Gin addiction

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    Alcoholism was widespread amongst the poor in the 1700s, and the rise of the ‘gin craze’ became infamous. Gin was cheap and extremely strong, and for many people offered a quick release from the grinding misery of everyday life. By the 1730s, over 6000 houses in London were openly selling gin to the general public. The drink was available in street markets, grocers, chandlers, barbers and brothels.  By the 1740s gin consumption in Britain had reached an average of over six gallons per person every year.

     

    This print by William Hogarth, entitled Gin Lane, depicts all the chaos and misery of a drunken society. The print was intended to show the evil effects of gin; the slogan in Hogarth’s gin shop reading, ‘drunk for a penny, dead drunk for twopence, clean straw for nothing’.

     

    Crime, poverty and a soaring death rate were all linked to the insatiable demand for ‘Madame Geneva’ as the drink was known. In 1751 novelist Henry Fielding argued that there would soon be ‘few of the common people left to drink it’ if the situation continued.  The crisis required decisive political attention. In the 1740s and 50s Parliament was forced to pass a series of acts restricting both the sale of spirits and its manufacture, in order to bring the situation back under control.

     

    Shelfmark Tab583 f.13

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