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In 1830, Parliament passed the Beer Act which removed the tax on beer and laid down that anyone paying rates (used for the upkeep of the poor), could apply for a license, costing just two guineas from Customs and Excise, to brew beer and sell it on their own premises to the public.

Magistrates would no longer be involved in this aspect of the licensing process so there were no checks on the suitability of people involved or the premises. Almost overnight, Beer Houses sprang up across the country as people (including enterprising Stentifords, Stedifords et al) realised the significance of the change. By 1838, it was estimated that there were over 46,000 private dwellings being used for the sale and consumption of alcohol.

Beer Street by William Hogarth

Beer Street by William Hogarth

 

Gin Lane by William Hogarth

So why did the Duke of Wellington's administration pass this new law? The answer lies in pictures like these by William Hogarth and the writings of leading literary figures of the time who were appalled by the perpetual drunkenness of the people they saw around them, especially in London.

At this time, gin was classed as a medicine and the Excise Duty payable on it was just two pence a gallon in the 18th century. By the start of the 19th century, the government of the day discovered that an average Londoner drank 14 gallons of that spirit every year.

Gin Lane by William Hogarth

 

The Authorities tried to control the sale of gin by imposing a huge license fee of 50 but it proved impossible to control sales because dealers simply went to ground and continued selling. It took another Act of Parliament to compel those applying for licenses to appear before the Clerk of the Peace at Quarter Sessions and it was not until 1828 that the Clerks of the Peace were compelled to keep licensing records.

It was felt by everyone in Authority at the time that gin was the cause of most of the social problems of the poor and that the working classes should be encouraged to drink other beverages. Brandy and wine were popular choices for wealthy people but they attracted higher excise duty and poorer people could not afford them. Beer seemed an ideal choice; agriculture would benefit though a greater demand for malted barley and the brewing process was simple enough to be a cottage industry. It would be far less injurious than gin so the removal of all tax on beer in 1830 brought it within the reach of even the poorest people.

 

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  Last modified:
30/09/2005