Beer and Gin

Virtually nothing survives of the old palace of Placentia, as we were discussing yesterday. So when I hear about something that does just about cling onto existence, I want to know about it. Especially if just about the only description I can find on the internet claims it is ‘obscene.’

I read about Beer and Gin – two ancient figures who lived over the Buttery (food store) at Placentia – in a single sentence in a guidebook written in 1937. Sir Geoffrey Callender, who was the first Director of the National Maritime Museum refers to the pair in passing as having
“presided over many a riotous scene in the days of Bluff King Hal, still serving a long term of imprisonment in the Tower of London, whither they were moved by order of the Commonwealth.”

I was intrigued. I’d never heard of such figures. I googled the pair to infinity, finding only one other mention – as their being ‘obscene.’ No pictures at all, no mention in any modern references to the Tower today.

Now I love an ancient obscene figure as much as the next Phantom, and when faced with the concept of two of them, I sniffed A Quest. Not least, perhaps, one of rescue. What the hell were they doing still languishing in the Tower when Greenwich could do with all the ancient obscene figures it could get? (And no, Chris Roberts doesn’t count.)

Since I couldn’t find anyone to tell me whether they were still there, there was only one thing for it. Co-opt a couple of American visitors and seek the jolly pair out myself.

We decided to do the whole tourist thing – I mean if you’re paying sixteen quid each you want every cheesy moment the Tower can throw at you. And believe me – there are cheesy moments a-go-go on a visit to the Tower. We did the Beefeater Tour, the Crown Jewels and the photo opportunity with the ravens. We paced up and down Sir Walter Raleigh’s Walk and dutifully voted about whether we thought the Little Princes were actually murdered by Richard III. We heard gory tales of Tyburn and Tower Hill and Jack Ketch, The Most Inept Executioner In All Of England. And then we got down to business.

The first Yeoman I asked didn’t know what the hell I was talking about – I doubt he gets many questions that don’t include Anne Boleyn, torture or his costume. It didn’t bode well. So I went for the oldest, beardiest, fattest-looking Beefeater I could find – always the best idea when asking obscure, I find. And obscene. Beer and Gin? Just by the stairs on the first floor in the White Tower, he told me. Tension mounted. Filth coming up…


You know, I spent a long time trying to work out what on earth was obscene about the strange pair in front of me. Waist-length carved wooden gentlemen in Tudor doublet and gown, each clutching a tankard in pudgy fingers and looking – well, a bit pathetic, actually.

They’ve clearly been knocked about a bit (by Cromwell, boo, hiss) and Beer has what looks like a whip wound around his middle. One of my American companions pointed out a slight bulge in an obvious place in Beer’s puffy pants, but frankly, I would defy Mary Whitehouse herself to find these two ‘obscene.’ Comic? Perhaps. Creepy? Definitely. Obscene? Nah…

I can only assume that Cromwell thought that the very act of drinking was obscene. Tell you what, though. Rude or not, I still think they could find a little spot for Beer and Gin in the new Interpretation Centre in Greenwich. Our very own Statler and Waldorf, commenting on goings-on from that balcony up the spiral staircase. I can just see it now:

Beer:”It’s good to be heckling again.”
Gin: “It’s good to be doing anything again!”
Both: “Ha ha ha ha!”

A new campaign for the Phantom, perhaps.

If I’m absolutely honest, there is something else more important (what – more important than Beer and Gin?) The Tower holds that I would like to see returned to Greenwich. But that’s for another day…

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