The Maryon-Wilson family who lived at Charlton House enclosed the common to be part of their private estate in the early 1800s. A group of enterprising publicans then moved the fair to land on the outskirts of the village; rather like Blackheath Fair in an earlier post. And, like its near neighbour, the Horn Fair fell victim to the new morality of the 1871 Fairs Act and closed in 1873.

The Horn Fair was revived; with the awful title of Horn Fayre, in 1973 in a more family friendly format. Recently, an attempt was also made to recreate the parade from Cuckold’s Point but I don’t think it happened this year. Even more prosaically; Cuckold’s Point is now The Canary Wharf Hilton Hotel.