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Fermented Fundraising in the Middle Ages

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b2ap3_thumbnail_tappingakeg.gifOn July 10, 1212* the wood buildings and thatched roofs of London went up in flames. The Great Fire of Southwark started south of the London Bridge in the borough of Southwark. Although the bridge survived, it was built mostly of stone by this time, the houses on the bridge were lost along with many first responders, residents, and gawkers who were trapped when flying sparks started fires on the other end of the bridge. This event was known as the Great Fire of London until it was eclipsed by a bigger fire in 1666. 

Following the destruction, the first mayor of London, Henry Fitz-Ailwin, and a "council of reputable men" made some recommendations "for the purpose of calming and pacifying an angry citizenry and to protect against fires." Their recommendations included the provision of licenses for approved scot-ales held to raise funds for rebuilding with stone.

The word "scot" has a meaning similar to a tax and a scot-ale is like a drinking party that you pay to attend. If the lord (or his officers) invited you to his scot-ale, you really couldn't refuse so it was often seen as way for nobles to get more money out of the folk.**

After the 1212 fire, scot-ales were held to raise funds for the public good and those that were thinly veiled extortion were prohibited. Over the next centuries this kind of fundraising event took various forms. A drinking party to raise money for the church (yes, they did!) was called a church-ale, a newly married woman might be the beneficiary of a bride-ale, and a help-ale or bid-ale would support your neighbor through a crisis. These events usually included games and other entertainment in addition to the ale.

A 16th century minstrel, Richard Sheale, reported that when he was relieved of his money by a highwayman, "my neighbors did cause me to make a pot of ale … My loving neighbors of the town of Tamworth where I dwell did liberally reward me, this is true that I you tell. Which kindness of them hath right well provided that among my neighbors I am well beloved. For liberally with me their money they did spend, and those that came not themselves their money they did send."


* Some sources cite the date as July 11 or July 12.

** There had been complaints that King John's foresters in Somerset were taking crops from villagers, using them to brew ale, and then forcing the same villagers to attend a scot-ale made possible by their own labors. What a double kick in the teeth!


Additional reading:

Conviviality and Charity in Medieval and Early Modern England by Judith M. Bennett

Tagged in: Fundraising History

For me, fundraising and communications go together like peanut butter and jelly – delicious & filling!

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