It wasn’t our fault we used to have so many pubs in Wednesbury and got drunk such a lot you know? As you will see…. 🙂
Beerhouse Act 1830
This Act made it possible for anyone to open a beer house in their own home, brew beer to sell or open a brewery, as long as they only sold (or brewed) beer.
Just looking at the trade directories, you can see almost every street had at least one beer house , sometime 5 or more.
And Brewery’s popped up everywhere.
Before the Act was introduced beer was taxed, and a luxury that not many working people in Wednesbury could afford.
even though it was safer to drink than water at that time
(“Water was untreated and dangerous to drink.”) .
So a cheap bottle of Gin was the choice of those times.
So what the Beer house Act did was; abolished the beer tax, extended the opening hours of licensed public houses, taverns and alehouses to 18 hours a day. (“Previously it was 15 hours”).
The Act also introduced the Beer house. Premises which could sell only beer.
The opening hours could be from 4am to 10pm. For a small fee of 2 guineas payable to the local excise officer, anyone could brew and sell beer.
The excise licence would state whether the beer could be drunk on or off the premises. But other than that, supervision of these establishments by local justices was severely curtailed which led to many local complaints by magistrates and local gentry keen to control the working classes in their area.
Some of the larger beer houses provided not only beer, but food, games and some even lodging. “Although all beer Houses called themselves ‘Inns’, some of them were nothing more than a kitchen to drink in, never mind room for lodgings”!
(Those kind of kitchen beer houses are not named on the Pub list)
Also many of the shopkeepers in our town opened their own beer house and sold beer alongside their shop.
Beer could be either brewed on the premises or purchased from the many local brewery’s that sprang up everywhere..
Why did the government encourage the drinking of beer?
“Parliament considered it was “expedient for the better supplying the public with Beer in England, to give greater facilities for the sale thereof, than was then afforded by licences to keepers of Inns, Alehouses, and Victualling Houses”.
The Government of the 1820s and 1830s were keen to promote beer drinking instead of spirits, especially gin. “Which was cheap”.
The Widespread drunkenness through gin consumption was believed to be detrimental to the working class, and had led to the rise of the Temperance Society which campaigned for closure of the ‘gin shops’.
So Beer was thought to be far preferable than ‘hard Gin’.
But it proved to be controversial and some beer houses became the haunt of criminals, prostitutes and some may even have turned into brothels?
And eventually concern over law and order resulted in the excise fee being raised to 3 guineas and property qualifications introduced.
But it was not until 1869 that a change in the law brought licensing of the beer houses back under the control of the local justices. Many then closed, or changed to fully licensed public houses.
The act was not fully abolished until 1993.
A young Lady looks back to 1830 from1899:
Today, our working men are not only better paid, better fed, better clothed, and better housed, but he is more intelligent that his forefathers. with both his heart & his head.
He is often fond of music and other civilised pastimes that appear to be in sharp contrast to his ancestors almost a 100 years ago and their love of bull-baiting, cock-fighting, dog fighting and fist fighting.
But he is also more aware of our future now and even saves money.
And this evident from the number of building societies I see now flourishing in the town.
No more are we hindered by the existence of too many small holdings that never could earn enough to cover the demands of the Manor.
But it is still a hard life for our Working men, yet they pride themselves on being a ‘two bottle’ man, no more a big drinker, and even less so for us Women.
But how can we condemn the drunken habits of such men as was recorded in Wednesbury parish in 1835;
“He was found dead on a dunghill, suffocated by a large quantity of ale that he drank in a short space of time the night before”
Ale and strong drinks were not looked down upon in those days you see?
These men worked long, hard and dangerous hours and their only release was the Ale. Not forgetting that Tea & Coffee were very dear then, the duty on tea was 2s 1d per pound.
And then because of the 1830 Act, Ale was made cheaper. No one had heard of teetotalism, that didn’t appear till 1881 in Preston I believe.
People had never even heard of the word “demon drink”.
To them, ale was a beneficial beverage. I mean, even our own Queen Elizabeth was said to partake in a quart of Ale each morning with her breakfast.
My father told me that almost every household in Wednesbury brewed their own beer, and the wash house was soon renamed ‘the brew-house’.
The pubs sold the beer at a penny a quart, or you could ask for a “penny beer”, twopenny beer”, fourpenny beer”. And it really did become part of the ‘breakfast’ table.
So the passing of the ‘Beer Bill’ as they called it then, really did turn Wednesbury into a drunken town.
Between the hours of work & play they drank, a lot!
Football was played all day on Sunday, but not with any rules or regulations as there is today, I still wonder how they could have called it football?
It was a mad scramble of drunken fun & fighting, with no resemblance of football today, except … they did actually start with a ball. .. tut .. tut
And as the sun dipped below the public houses, the streets became alive with more drunken fights, frenzied arguments and cat fights between the Women.
My Mother told me the Women were as strong as the men and fought like one too. …… I’m so glad I wasn’t around then.
But who was to blame for the pubs that were open longer hours, the beer being so cheap, and what was they to do in their time off work, if not to get drunk?
Did you know that after the first year of the ‘Beer Bill’ being passed the births of illegitimate children increased 50 %. and in the following year it just got worse!
The workhouse in Meeting street were full of young Women & girls who were staying there for confinement. They had no choice …. it would have been a very rare parent that wouldn’t kick out their ‘ruined’ daughter.
And it was the only safe place for a faithless wife, the drink does bring out the devil in people … we all know that!
Yes, Times were a changing in Wednesbury and not for the better.
Where once the Taverns & Inns boasted of their families long standing not only in Wednesbury but in the public house that they ran, passing down from one generation to the next.
Then all of a sudden there were pub signs hanging from houses, with strange names such as: The gate hangs well”?
And each evening drunks were falling out all of them.
But the saddest thing I learn’t was; It wasn’t only men & Women that were drunk in the streets, on most days, in daylight hours, the town was full of young Girls & boys, all worse for wear.
I may sniff my nose at all this, but do I blame the people of Wednesbury?
No I certainly don’t. I blame a very ignorant Government.
And where it not for the Church begging for something to be done, I believe the act would not have been amended.
Well, I must be off, I can’t stand here talking to all you lovely folk in 2013 all day!
My man will be waiting on his tea. So until we meet to talk again .. “tarra a bit”.
written by Miss Tismedowyano.
(A lovely Woman she is.. )