1720 - 1757 CE
The London "gin craze"

Efforts by the English king and Parliament to encourage production of gin to increase the price of grain and to provide tax revenue drove the price of gin down and consumption way up particularly among the poor.

Tobias Smollet, a physician, wrote that gin "was sold so cheap that the lowest class of the people could afford to indulge themselves in one continued state of intoxication, to the destruction of all morals, industry and order. Such a shameful degree of profligacy prevailed that the retailers of this poisonous compound set up painted boards in public, inviting people to be drunk for the small expense of one penny; assuring them they might be dead drunk for two-pence, and have straw for nothing."

Britain was an unstable place at the time—religious dissent, rebellion, corrupt politicians and displaced people flocking to the cities all contributed to the instability. The situation was made worse by the squalid living conditions in the slums. People were packed, ten per room, in dirty tenement houses. The only recreation or relief they could afford was gin. As one woman in 1725 said, “We market women are up early and late, and work hard for what we have” and if it were not for gin, “we should never be able to … keep body and soul together.” Between 1730 and 1749, seventy-five percent of all children born in London died before the age of five. Working conditions were brutal and dangerous. Crime increased and highwaymen became folk heroes of the poor.

As gin consumption went up among the poor, the upper classes of British society began to blame gin for all social ills. Wild stories were published in the press about mothers murdering their own children to sell their clothes to buy gin. Gin was reported to result in babies being born shriveled and looking old. And it was feared that gin made people unable to work or defend their country as soldiers, to produce or to consume the right things to keep the economy functioning.

Eventually the government was forced to try control the gin craze through a series of Gin Acts.

Source: Blocker, Fahey, & Tyrrell. (2003) Alcohol and temperance. Gately. (2008).Drink: A cultural history.

Drugs: Alcohol
Regions: UK (England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland)
Topics: Cultivation, production and trade, Cultural factors (social, religious, ritual), Health and social problems, Taxation and regulation