Friday, 1 May 2009

Beer houses (part three)


This is a subject of such vast public importance in all its bearings, that we mean to devote a considerable part of our space to its consideration. By the two acts of 1 Will. IV. chaps. 51 and 64, both of which came into operation on the 10th of October, 1830, a change was made in the law, calculated to affect various great interests, as well as the comforts and general condition of the mass of the people, perhaps as directly as any measure that ever emanated from parliament. By the first of these statutes all duties upon beer, ale, or cider, brewed in Great Britain, were repealed ; and by the second, the right to sell these commodities, which had been hitherto a privilege granted by favour to a comparatively small number of persons, was thrown open to all who chose to exercise it.

To any one at all acquainted with the habits of the people of England, and, therefore, having even the vaguest notion of the immense extent of the consumption of beer in this country, the mere statement of these alterations of the law is enough to convey an impression of consequences of vast magnitude and importance. But a few facts will give a clearer view of the exact amount of the effect that must have been produced by the measure in some of the directions in which it operated.

In the first place, the loss of revenue to the government exceeded three millions sterling per annum ; or, deducting somewhat less than a third of this sum as having been recovered by the increased consumption of malt, the diminution was still above two millions a-year. In the three years that have elapsed, about seven millions in all have been given up. Assuming that the revenue could bear this diminution, if the duties on beer had not been abolished, taxes of equivalent amount on some other article would have been repealed instead; and, therefore, the sum we have mentioned may be considered as the price that has been paid for whatever benefits this particular measure has brought with it.

But the remission of taxation, or the actual relief to the people, resulting from the measure, is to be reckoned as amounting to the whole three millions per annum. That sum, which they had hitherto paid every year to the government, the people were henceforth to retain in their pockets, still drinking the same quantity of beer as before. If the consumption of malt has since extended, and that article has yielded a larger revenue, tin's is because more beer has been drunk by the people than heretofore. Say that the increase of the produce of the malt-tax has been one-eighth, which is so much more money that has been every year drawn from the people through this channel, the fact proves that for every eight pots of beer drunk before the remission of the duties and the opening of the trade, nine pots have been drunk since. Either every beer-drinker has had nine pots where he formerly had eight, or nine persons now consume the beverage for every eight that could formerly procure it;—or, what is no doubt the real state of the case, partly the one of these effects has been produced, and partly the other. But, at all events, and let the precise distribution of the benefit have been what it may, its amount is at least what we have stated.

It has most probably, indeed, been a good deal more. Owing to the corn-law, the supply of barley, from which malt is made, is prevented in this country from expanding in proportion to the demand ; and, therefore, when the demand rises, (at least within a certain limit,) the price rises also. Such a rise of price has, in fact, been produced by the increased consumption of malt occasioned by the new beer law ; and that circumstance has, of course, tended to enhance also the price of beer. But there is every reason to believe, that this influence has been much more than counteracted by other causes which have operated to reduce the price of the beverage. The opening of the trade has, of course, swept away the monopoly profits which the article was formerly made to yield. The largely-increased competition among the dealers in it has, independently of this consideration, produced its natural effect in reducing the rate at which it is sold. The augmented quantity that is disposed of, further goes to enable the dealer to let down his profit upon each separate barrel or pot. If he could formerly exist, and carry on his business with a profit of a penny on each pot, he can do so with a profit of only three farthings upon each, if he now sells four pots where he formerly sold three. Then the expense of fitting-up and maintaining the establishment of a beer-shop is a great deal less than that which the landlord of a public-house has to meet. Lastly, .the more active competition which has been excited, and the direction of the trade into a new channel, have already had the effect of introducing improvements into the process of manufacturing beer, by means of which an equally good article can now be produced from a smaller quantity of malt, and, on other accounts, at a less cost generally. What has taken place is, in a multitude of respects, a most striking illustration of the regeneration and entirely new life which is given to a trade or branch of industry, by relieving it from the torpifying pressure of a monopoly, and suffering it to breathe the free air of competition. We ought to add, that in this case an additional relief still has been obtained by the manufacturer in his release from the interference of the excise in the operation of brewing, to which he was subject while the beer paid duty ; and even this has, no doubt, its money value, which must be shared by the consumer. We have thus enumerated six different causes, besides the abolition of the duty, all of which must have tended, since the introduction of the new system, to reduce the price of beer. We shall in the sequel have occasion to examine with more precision what the effect of their conjoint operation, in the face of the single cause pressing in the opposite direction, has actually been.

