National Spirits THIST 365 final
Published on: Mar 3, 2016
Transcripts - National Spirits THIST 365 final
Public Drinks, Public Spirit: The Public House
and Nationalism in Britain, 1890-1914.
J. Bradon Rothschild
European History of the 20th Century
Dr. Johann Reusch
March 19, 2013
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Through the late 19th and early 20th centuries the political
and cultural geography shifted dramatically. The new, popular
form of government, representative democracy, forced popular
culture to the forefront of both commercial and political
cultures of the new nations of Europe. No longer were the
kingdoms of Europe guided by the whims of only the aristocracy,
but now were guided by popular opinion. This departure from
historical trends built new cultural experiences as political
groups attempted to capitalize on newly empowered middle and
lower class citizen consumers and voters. The Public House –
Pub – and alcohol were no different from any other market of the
time period. Over the course of Le Belle Epoch, British pubs
and other drinking establishments centralized and modernized in
an effort to civilize the establishments and expand their
patronage throughout the burgeoning classes of the growing
British history is drenched in alcohol, primarily beers and
ales. Records dating back to the 15th century show that in many
areas of England it was not uncommon for the daily allotment of
ale or beer to exceed 1 gallon a day1. Frenchmen travelling
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through England commented on the overt drunkenness of British
men and women2. It was not uncommon in the medieval Britain for
people to begin drinking ale in the morning and continue
drinking throughout the day; moreover, this extended not only to
the lower class peasants, but included middle and upper class
aristocracy3. Though drinking ran rampant in British society,
the public never viewed drunkenness as problematic until the
mid-19th century, when Victorian doctors began treating the first
cases of alcoholism4.
By the end of the 19th century public drinking
establishments such as Public Houses – colloquially called
“Pubs” – fell into disrepute as understanding about the social
damage alcohol could inflict became more readily apparent5. With
the rise of industrialization, the railroad, and long distance
travel, drinking establishments such as inns, once way-stations
for weary travelers, faded and went out of business. These
socio-economic and geo-economic changes, combined with beer-hall
licensing laws passed in the late 1860’s, helped to create a new
system of pubs with at least two distinct classes of
establishments: the beerhouse and the gin palace6.
Gin palaces themselves were not new by the late 19th
century. With the rise of the middle class and the rapid growth
of the consumer market, larger, more elegantly decorated and
refined establishments were expected to cater to middle and
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upper class clientele, and primarily women7. Gin palaces were
noted for their crystal and glass décor, which bolstered the
perception that they were psychotropic in themselves, an attempt
to bend the visitors understanding of reality8.
The attitude toward alcohol and drinking venues by the end
of the 19th century was thus tempered by views a degraded and
degrading system and newly established social and physical ills
associated with alcohol. In the late Victorian era many social
reformers began to push for broad changes in public policy
toward alcohol. In the early half of the century, reformers
successfully passed legislative measures requiring alcohol
selling establishments to acquire licenses to do so, thereby
limiting their numbers. These laws created the new beer-houses
later associated with the lower classes and helped to close
remaining rural inns9. The later part of the Victorian era was
dominated by two groups of temperance reformers who aimed at
similar licensing restrictions and regulations: the
Gothenburgers and the followers of the Bishop of Chester.
The philosophy driving Gothenburgers derived from a system
of licensing put in place in Gothenburg, Sweden established in
the mid-19th century in order to curb crime associated with
public drunkenness10. By restricting the number of licenses
offered, the city contained and controlled the scope of alcohol
availability, thereby restricting the spread of alcohol related
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crime11. Gothenburgers in Britain ostensibly wanted to
accomplish the same goals12. They not only attempted to restrict
the licensing of public houses, but began regulating that public
houses needed to serve drinks other than alcoholic beverages,
and thereby elevate the class and sobriety of clientele13.
The Gothenburg system encompassed an immense shift in
policy beyond the regulating of licensing and beverages. With
the first round of attempts at reform, pub owners and managers
defeated implementation by rallying votes against the reform
measures14. However, Gothenburgers successfully then
successfully passed measures through Parliament which replaced
the profit driven, commission rewarded managers with government
regulated salaried managers, who would thereby have no qualm
with profit restricting reforms15. By breaking down that barrier,
other reformers such as the Bishop of Chester were able to begin
regulating size, layout, and décor of pubs.
As mentioned earlier, the second primary figure in the
reform of the pub was the Bishop of Chester. He, and his
followers, focused their efforts not on limiting the number of
pubs, but on regulating what went on inside the establishments16.
