Select Page

Travel obligations and internet issues are going to be interfering with daily posts for at least some of the next 10 days to two weeks. So nobody will go into withdrawal, however, The Legal Genealogist offers…

The term of the day:


stewsUm… no.

Chances are, whatever you’re thinking, the answer is no. Not that kind of stews.

Nothing to eat, nobody helping you on an airplane, not a kind of hot water that you could be in.

Well, maybe closest to the last.

Stews, according to the law dictionaries, were “certain brothels anciently permitted in England, suppressed by Henry VIII.”1

They were called stews “because of their origins as houses with a heated room used for hot air or vapour baths,” and were originally highly regulated in the interests of public health:

On 13 Apr 1546, though, old Henry VIII, eventually got rid of the bankside stewes of Southwark with a royal proclamation forcing the closure of all houses of prostitution within his realm, bringing to an end the “toleration of such dissolute and miserable persons as have been suffered to dwell in common open places called the stews without punishment or correction (for) their abominable and detestable sin.” …. (T)he suppression of public brothels … does not seem to have resulted in any notable diminution of prostitution; indeed, many observers, among them John Taylor, believed that things had gotten worse rather than better as a result, not just on the South Bank, but in the metropolitan area in general:

The Stewes in England bore a beastly sway,
Till the eight Henry banish’d them away:
And since these common whores were quite put down,
A damned crue of private whores are grown,
So that the diuell will be doing still,
Either with publique or with private ill.

The abolition of the licensed brothels in Southwark scattered many of the resident prostitutes about London, making supervision of them more difficult.2

Stews. Yeah. And you have to think it might be fun to find someone in (or who ran) (or who frequented) the stews in a family tree…


  1. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 1125, “stews.”
  2. Prostitution in Tudor England,” Tudor England ( : accessed 20 Oct 2013).
Print Friendly, PDF & Email