Tag Archives: gin

Beer and Gin

The early 1700s was the time of the gin craze. Far from its modern image of G&Ts for the gin and Jag set, this was the cheap gin of Mother’s Ruin, with the slogan “Drunk for a Penny, Dead Drunk for Twopence, Straw for Nothing.” Gin was the drink of the poor who had nothing else. As Paulson notes, “For the poor man of this period, as Francis Place wrote, ‘none but the animal sensations are left; to these his enjoyments are limited, and even these are frequently reduced to two—namely sexual intercourse and drinking…Of the two…drunkenness is by far the most desired’ since it provides a longer period of escape and costs only a penny” [1991, III 25]. The sad fact is that Francis Place was writing a century later.

The gin craze got worse during the 1740s and the increased consumption of gin was seen (by the propertied classes in London) as contributing to crime. The magistrate (and author) Henry Fielding, who confronted poor criminals on a daily basis, was perturbed. He wrote a tract, An Enquiry into the Causes of the Late Increase of Robbers, published in January 1751. To increase the impact of his Enquiry, he turned to his friend William Hogarth, presumably before the Enquiry was published, and Hogarth in turn produced his famous pendant pair of prints, Beer Street and Gin Lane.


The anti-gin campaign led to the passing of the Gin Act later in 1751 and gin consumption declined dramatically over the next decade.

Hogarth’s prints have been much-analyzed and indeed are very rewarding of analysis, but I do not want to talk about their content here. Instead, we note Hogarth’s advertisement for the prints, which appeared in the London Evening Post of February 14–16 1751.

This Day are publish’d, Price 1 s. each.
Two large Prints, design’d and etch’d by Mr. Hogarth called
BEER-STREET and GIN-LANE
A Number will be printed in a better Manner for the Curious, at 1s. 6d. each.
And on Thursday following will be publish’d four Prints on the Subject of Cruelty, Price and Size the same.
N.B. As the Subjects of these Prints are calculated to reform some reigning Vices peculiar to the lower Class of People, in hopes to render them of more extensive use, the Author has published them in the cheapest Manner possible.
To be had at the Golden Head in Leicester-Fields, Where may be had all his other Works.

While a price of one shilling kept the prints out of the hands of “the lower Class of People”, it did get them into taverns and coffee-houses, where they achieved wide display.

These prints also provide the first clear evidence of a connection between Hogarth and Kirby, for already by 9 March, Kirby was advertising Hogarth’s prints in the Ipswich Journal.

This Day are Publish’d, (Price 1s. each) Two large PRINTS, design’d and etch’d by Mr. Hogarth, call’d BEER-STREET and GIN-LANE. A Number will be printed in a better Manner for the Curious, at 1s. 6d. each. Also Four Prints on the Subject of Cruelty, Price and Size the same.

N.B. As the Subjects of these Prints are calculated to reform some reigning Vices peculiar to the lower Class of People, in hopes to render them of more extensive Use, the Author has published them in the cheapest Manner possible.

To be had of Joshua Kirby in Ipswich, and of Mr. Hogarth at the Golden Head in Leicester-Fields; where may be had, all his other Works.

I don’t know that Hogarth had any other agents selling these prints.

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The Perils of Drink

The Perils of Drink

Back in the 1700s, the English were always getting into trouble drinking. Some things never change. Here is a selection of stories from the Ipswich Journal of the late 1720s.

Yesterday two Men quarrelling at an Alehouse in Holborn, went by Agreement into the Fields to fight, and one gave the other a Kick on his Groin which kill’d him on the Spot.

That same newspaper also carried the following advertisements for those seeking refreshment:

At Mrs. Thomas Summers at the King’s Head in Debenham, will be Sold good White and Red Port, at the following Prizes, viz. White port at 6s, 8d per Gallon, and 1s 8d per Quart within the House; and 6s per Gallon, and 1s 6 per Quart without Doors; Red Port at 6s 8d per Gallon, and 1s 8d per Quart within the House; and 6s per Gallon, and 1s 6d per Quart without Doors.

At Timothy Dickerson, living in St. Peter’s Parish, Ipswich, fine Cognac Brandy and Foreign Rum at Seven Shillings per Gallon, and right Holland Geneva at Five Shillings and Four Pence per Gallon; and fine Bohea Tea, by Wholesale or Retail at 12s. per Pound. N.B. He Sell no British Brandy, nor never did.

Being a tradesman was a chancy thing, and not all the punters were honest.

We hear from Eltham in Kent, that last Week two Fellows that were drinking at an Alehouse there, paid their Reckoning in new Half-Pence; but the Landlord shewing them afterwards to some Persons in the House, they were discovered to be counterfeited, being made of false Metal, upon which they pursued and found them at the next Alehouse on the Road, where, it seems they intended to play the same Game, and being seized and searched, they found more of the like Counterfeit Coin upon then, and the Moulds in which they were made, also Moulds for Shillings and Six-pences, upon which they were carried before a Magistrate and committed to Maidstone Goal.

And beware those drinking competitions.

We are informed from Thorn near Hagerston in Northumberland, That last Friday 7-Night, Francis Cooper and Joshua Threils, two noted Brandy Drinkers in those Parts, who for several Times had contended which could drink most, engaged each other which should drink most, the latter fell dead in taking off his 5th Pint Glass, and the former is so dangerously ill that ’tis thought he can’t recover.

It’s not just brandy you have to be careful of, there’s also gin.

Last Wednesday Night one White, a Barber in Salisbury Court, Fleet-Street, laid a Wager that he drank four Half Pints of Geneva, one at a Draught, in eight Minutes; and at drinking his second Half-Pint, dropt down dead.

Take care, people.