Friday, January 08, 2010 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 3000

"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prohibition, which was repealed seven years

James Nicholls, "Drink: The British
Disease?," History Today, January
2010, Volume: 60 Issue: 1, pp. 10-17.


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