In a bid to put a stop to the “Gin Craze” William Hogarth produced two engravings to provide alternative visions of London.
Gin Lane portrays slum of St Giles north of Covent Garden. The central figure, a drunk, half-naked prostitute with syphilitic sores on her legs, is oblivious of her baby tumbling to its death. In the background a carpenter and a housewife desperately tryto pawn their tools and pans to buy gin. Behind the wall a young boy competes with a dog to gnaw on a bone. The skeletal ballad-singer in the foreground is clearly at deaths door and his black dog symbolises despair.
Beer Street, by contrast, is the heaven to Gin Lane’s hell. It is set in the affluent area of Westminster, trades and crafts appear to thrive. It depicts healthy, well-fed labourers at leisure, enjoying large, frothing tankards of beer. A newspaper on the table reports a speech by the king which recommends “the Advancement of Our Commerce and cultivating the Arts of Peace”. Fishwives with overflowing baskets suggest thata society based on solid, honest values – (untainted by that dirty foreign spirit, gin) – will be rewarded with abundance and wealth.
The End of the Gin Craze!
The 1751 Gin Act, was the last and most successful in a long succession of acts against the spirit. It prohibited gin distillers from selling to unlicensed merchants, which dramatically reduced gins availability.
Back in Vougue
By the 1860’s Gin had left behind it’s chequered past and was becoming the sophisticated and respectable drink that we enjoy today.
Prohibition dramatically increased the number of rich Americans in Europe and equally importantly the number of US trained bartenders. This bought us up to speed with cocktails (Thank Goodness).