Q&A: what was a drunkard’s cloak used for?

What was a drunkard's cloak – also known as the 'Newcastle cloak' – used for? We investigate the curious history of the humiliating barrel attire...

What was a drunkard's cloak used for? This illustration shows a man wearing the archaic punishment tool designed to punish habitual drinkers. (Photo by Getty Images)

What was a drunkard’s cloak?

The drunkard’s cloak – also known as the ‘Newcastle cloak’ in the north of England – was a form of punishment used in the past for people who were perceived to have abused alcohol.

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It comprised of a barrel worn by the accused, which had a hole in the top for the head and sometimes two holes in the sides for the arms. Once suitably attired, the person wearing the drunkard’s cloak would be paraded through the town – effectively pilloried.

It is thought that the drunkard’s cloak was a common use of punishment during the rule of Oliver Cromwell, during which many of England’s alehouses were suppressed. Similar devices have also been recorded in other parts of Europe throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, where it was sometimes referred to as a ‘Spanish Mantle’.

Drinking culture in the north-east of England

In an episode of the HistoryExtra podcast, historian Dan Jackson highlights how the drunkard’s cloak was used as a punishment for “habitual drunkards” in the north east of England in the 16th and 17th centuries.

“It was called the ‘Newcastle cloak’, and it was a sort of barrel with straps on that you had to wear while you were paraded through town,” he tells HistoryExtra digital editorial assistant Rachel Dinning.

Drinking culture has been an intrinsic part of the north east of England for a very long time, Jackson adds.

“It’s a bit of a cliche, but it’s very deep seated,” he says. “Newcastle claims to be one of the first town’s in England to brew beer, for example. And ‘Newcastle hospitality’ was a well known phrase in the 18th century – this meant, essentially, to kill someone with kindness (aka take them out for a big drinking session).”


Listen on the podcast: Dan Jackson traces the distinctive history and culture of north east England, from ancient times to the present day


Where did this mentality come from? According to Jackson, the rise of a drinking culture in the north-east emerged as a result of the “dangerous but well-paid work that people were doing”.

“It was inevitable [that drinking] would happen when people had time off from this stressful work,” he says. “Coal miners were known for this certainly – and shipyard workers. Particularly seamen, who might have been away for months and arrived back home with money in their pocket.”

But it’s wasn’t all “fun and jolly japes” – and the negative impact of this culture of drinking is still felt today.

“Alcohol has always been an important part of Northumbrian culture – for better or worse. The rates of abuse are still high, plus it links with domestic abuse,” explains Jackson.

“But it’s always been a social lubricant of sorts, and Newcastle is still voted a party city today. It goes back centuries; it’s hard to shake off that culture.”

Dan Jackson is the author of The Northumbrians: North-East England and Its People: A New History

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Rachel Dinning is digital editorial assistant at HistoryExtra

Listen to the full interview with Dan Jackson on the HistoryExtra podcast