In the early 18th century, the British working class was a characterisation of poverty, malnutrition, disease and all-around-misery. At first they turned to beer for a quick fix of lifting their spirits.
But with the first taste of gin, nothing was the same. It gave them the wanted buzz, and it was cheap!
Soon, it became an uncontrollable menace that almost brought London down to its knees.
In late 17th century, England and France were fighting, so the British restricted the importation of French brandy.
The government however, encouraged the distillation of gin by placing very low tax on it. This made the gin craze spin out of good reason. There was absolutely no control over the manufacture or consumption of gin. And as long as exclusively British ingredients were used… even the Parliament gave you free reign. Why? Landowners, who suffered periods of bad harvests needed their produce to be bought. They were the ones dominating the Parliament.
“You may here get drunk for one penny. Dead drunk for twopence.” This is one of many advertisements for gin.
Brand names such as ‘Cuckold’s Comfort’ and ‘Knock Me Down’ painted a clear picture of what was ahead for the british.
Gin brands, such as ‘Old Tom’ were boosted with loads of sugar to mask the foul taste and bad production. Even turpentine and sulphuric acid were added to make it taste better. It wasn’t the smooth clear liquor we can enjoy today.
Consumption rose sevenfold. Gin was everywhere. In over 7000 shops, more than 10 million gallons were distilled yearly in London alone. Adults would drink more than half a pint daily.
And the children… weren’t far behind.
Murder and abuse became a norm in the gin crazed London. In 1727, the first taxation on gin saw the light of day. 5 shilling on the gallon. That amount was raised to 20 shillings in 1736, and a 50 pound license was to be bought if you wanted to sell gin.
These new rules didn’t get London out of despair. Riots arose, and and the government had to loosen the ropes. London was back at it’s knees.
In the 50’s, highly appreciated londoners, such as William Hogart, the painter who painted the Gin Lane – one of the most staggering portrayals of the topic at hand (see featured image); and the writer, Mr. Fielding, have publicly condemned gin, naming it a poison, poisoning over a hundred thousand Londoners. Their outspoken ways led to the government gaining strength and advocating really tough measures, also known as the Tippling Act of 1751. This act was the beginning of ending the gin craze. Taxes were raised, and there were penalties for lawbreakers, such as whipping, exile to the colonies and even prison.
By 1760 gin consumption was down to two million gallons per year. London could now restore its former glory.