Hogarth's grim depiction of a society addicted to gin, 1768


Alcoholism was widespread amongst the poor in the 1700s, and the rise of the ‘gin craze’ became infamous. Gin was cheap and potent, and for many people offered a quick release from the grinding misery of everyday life. By the 1730s, over 6,000 houses in London were openly selling gin to the general public. The drink was available everywhere, from street markets, grocers and chandlers to barbers and brothels.

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 destructive effects of the drink; the slogan in Hogarth’s gin shop reads, ‘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, magistrate and 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 1750s 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.

Full title:
Hogarth Moralized. Being a complete edition of Hogarth's works containing near fourscore copper-plates ... with an explanation ... and a comment on their moral tendency [by John Trusler], etc.
1768, London
Print / Image
William Hogarth
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library

Full catalogue details

Related articles

An introduction to The Beggar’s Opera

Article by:
Moira Goff
Satire and humour, Theatre and entertainment

The Beggar's Opera was an instant hit and became the most performed play of the 18th century. Moira Goff explores the elements that made up John Gay's work, from its popular tunes and dances to its satirical targets and depiction of a criminal underworld.

Health, hygiene and the rise of ‘Mother Gin’ in the 18th century

Article by:
Matthew White

Against a backdrop of industrialisation and the subsequent over-crowding in the cities, Matthew White investigates health and hygiene in 18th century Britain.

Representations of drugs in 19th-century literature

Article by:
Sharon Ruston
Romanticism, Fin de siècle, Technology and science

Opium was widely available in the 19th century, sold by barbers, tobacconists and stationers. Writers including Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Charles Dickens all used the drug, for pleasure or as medicine. Professor Sharon Ruston explores how drugs provided both inspiration and subject matter for the literature of the period.

Related collection items

Related people

Related works

Tom Jones

Created by: Henry Fielding

Tom Jones is a picaresque story that chronicles the humorous escapades, romances and redemption of its roguish ...