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Sailors At Play

The seamy side

At any one time, there could be as many as 10,000 sailors in a big port like Liverpool. Many would have money in their pockets, having just been `paid off` a ship after a hard voyage of many months. Others would be enjoying themselves before sailing with their `advances`. When they agreed to join a ship they were paid part of their wages for the forthcoming voyage. Their first priority was usually a drink, then perhaps some decent food, music and dance, and female company. 

No discussion of a port at play would be complete without looking at the more notorious aspects, such as prostitution, drugs and alcohol.


Sailors arriving in port have often been away for a long time without female company. On shore leave, with money in their pockets, this combination led to an increased demand for prostitutes and their `pimps`, men who give these women some protection but live off their earnings.

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Commonly associated with prostitution is drug abuse. Ports are one of the main entry points for illegal drugs, indeed, sailors themselves may have been involved in importing them. Drugs are therefore often readily available. Drug traffickers see people out for a good time as easy targets. Sailors are not the only targets for these activities.The existence of `red light areas` attracts people from far and wide and historically port cities have had more of a problem with these activities than an inland city.


It`s not only the illegal activities of drug abuse and prostitution that can occur in a port. Alcohol has traditionally been linked with sailors in fact and fiction alike.To quote a famous line from Robert Louis Stevenson in 1881:

Fifteen men on a dead man`s chest,

yo ho ho and a bottle of rum,

drink and the devil be done for the rest,

yo ho ho and a bottle of rum

Pubs and bars were one of the few social spaces open to sailors on shore leave, and offered them a ready welcome.


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