But to one large division of the community, even the single circumstance which has operated to raise the price of beer has been a gain of no slight amount. The first year the trade was opened, the price of barley rose about six shillings the quarter. The measure, therefore, may be truly described as one of the greatest boons ever granted to the agricultural interest.

Such are the most remarkable financial effects which the change of the law has wrought. It may not be possible to ascertain their exact amount in pounds, shillings, and pence ; but the general character of each, and the direction in which it has acted, cannot be made matter of dispute or doubt. There can be no question as to the following having been among the results of the new system a large sacrifice of the public revenue ; a great diminution of the burthen of taxation ; a reduction of the price of beer, of which the benefit has been shared by the whole community ; and at the same time a rise in the price of barley, of which the agricultural interest has of course had the advantage.

So far all is clear. But besides these results, which must upon the whole be considered as great recommendations of the measure, it has been alleged that the change has brought along with it others of quite an opposite description, and so extensively bearing upon the condition and best interests of the community, that their evil must be regarded as far more than a counterbalance for any merely economical good of which those already mentioned may have been productive. Very soon after the new acts came into operation, this view of their tendency began to spread abroad ; and the outcry it occasioned became at length so serious, that, early in the late session of parliament, the House of Commons appointed a select committee of its members to inquire into the subject, with a view of making such alterations in the law as the case might seem to demand. The report of the committee, which was brought up about the end of June, lias since been printed by order of the House.

The committee was fifteen days occupied in hearing evidence, and in that time fifty-six witnesses were examined, from various parts of the kingdom, and of different professions and ranks in society. Among the number were clergymen, magistrates, country gentlemen, parish-overseers, excise-officers, brewers, attorneys, licenced victuallers, beer-house keepers, master tradesmen, journeymen mechanics, and labourers. The evidence covers between 200 and 300 folio pages, and consists of answers to between 4000 and 5000 questions.

It would probably be difficult to parallel the contradiction and opposition not only of the opinions expressed by this miscellaneous assemblage of authorities, but even of the facts adduced by them, or of their accounts of the same facts. The mass of their conflicting arguments and statements presents as chaotic a jumble as we remember ever before to have met with in print. We see little reason to think that any one of the fifty-six has asserted anything which he did not believe to be true, in order to make out a case favourable to his own interests ; but it is sufficiently manifest that many of them have been powerfully acted upon by impressions which, however honest, have yet been derived, in great measure, from the particular position of each in reference to certain effects which have followed from the late opening of the trade in beer. Thus, for example, the magistrate, whom the new law has deprived of his power of preventing at pleasure the establishment of houses for the sale of fermented liquors, naturally feels prejudiced against an innovation which has so seriously curtailed his authority and influence. The power which has been put an end to was usually exercised, in regard to any particular parish, very much in conformity to the wishes of the clergyman or the resident proprietor, even where they were not themselves in the commission of the peace ; and they too, therefore, feel themselves to be losers under the new state of things, or are opposed to it as sharing in the sympathies of their order, or of those with whom they habitually associate. Overseers, parish constables, and excise officers, side from instinct with their superiors. From all these several classes of persons, therefore, we may expect strong evidence against the beer-houses ; nor, in truth, does the Report disappoint us in this respect. On the other hand, we may not unreasonably suspect that the pictures of the admirable manner in which those establishments are usually or universally conducted, which we find drawn by the partners or agents of the brewing companies by whom they are supplied with ale, or whose- property they are, and by the more ardent lovers of the cheap potations and social cheer which they dispense, are possibly a little too softly tinted.

