Harmonia Early Music

Wandering Down Grope Lane

Music of brothels and bawdy houses of Purcell's England, performed by The City Waites.

Brothel by Joachim Beuckelaer (1562)

Photo: Walters Art Museum (wikipedia)

"Brothel" by Joachim Beuckelaer, (1562).

Grope Lane

Signposts for Grope Lane, and variations of that street name, could be found all over England as far back as medieval times. There were Grope lanes in London’s St. Pancras district, Oxford, Chipping Barnet, Worcester, Bristol, Peterborough, and York. And, if you took a stroll down those Grope lanes, you might find yourself in that town’s red light district.

Intrigued yet? Well in 2013, The City Waites re-released an album on the United Classics label called The Musicians of Grope Lane. The recording centers on the music of brothels and bawdy houses from 17th-entury England. The songs on this recording served the self-described purpose to “complement a lewd scene in a theatre, to cozen a market-place gathering, or generally to ‘stir up unchaste thoughts’ in taverns and bawdy houses up and down the land.”

After getting past the shock value and through the vulgar bits, here’s what’s noteworthy about this CD. The City Waites has left it rustic and rude, transporting listeners to the theatres, pubs and ale houses, taverns, gentlemen’s clubs, street fairs and markets of 17th-century England—their performances reflecting the many different circumstances in which this music might have been sung and heard. Pipes, drums and fiddles, lusty men’s voices, beer in hand…let your imagination go…this recording will take you there!

Tr. 20, When Celia was Learning; Tr. 15, The Jovial Broom Man, Tr. 24, Miss Nelly
The City Waites — The Musicians of Grope Lane (United Classics, 2013)
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album cover

There is certainly no lack of provocative metaphors in these songs, and its enough to make you snicker and squirm once you figure out the thinly cloaked suggestive meanings. And there’s even some potty humor, if you’re in the mood! Anybody up for a song called “The Jolly Brown Turd?”

There are several instrumental pieces to enjoy, many chosen for this particular recording for their mention of the color green: green stockings, green garters, greensleeves—the significance being green’s association with promiscuity or harlotry, the color of lust in the 16th and 17th centuries. The final instrumental track on this CD comes from Playford’s 17th-century collection of tunes called the Dancing Master. The one titled “Miss Nelly” might well refer to Charles II’s famous mistress, Nell Gwynn.

Tr. 20, When Celia was Learning; Tr. 15, The Jovial Broom Man, Tr. 24, Miss Nelly
The City Waites — The Musicians of Grope Lane (United Classics, 2013)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Janelle Davis

Janelle Davis is a violinist and performer with period instrument ensembles throughout the United States. She is currently a candidate for the Doctor of Music degree from Indiana University, Bloomington where she specializes in early music.

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  • http://www.hubpages.com/profiles/maven101 LarryConners

    To Grope…To Hope…To gently Probe the sacred Trope…To taste the Sweet, Sweet Wine of Life…Ah, there doest my hand dwell…a blind man seeking the Light….But finding only a savage Revolt..

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