Vic Keegan’s Lost London 119: George Wilkins – brothel-keeper, playwright, thug

Vic Keegan’s Lost London 119: George Wilkins – brothel-keeper, playwright, thug

Turnmill Street in Clerkenwell was the most notorious road in Tudor and Stuart London, a place where violence, drunkenness and prostitution were rife. There was a brothel, thinly disguised as a pub, around its junction with Cowcross Street (pictured). It was run by a highly discreditable fellow called George Wilkins, a violent man who was regularly in and out of prison for a variety of offences, including kicking a pregnant woman and stamping on others.

He and his pub would be of no interest at all, except for one thing: he wrote a play with William Shakespeare. 

The play in question was Pericles, first performed in 1608. Wilkins is thought to have written most of the first two acts, and the brothel scenes would reflect much of his first-hand experience. It was not his first play. He wrote The Miseries of Enforced Marriage, based on a real-life murder trial, which was performed with some success at the Globe Theatre in 1606, and he briefly collaborated with some other minor Jacobean playwrights. 

Theatres at that time had a close link with prostitutes, who frequently plied their trade both outside them and inside. Given this, it is not surprising that Shakespeare became acquainted with Wilkins, who also had links with the Mountjoy family, whose house in Silver Street, Cripplegate, Shakespeare lodged in for a couple of years. Both Shakespeare and Wilkins were witnesses in the legal case Belott v Mountjoy in 1612.

Wilkins died in 1618, two years after Shakespeare, an unlamented rogue with a talent he never fulfilled.

The rest of Vic Keegan’s Lost London series can be found here. His latest volume of poetry can be bought here. is dedicated to providing fair, thorough, anti-populist coverage of London’s politics, development and culture. It depends on donations from readers and would like to pay its freelance contributors better. Can you spare £5 (or more) a month? Follow this link if you would like to help. Thank you.

Categories: Culture, Lost London


  1. Rosie Brocklehurst Franczak says:

    The Castle Pub now lies on the corner of Turnmill Street with CowCross Street, but do not be lulled into thinking that the Castle Pub was built upon the foundations of an Inn (and probably a brothel) run by the lowlife George Wilkins. Prior to 1925 Cow Cross Street took up a large part of the southern end of the current Turnmill Street, so the current junction was a continuation of Cowcross Street. Wilkin’s Inn-cum-brothel was in Turnmill St, which began much further up the existing Road, towards Clerkenwell. We have no record of the name of Wilkin’s Inn, but two Inns known to have been siutated in Turnmill Street of the time, were The Cock and The Rose.

  2. Jeanie Sainsbury says:

    My grandfather’s name was George Wilkins and he was born in London.

    This George may or may not be related to me but I found it very interesting.

    My grandfather is remembered at the Tower Hill cemetery in London as he was killed whilst working on the SS King Erik.

    Thank you

  3. Victor Keegan says:

    Thanks, Jeanie

    That’s interesting though of course the original George was a lot earlier. You could trace back his history but that would be a bit of a longshot.

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