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"Whether they be in need of a clean or not"



I recently came across a story while I was researching a new audio tour set in the area of Clerkenwell. I've included it here as there were a couple of things that made me chuckle.

When it comes to a pint I'm definitely in the straight or sleeve glass camp, not for me the chunky jug or handled glass. I think the beer tastes better in a straight, plus it's not so heavy to lift. Recently while in Germany I ordered a large stein of the local beer and after a couple of slurps had to pick it up with two hands (murmuring something about perhaps they are the master race!).



It wasn’t until the late 19th century that the true beer glass begins to become popular, with the advent of the conical sleeve and you had to wait until the 1930s before the traditional dimpled mug became ubiquitous. Shortly after the Second World War the sleeve with the bulge at the top or as it is known correctly the Nonick became fashionable. The bulge is not just there for aesthetic reasons, apparently it stops glasses sticking together when stacked and the curve strengthens the rim, preventing it from chipping or being nicked, as in "No nicks"

But back in the time of this tale, around the early 1800s, taverns were using either metal jugs made from pewter, horn goblets and earthenware tankards, but still the use of wooden or even leather drinking vessels was widespread.


It is probably correct to imagine that cleanliness was not at the forefront of a Landlords mind when it came to the washing of his drinking vessels which probably received at best a quick rinse in whatever was to hand. Those landlords who did possibly think about the health risk to their clientele would occasionally send their drinking vessels which were generally known as pots to be cleaned at what were known as Scowerer.



Robert Walduck owned the Kings Head in Clerkenwell and was one of the more enlightened hosts and took contamination from dirty pots very seriously. In fact he proudly told a jury while giving evidence at a trial, that he sent his pots off to the Scowerer, "every six month, whether they be in need of a clean or not".



The occasion that gave rise to Mr Walduck giving his testimony was when he sent his servant Edward Jones to the Scowers with 36 pots in a wheelbarrow. Stopping in Bowling Green Lane to answer a call of nature Edward parked the barrow on the side of the road, but when he returned he found the barrow and pots had been taken.


It appears that a fifteen year old urchin, William Withers had taken it and wheeled it into nearby Coppice Row. William doesn't seem to have been the sharpest knife in the drawer, born out by a witness testimony that he spent ten minutes trying to fit the barrow between bollards in the alley far too small to allow the barrow access and it wasn't until it was pointed out to him by an onlooker that he would have to empty the barrow of the pots and lift it over the bollards that he managed to pass the obstruction.


William trundles the barrow to a shop in Holborn and tries to sell the pots to the owner Ann Simmonds. She is suspicious when William says the pots are his and taking him firmly by the ear marches him off to the house of the local constable Mr Green. William has no desire to be held by the constable and promptly evades him and escapes, only to be apprehended the following day in Smithfield Market.


On the first of November 1809 William stands trial. He does not deny the theft and says only this in his defence, "Since I have been in trouble my father has been obliged to put my mother and two children in the workhouse".

He is found guilty but because of his age the sentence is transportation for seven years rather than hanging

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