1/8/10 - alcohol

In today's excerpt - binge drinking bars liquor licenses new forms of intoxication and attempts at prohibition go back hundreds (if not thousands) of years. In London in 1628 there were 130 churches and over 3,000 alehouses:

"In Britain, concerns over drunkenness go back a long way. The first Licensing Act passed in 1552, required alehouse-keepers to acquire a license from local justices on the grounds that 'intolerable hurts and troubles' arose from drunkenness in 'common alehouses'. The following year rules were introduced strictly limiting the number of wine taverns that could open in any one town. This legislative distinction between common alehouses and more exclusive wine taverns reflected a long-standing social stratification of drinks in Britain. Lack of native viticulture made imported wine an elite drink, while ale, and later beer (made with hops, which were only widely used from the 15th century), were associated with more popular drinking cultures. ...

"[For] the poet and courtly aspirant George Gascoigne drunkenness was not an indigenous trait but the result of recent contact with heavy drinking north Europeans. Furthermore, its spread demonstrated how fashion could become entrenched as tradition if not swiftly checked. ...

"Not everyone blamed Continental trends. In his pamphlet Anatomy of Abuses, published in 1583, the Puritan Phillip Stubbes cited the legacy of pre-Reformation festive culture, especially the 'church-ales' which had played an important role in late-medieval local economies. From this perspective, drunkenness was linked to the corrupting practices of a Catholic past rather than to the new-fangled fashions of Britain's Continental neighbors. ...

"In 1628 one Richard Rawlidge complained that whereas in London there were less than 130 churches, there were 'above thirty hundred alehouses'. ..

"Until the late 17th century the social stratification of alcohol tended to be expressed in relation to courtly wine, urban beer and bucolic ale. The liberalization of the gin trade following the accession of William III [in the early 18th century] threw an entirely new substance into this mix. Partly designed to promote a domestic alternative to French brandy, deregulation contributed to a staggering rise in consumption and triggered impassioned debates on the role of the state in regulating this new and dangerous commodity. In 1736 it also produced a disastrous attempt at gin prohibition, which was repealed seven years later."


James Nicholls


Drink: The British Disease?


History Today


Volume: 60, Issue: 1


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