Map showing the situation of all premises licensed for the sale of intoxicating liquors in the County of London
Publisher: London County Council
Medium: Print on paper
"Work is the curse of the drinking classes," said Oscar Wilde in his famous reversal of the generally held Victorian view that habitual drunkenness was the cause of poverty among working-class people. Licensing laws had been established as early as 1551 to regulate "such abuses and disorders as are had and used in common ale-houses and other places called tippling houses". Drinking spirits became popular among working people from the 1690s onwards. By 1732, over half of London's more than 25,000 licensed premises were spirit bars. The most popular tipple was gin, the original 'Dutch courage' introduced from the Low Countries, where it had been used to fortify British troops against cold and damp during the Thirty Years War. In 1736, a Gin Act tried to curb sales by imposing a heavy duty on gin, claiming that "great numbers were by its use rendered unfit for useful labour, debauched in morals and drawn into all manner of vice and wickedness." By putting the price of gin beyond the means of ordinary people, the Act succeeded only in encouraging illicit production and causing riots in the streets. It was repealed in 1742.