The London Gin Craze. (Gin Craze)

The more bloody, vile or depraved that history is, the more interesting it becomes. And you can't get more vile and depraved that 18th Century London and its HUNDREDS of gin shops.........

Gin Lane by William Hogarth, 1751

The Gin Craze was a period in the first half of the 18th century when the consumption of gin became popular with the working classes in Britain - especially in London. There ensued an epidemic of extreme drunkenness that provoked moral outrage and a legislative backlash which some compare to the modern drug wars.

Five major Acts were passed Between 1729 and 1751 designed to control the consumption of gin (in 1729, 1736, 1743, 1747 and 1751). Though many similar drinks were available, and alcohol consumption was considerable at all levels of society, it was gin, (otherwise known as Mother's Ruin, Madam Geneva, The Makeshift, and even 'King Theodor of Corsica') which caused the greatest public concern.

Gin was popularised in England following the accession of William of Orange in 1688. Gin provided an alternative to French brandy at a time of both political and religious conflict between Britain and France. Between 1689 and 1697 the Government passed a range of legislation aimed at restricting brandy imports and encouraging gin production. Most importantly, the monopoly of the London Guild of Distillers was broken in 1690, thereby opening up the market in gin distillation. The production and consumption of English gin, which was then popular amongst politicians and even the Queen Anne, was encouraged by the government.

Economic protectionism was a major factor in beginning the Gin Craze; as the price of food dropped and income grew, consumers suddenly had the opportunity to spend excess funds on liquor. By 1721, however, Middlesex magistrates were already decrying it as "the principal cause of all the vice & debauchery committed among the inferior sort of people". In 1736, the Middlesex Magistrates complained that ‘It is with the deepest concern your committee observe the strong Inclination of the inferior Sort of People to these destructive Liquors, and how surprisingly this Infection has spread within these few Years … it is scarce possible for Persons in low Life to go anywhere or to be anywhere, without being drawn in to taste, and, by Degrees, to like and approve of this pernicious Liquor.’

The British government tried a number of times to stop the flow of gin. The 1736 Gin Act imposed a duty of 20 shillings a gallon on spirits and a required licencees to take out a £50 annual license to sell gin. The aim was to effectively prohibit the trade by making it uneconomical. However, only two licences were ever taken out. The trade became illegal, consumption dipped but then continued to rise and the law was effectively repealed in 1743 following mass law-breaking and violence (particularly towards informers who were paid £5 to reveal the whereabouts of illegal gin shops). The illegally distilled gin which was produced following the 1736 Act was less reliable and more likely to result in poisoning.

By 1743, the people of England were drinking 2.2 GALLONS of gin annually per head of population--a fair amount for individuals who were significantly smaller and less robust than we are today. As consumption levels increased, an organised campaign for more effective legislation began to emerge led by the Bishop of Sodor and Man, Thomas Wilson (who, in 1736, had complained, tellingly, that gin produced a 'drunken ungovernable set of people'). Prominent anti-gin campaigners included Henry Fielding (whose 1751 'Enquiry into the Late Increase in Robbers' blamed gin consumption for both increased crime and increased ill health among children), Josiah Tucker, Daniel Defoe (who had originally campaigned for the liberalisation of distilling, but later complained that drunken mothers were threatening to produce a 'fine spindle-shanked generation' of children), and - briefly - William Hogarth. Hogarth's famous engraving "Gin Lane" provides the most memorable image of the gin craze.

The Gin Craze began to peter out following the 1751 Gin Act. This Act lowered the annual licence fees, but encouraged 'respectable' gin selling by requiring licencees to trade from premises rented at at least £10 a year. It is also claimed, however, that gin consumption was reduced not as a result of legislation but because of the rising cost of grain. Landowners could afford to abandon the production of gin, and this fact coupled with population growth and a series of poor harvests resulted in lower wages and increased food prices. The Gin Craze was mostly dead by 1757, which is when the government attempted to ensure that it would stay that way by temporarily banning the manufacture of spirits from domestic grain.

* In the early years of the 18th Century, there were 7000 dram-shops in England, in a country whose population was only around 5 million.

* By 1740, there were 9000 shops selling cheap gin in London alone.

* Gin cold be sold to people of ALL ages - women often bought some for their babies.

* English gins were often flavoured with herbs and spices and Juniper berries.
And malaria was a bloody good excuse in India for having to have a regular G and T to get your quinine dose!
Ah, the good old days
hmm me thinks that was whig propaganda left over in the history books. lol
Lemon Gin; Panty Remover.
William Hogarth (1697-1764) was a British artist who produced many great paintings and prints. His prints have been his most popular works, and show with great accuracy what life was like in Britain in the 18th Century and the kind of depravity and drunkenness that were found on our streets. His most famous print is Gin Lane (1751). In the early 19th Century, most households in Britain probably had at least one Hogarth print on the wall.

Here are some more of his prints, which are probably so accurate of life in Britain in those days they are almost like photographs -

Beer Street (1751)

The Distrest (Distressed) poet (1736)

The Enraged Musician (1741) [[Notice the little boy urinating]]

Scholars Listening to a Lecture (1736)

The Gate of Calais ((or The Roast Beef of Old England)) (1749)

[[Hogarth hated the French. He went to Calais to draw this picture, but was arrested half way through drawing it as the French thought he was a spy - this was not long after Britain and France were at war with each other. Hogarth believed, rightly, that at this time Britain was the freest, and probably the ONLY free, country in Europe. He showed the tyranny and the dictatorship that the French lived under by drawing a soldier marching past in the picture and a man carrying a giant piece of roast beef (a food which the English ate a lot of then) to symbolise England's freedom - Hogarth later set up a society - called the Sublime Society of Beefsteaks - in which people ate roast beef as a way of symbolising the freedom of the English. Its motto was "Beef and Liberty" and the society is still around today. In the middle distance, on the left, is Hogarth himself sketching a picture. After his arrest in France, he never went abroad again. To this day, the French call the English "les rosbifs". In the foreground is a Scotsman, sitting on the floor, who had fled to France after the Jacobites had been defeated]]

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