For many reasons many people in the 18th Century looked for solace by consuming vast quantities of Gin. This riot of drunkenness was known as The Gin Craze
At the end of the 17th Century British society was beginning to suffer from an epidemic of spirit drinking. Government encouragement to the gin distilling industry led to mass drunkenness and associated societal problems. Moving into the 18th century the problem worsened and attempts to control the problem led to the passing of a Gin Act in 1736.
The 1736 Act was a failure and drove gin production underground while drunkenness continued to cause public outcry. In response to this, William Hogarth produced the iconic print "Gin Lane" which depicts the severe detriment drunknness had on society
Consequently pressure came to bear and a second Gin Act was more successful in curbing the excess.
Hogarth produced a companion print to accompany "Gin Street". "Beer Street" was a sharp contract wheres all was well in society. This sought to emphaise that Beer was a norishing drink that benefited society whereas stong drink (gin) destroys domestic peace, leading to misery, poverty, disease, crime, the workhouse and even suicide.
The restrictions imposed by the 1751 Gin Act addressed the problem to a certain extent but created tensions that would not readily go away. It is of some irony that Hogarth's Beer Street is an utopian vision - unfortunately it which fails to account for the power of the Brewing Industry as a powerful lobby and the Government need for excise duty that sale of alcohol brought.
As the 19th Century progressed various pressures to promote Beer over Sprits combined with a flawed policy to apply "laissez faire" economics to a dangerous trade.
1830 Sale of Beer Act
Whilst the case against spirits would dirctly inspire the early temperance pioneers, the 1830 Beer Act would mobilise and radicalise the movement transforming it into a Total Abstience movement and which would become one of the most important and influential pressure groups in Victorian Scoiety. The Act caused an explosion in supply and consumption and sparked a long running war and on-going battle between the temperance movement and its opponents.
It is estmated that upwards of 30,000 new retail outlets did little to wean people away from spirits and consumption of both beer and spirits rocketed. There is an oft quoted adage that you cannot make people sober by Act of Parliment - the 1830 Beer Act proved that a drunkeness could be encouraged by the same. Sydney Smith observed "The new Beer Act is now working. Everybody is drunk. Those who are not singing are spawling."
The following passage and illustration is from a work called "Sauntering In and Around London " published in October 1853 by Max Schlesinger. He was a German observer, who prepared the guide to the morals and mysteries of mid century London.