Good manners prohibit me from finishing the title, but what I’m striving for is the full repertoire of inuendo and verbal abuse that some men find acceptable behaviour to openly shout at a passing female, yes you know who you are, scaffolders. Having never had it happen to me (!) I can only imagine that it’s a very unpleasant experience and I would hope that it’s occurrence is not as widespread as once it was reported to be. The reason I’m on this topic is that I came across a clip on YouTube from back in the day of Harry Enfield & Paul Whitehouse satirising this awful behaviour.
As often happens one thing leads to another and during some research for a new tour I’m currently writing I came across a description of an incident along the same lines as I’ve mentioned. However, the difference is that this happened in 1301 and that the perpetrator of the lewd comments was a woman and the scaffolders were on the receiving end.
Wood Street in the City of London was the main route to the northern gate in the medieval wall, Cripplegate. It was a busy thoroughfare lined with taverns and shops. It seems to have been a lucrative area for trade and records show that many properties were demolished and rebuilt over the years to accommodate larger frontages. On Wednesday 27th August 1301 workmen were engaged in the rebuilding of a shop premises on the corner of Wood Street and Monkswell Street which is beneath the modern road of London Wall. The text describes that the building was on three stories and that workmen had erected a wooden scaffold some twenty feet high.They were approached by a very drunk woman called Alice Quernebetere. Alice then proceeded to “Shout words of a base, coarse and lewd nature” at the workmen on the scaffold. This carried on for some time and getting no response from the builders she started to verbally abuse the workman calling them “tredikiles” (Lousy Slobs), “Churls” (Low born peasants) and “Mandrake Mymmerkins” (this was a difficult one to ascertain, but it appears to be calling them Little Men, possibly questioning the size of their manhoods). The buiders told her not too politely to go away and when she refused one of the men descended from the scaffold, shoved her and she fell to the ground.
Fleeing from the taunts and laughter of the men she staggered along Monkswell Street, arrived at her place of work and complained to her mistress Elena Hellebolle that she had been badly treated. Elena who appears to have been a rather feisty woman went and remonstrated with the builders calling them “Ribalds” or rogues and used some very colourful language to abuse them, the word “Sard” appears more than once (We have an equivalent four letter word!). In fact her language was so fulsome that a passer by stopped to admonish her and another row developed with Elanor calling the man a “Theif and a knave” and he retorting the she was a “Whore“.
Insults were traded until the man tired of the matter and entered a nearby tavern, Elanor shouted after him saying that before the day was out the matter would be squared. She then sought the help of Walter of Elmley a local Chaplain and Roger Skirmisour a fencing master asking them to avenge her on the unknown man who had insulted her and that they would find him in the Tavern belonging to Agnes of Nottingham. Both men armed with wooden staves entered the tavern to find only one man, John of Melksham within.
Walter accosted the man accusing him of abusing the mistress Elena and began to hit him about the head with the stave. John drew his dagger as did Walter, but John was the quicker of the two and stabbed the Chaplain through the heart causing him to die where he fell. Both John and Walters compatriot Roger fled the scene and were never again seen. The records state that John of Melkshams possessions were seized by the magistrate and were valued at 2 shillings, about £80 today.