Among these regulations were the inclusion of tables and
“booths”, as opposed to bars and bar seating17. The Bishop of
Chester continued his reform not only regulating that tables and
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booths be placed within pubs, but that the tables be furnished
with tablecloths and vases of flowers18.
The primary goal of the Bishop of Chester was to elevate
the class of pubs and to ensure that they were not simply venues
for poor people to get drunk, but places for middle-class
families to enjoy food, drink, and socialization19. By bringing
middle-class sentiments and clientele to pubs, the once
disreputable bars would be civilized and crime brought down. In
this way the reforms of the pub, and other drinking
establishments, were aimed at ridding cities of the blight of
the pub and to universalize the experience of the pub and gin
This is the essence of nationalization, to place the
national interest above the individual, and thereby erase or
ease individual experiences in favor of collective experiences20.
The requirements of the Bishop of Chester’s proposals began the
elimination of local variants in pubs. The new regulations
began to universalize the layout of pubs, infuse them with new
beverages and foods – another requirement put forth by the
Bishop of Chester aimed at quelling drunkenness21– and to
diversify the class of clientele.
The changing demographics of the British Pub in the
Edwardian era – 1901-1910 – showed a sharp trend of
gentrification as a result of the reforms of the late Victorian
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and early Edwardian eras. As pubs modernized, adding the newly
required amenities, middle-class patrons slowly began to leave
their normal haunts, such as the gin palaces, for these revamped
The effects of these two groups of reformers became readily
apparent, especially in the later part of the Edwardian era.
With the limitation of pub licensing supported by the British
Gothenburgs, fewer and fewer pubs were allowed to remain open,
concentrating the remaining neighborhood pubs into much larger
pubs23. As a direct result of restricted licensing, and the
centralization of the pubs, the size and scale of the public
house grew massively. Some pubs in London seated over 500
patrons, where only 50 years before they would seat a fraction
of that24. Combined with the gentrification and beautification,
the public house had been irrevocably transformed over the
The centralization and universalization of public meeting
spaces altered social consciousness and overall culture. Rather
than small neighborhood pubs, inns, taverns, alehouses and
beerhouses or the lavish gin and crystal palaces which marked
Britain’s medieval and renaissance periods up to the 19th
century, citizens patronized new pubs centralized primarily in
industrialized city centers25, mostly serving the same beverages
with very similar if not the same décor. The effect this had on
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society was clear: the beginning of homogenization of a diverse
It is important to note that the changes to the public
house and other drinking establishments extended beyond simply
England, throughout the United Kingdoms. In Wales the effects
of these reforms are seen as a blatant attempt to dull Welsh
nationality with an over-riding British nationality, dominated
Wales had long been subjugated by the English. Stories of
English Imperialism are readily apparent in Welsh literature
such as Richard Llewellyn’s How Green was My Valley, wherein an
English school teacher ridicules a pupil for speaking Welsh,
admonishing him to speak English27. Though a piece of fictional
literature, it captured the relationship between English and
Welsh succinctly. English, especially English aristocracy,
economically and socially dominated their neighbors and
attempted to supplant their cultures.
Pre-industrial Welsh drinking establishments reflected a
far different sentiment than the nationalized pubs of Edwardian
Britain. They were festive halls where drinking, dancing, and
story-telling were common and expected28. Most rural villages
had at least one such venue, and the majority of the population,
from children to adults, attended on a regular basis. As the
new Gothenburg licensing laws came into effect, these
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establishments, as happened elsewhere in Britain, consolidated
primarily to the industrial cities in the south29. While the
drinking, dancing, and story-telling did not cease, it was again
the scale which changed the most. As fewer pubs remained open,
patrons were forced to patronize the remaining ones rather than
their old, now closed haunts. Just as English replaced the
Welsh Language, the Welsh standard for drinking was replaced by
In truth the pub was one of many establishments to be
centralized and universalized in the late Victorian and
Edwardian periods. The trend of “collectivism” over
“individualism” was readily apparent throughout the government
as local governments lost power to the national government30.
This was certainly true in Wales where British national laws
over-rode local traditions and re-wrote their culture. Due in
large part to a “train sized” brought by industrialization and
the “mass polity” of a democratic society, a national culture,
one which trumpeted unity over individualism, over-wrought the
British Isles31. In the name of national interests of protection
and defense, Parliament brought the public house and all
drinking establishments under nationalized control during World
War I32, thereby completing the task of the nationalized pub.
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Alter, Peter. Nationalism. London: Edward Arnold. 1985.
