John Burnett / “Spirits: ‘Water of Life'” / Liquid Pleasures: A Social History of Drink in Modern Britain / 1999

Photo from Mass Observation, UK social research organization founded in 1937.

1850, British urbanization up, long factory hours up, spirit consumption up. In response, temperance movement began in 1828 as anti-spirits campaign. 1860-1875, w/1875 as high point in spirit consumption, 1.3 gallons/head, with working class spending power going to traditional leisure activity of drink. 1880s, decline in spirit consumption because of other spending options, imported foodstuffs, manufactured goods, etc. [see Burnett’s “beer” chapter]. WW1 (1914-1918) decline turning point in Britain spirit consumption. Restrictions, drinking down. Restrictions unpopular but successful. 1915-1918, 35 million gallons consumed per year down to 15 million. Post-war euphoria in 1919 created brief spirit consumption up, then back down. For labor force, average real wages up 1/3 between the wars, but drank less because of other forms of entertainment. Popular image of 1920s “bright young thing” drinking at cocktail parties, night clubs at variance with reality of spirit consumption down. Much-publicized excesses belonged to small population. 1st English cocktail party by painter CRW Nevison, 1924. By 1938, in “Worktown” (Bolton, Lancashire) 4 of every 7 pubs sold no spirits. “For the ordinary Worktowner drink equals beer, and drinking of spirits by ordinary pubgoers is very small.” A landlord said: those who did order spirits were usually either suffering illness or businessmen hard-pressed by work or financial problems. WW2 (1939-45), drink and national efficiency wasn’t a concern, but supply was.


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