Drunkenness – the Georgian view

In a previous post, I looked at the 18th century craze for gin. And how a Cumbrian Character – George Smith, of Kendal – published a ‘how to’ guide for setting up a small commercial still.

Smith was promoting herbal and fruit liqueurs for their supposed medicinal properties. Here are some views on those who ‘self-medicate’ too far.

Drunkenness viewed in 1783

Cumberland Pacquet & Ware’s Whitehaven Advertiser. August 5, 1783.

Of all the misfortunes that ever befell a sober man, surely the greatest is to be connected with a drunken woman.

…among the Romans, drunkenness in a woman was punished with death. With us, confinement would be the most proper mode. There could be no injustice in locking up a woman to preserve her from destruction.

Women of the first fashion have degenerated into the habits of this vice and their degeneracy accounts for that increase of lewdness which of late has so repeately disgraced the records of parliament.

The vice is the same, the effects are the same, whether the means be common gin, or high flavoured ratafia – whether it be British brandy, or peaches preserved in coniac (sic).

The woman who would avoid disease, pain, loathsomness, hatred, shame, prostitution – I may add death and perdition – will avoid strong liquors.

In fairness, the writer had spent a lot of column inches castigating drunkenness in men – whether their tipple of choice be bitters and brandy, cherry-bounce (liqueur) or purl (wormwood ale), or claret.

Drunkenness viewed in the early 1800s

In November 1802, the mayor of Carlisle, Sir Richard Hodgson, sent out a stern warning to anyone tempted to drink, or sell drink, on a Sunday. Both drinkers and sellers would be fined.

It would seem the ancient system of Courts Leet was still in place at the turn of the 19th century. A manorial court in origin, it had pretty much died out by then, replaced by the magistrates we know today.

However, in 1804, the Carlisle Journal said it was ‘the wish of the well-disposed inhabitants of this city that the Court Leet should execute the powers invested in them’.

These powers included the right of churchwardens and constables to ‘levy the penalties for tippling and drunkenness’, and; ‘levy the penalty for suffering tippling’.

‘Voluntary insanity’

An opinion piece slamming the evils of drunkenness, in the Journal in February 1811, describes it as a ‘state of voluntary insanity’.

The consequences could be seen daily in ruined health and ruined fortunes. It rendered tradesmen useless, and reduced families to destitution and beggary. It led to rapes, adulteries and murders.

And: ‘Our young men, when inflamed by the inebriating draught, hesitate not to throw themselves into the arms of the most abandoned prostitute, from the very lowest class of whom this city is not exempted – creatures covered with filth, rags and putrid with disease, and who at all times ought to be regarded with the utmost pity and horror’.

Beer goggles in the extreme, it would seem!

The Carlisle Patriot, in 1817, lists the possible consequences of drunkenness, from being easy prey for robbers, to ending in the workhouse.

Drunkenness expels reason; drowns the memory; defaces beauty; diminishes strength; inflames the blood; causes internal, external and incurable wounds; is a witch to the senses, a devil to the soul, a thief to the purse; the beggar’s companion, the wife’s woe, and children’s sorrow. It makes a strong man weak and a wise man a fool.’

Practical ‘alternatives’

One ‘solution’, in January 1818, was the opening of a savings bank. If you put your spare pennies in there, they would gain interest. And you’d not have them to waste on drink.

Another the same year was to switch Carlisle’s market day from Saturday to Friday.

A Mr Pearson thought it was better for the various classes to get drunk on a Saturday, as they had Sunday to sober up.

David Carrick (a banker) thought otherwise, and that ‘both morality and cleanliness’ would be improved by not having drunks tumbling out of pubs late on a Saturday (and the streets  still dirty from the market on a Sunday).

An interesting line from the report is that: “there was no regular police in Carlisle’ (but the Constables were always on the alert as much as possible).

But that’s a topic for another day.