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Walking about at night

“In England, walking about at night was a crime for a very long time. William the Conqueror ordained that a bell should be rung at 8 p.m., at which point Londoners were supposed to put their fires and candles out and their heads down. Again and again, until modern times, Matthew Beaumont tells us, specifically nocturnal laws were promulgated against draw-latchets, roberdsmen, barraters, roysterers, roarers, harlots and other nefarious nightwalkers — including those ‘eavesdroppers’ who stood listening in the close darkness where the rain dripped from a house’s eaves.

Beaumont reads such laws as being designed to exert political and social control. To walk the city streets at night, by contrast, is to make ‘a libertine assault on what might be called the ideology of good hours’, to pose ‘an intrinsic challenge to the diurnal regime on which, from the end of the Middle Ages, Protestant ideology and the political economy of capitalism partly depended’. Nightwalking is sticking it to the Man.”

Dickens’s dark side: walking at night helped ease his conscience at killing off characters, The Spectator.

Nightwalking: A Nocturnal History of London by Matthew Beaumont.

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