Gin and Georgian London

The production of gin was actively encouraged in Britain during the Restoration period, but its increasing grip on the London poor had disastrous effects for the following century. Thomas Maples examines the gin problem and what it took to stem the flow.

Hogarth's Gin Lane

They ran into the wells being constantly possessed by an inexhausted thirst.
- Thucydides

Henry Fielding was correct in his comparison of ancient Greeks with the gin-soaked London masses of early eighteenth-century England. The reckless abandonment with which a large sector of the poor pursued the evil spirit gin, affected not only each individual's life, but changed the social and economic complexion of early London.

'Genievie', or the shortened form, gin, was first produced by Franascus de la Boe of Holland in the mid 1600s. It was not until the final stages of the seventeenth century that gin was introduced to the people of London. This occurred when British soldiers returned from war on the European continent and brought the new-found discovery with them. Up to the 1680s the exportation of gin by Holland was small. After the British got a taste of the drink, exports to England rose to over ten million gallons in the late 1680s.

At the start of the eighteenth century, gin was not among the popular beverages consumed by the people of London. During this time, beer was the favourite of the working class with an estimated brewery of over eleven million barrels.

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