Bishop of Chester. “Pioneering in Public-House Reform”. Chamber’s
Journnal. 86. (1909) 772-777.
Gould, E.R.L., Ph.D. The Gothenburg System of Liquor Traffic.
Washington: Government Printing Office. 1893.
Gutzke, David W. “Gentrifying the British Public House, 1896-1914”.
International Labor and Working Class History. 45. (Spring,
Gutzke, David W. “Progressivism and the History of the Public House,
1850-1950”. Cultural and Social History. 4. 2. (2007) 235-259.
Harris, Jose. Private Lives, Public Spirit: Britain 1870-1914. New
York: Penguin Group. 1993. E-book.
Jennings, Paul. “Liquor Licensing and the Local Historian: The
Victorian Public House”. The Local Historian. 41. 2. (2011) 121-
Llewellyn, Richard. How Green Was My Valley. New York: Collier Books.
Martin, Lynn A. Alcohol, Sex, and Gender in Medieval and Late Modern
Europe. Houndsmill: Palgrave. 2001.
Pritchard, Ian. “’Beer and Britania’: Public House Culture and the
Construction of Nineteenth- Century British Welsh Industrial
Identity” Nations and Nationalism. 18. 2. (2012) 326-345.
Skelly, Julia. “Addictive Architecture: The Crystal Palace, Gin
Palaces, and Women’s Desire”. The Social History of Alcohol and
Drugs. 25. ½. (2011) 49-65.
Warner, Jessica. “Before there was ‘Alcoholism’: lessons from the
Medieval Experience with Alcohol”. Contemporary Drug Problems.
1 Martin, A. Lynn. Alcohol, Sex, and Gender in Medieval and Late Modern Europe. Houndsmill: Palgrave. 2001. 29.
2 Ibid. p19.
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3 Warner, Jessica. “Before there was ‘Alcoholism’: Lessons from the Medieval Experience with Alcohol”.
Contemporary Drug Problems. 1992. p410.
5 Jennings, Paul. “Liquor Licensing and the Local Historian: the Victorian Public House”. The Local Historian. 41. 2.
6 Ibid. p123.
7 Skelly, Julia. “Addictive Architecture: The Crystal Palace, Gin Palaces and Women’s Desire.” Social History of
Drugs. 25. 2011.p 52.
8 Ibid. p8.
9 Jennings, Paul. “Liquor Licensing and the Local Historian: the Victorian Public House”. The Local Historian. 41. 2
10 Gould, E.R.L Ph.D. The Gothenburg System of Liquor Traffic. Washington: Government Printing Office. 1893. p14.
11 Ibid. p228.
12 Gutzke, David W. “Gentrifying the British Public House, 1896 -1914”. International Labor and Working-Class
History. 45. 1994. p30.
13 Ibid. p31.
14 Ibid. p30.
16 Bishop of Chester. “ Pioneering in Public -House Reform”. Chamber’s Journal. 86. 1909. p774.
17 Ibid. p775.
18 Ibid. p776.
19 Gutzke, David W. “Gentrifying the British Public House, 1896 -1914.” International Labor and Working-Class
History. 45. 1994. p31.
20 Alter, Peter. Nationalism. London: Edward Arnold. 1985. p14.
21 Bishop of Chester. “Pioneering in Public-House Reform”. Chamber’s Journnal. 86. 1909. p776-777.
22 Gutzke, David W. “Gentrifying the British Public House 1896 -1914”. International Labor and Working-Class
History. 45. 1994. p39.
23 Gutzke, David W. “Progressivism and the History of the Public House, 1850 -1950”. Cultural and Social History. 4.
No2. 2007. P240.
24 Ibid. p241.
25 Pritchard, Ian. “’Beer and Britania ’: Public House Culture and the Construction of Nineteenth-Century British-
Welch Industrial Identity”. Nations and Nationalism. 18. 2. 2012. p330.
26 Ibid. p334.
27 Llewellyn, Richard. How Green Was My Valley. New York: Macmillan Company. 1940. p183.
28 Pritchard, Ian. “’Beer and Britania’: Public House Culture and the Construction of Nineteenth -Century British-
Welch Industrial Identity”. Nations and Nationalism. 18. 2. 2012. p329.
29 Ibid. p332.
30 Harris, Jose. Private Lives, Public Spirit: Britain 1870-1914. New York: Penguin Group. 1993. Kindle E-book. Loc.
31 Ibid. loc. 512.
32 Gutzke, David W. “Gentrifying the Public House, 1869 -1914” International Labor and Working-Class History. 45.