The Report, however, notwithstanding the contest and confusion of statement which it exhibits, contains a good deal of interesting information. A portion of this we will now endeavour to methodize, collecting as we go along the bearing of the several facts upon the question at issue. The evidence, we may observe, is chiefly if not entirely confined to the great towns of London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield, Stockport, Warwick, Pilkington, Walsall, and Lewes ; and to country places in the counties of Kent, Surrey, Sussex, Berks, Hants, Wilts, Somerset, Devon, Bucks, Herts, Oxford, Essex Cambridge, Norfolk, Lincoln,

Lancashire, and Durham. It is the south and eastern divisions of England, therefore, almost exclusively, to which the inquiries of the Committee have been directed ; no evidence having been obtained with respect to any country parts west of Oxfordshire, or north of Lincoln, with the exception of some portions of the great manufacturing and mining counties of Lancaster and Durham. As to several of the counties enumerated, too, the information collected is extremely scanty and imperfect. And what is very material to be observed is, that the counties in which the operation of the new law is thus exclusively inquired into» are, for the most part, those in which the labouring population was from other causes in the most degraded condition previous to its enactment. With the exception of Bedfordshire, Huntingdonshire, and Northamptonshire, from which it may be presumed the accounts would have been nearly the same as those from Oxford, Buckingham, and Cambridge, by which they are surrounded, there is scarcely a county in England where the poor-rate has risen beyond an average amount that is not included in the list of those to which the evidence before us refers. On the other hand, the line thus drawn excludes all the northern counties, with the exception, as before mentioned, of certain parts of Durham and Lancaster, all the central portion of England, and all Wales. In our selections we will begin with the evidence respecting the operation of the new system in the great towns. And this introduces us at once to almost the only point in the case as to which no difference of opinion is expressed ; but that point is one of first-rate importance. In the metropolis it appears to be admitted on all hands that the opening of the new beer-houses has been an unquestionable and almost unmixed good. There are fifteen witnesses who speak to this matter, and the evidence of all of them is favourable. John Morris, styled a mathematician, but put down by himself, he says, a mathematical instrument maker, who frequents these houses three or four times in the week, or when it suits him, or when a friend calls upon him, declares he can take his oath that the beer sold at the new houses is in all respects better than that with which he was wont to be served by the licensed victuallers—cheaper, more palatable, and more wholesome,—that this is the opinion of hundreds to whom he has spoken on the subject,—and that he never meets at the beer-shops with any but respectable and orderly persons. He never, he says, saw any drunkenness in these places ; " I am speaking," he adds, with great emphasis, " positively, and candidly, and honestly." The only thing that Mr. Morris complains of, is that they shut up so early. " When I have half got through my second pint," he says, " I am obliged to drink it up fast, in a rough way, to accommodate the landlords, in order not to suffer them to be fined ; and when I am there and thirsty, I sometimes could stop another hour with great convenience, and without any inconvenience to myself and family." Mr. John Evans, surgeon and apothecary, who is in the habit of sometimes going to the beer-shops, several of their keepers, he says, being patients of his, observes on the subject of the quality of the beer sold there—" I am in the habit of recommending it to all my private patients, and taking it always myself at any time when I drink." So Mr. Thomas Phillips, called a musician, but who asserts that he is no such thing, but has a small independence, and is of no trade, when asked what sort of persons frequent the beerhouses, answers, " Like myself and respectable tradesmen, and two or three doctors and proctors ; and a few persons of that kind meet there almost every evening—a very genteel party—but we are obliged to leave too soon." The enactment, obliging keepers of beer-shops to shut their doors and expel their customers at ten o'clock, is the subject of complaint with almost all the London witnesses, and appears, indeed, to have been productive of serious evils. " I should say a great injury has resulted," says Dr. Evans, " and a greater proportion of crime—that is what I say it struck me as being, generally noticing things and drawing a conclusion therefrom—that when those men retire from the beerhouses, very frequently the public-houses, especially gin- shops, are open, and they go from the beer-houses to the gin-shops ; whereas, if they were obliged to close at the same hour, there would be less drunkenness, and, I think, less crime." Mr. Penny, accountant and valuer, says, " Myself I have an antipathy to any kind of spirituous liquor, but I have observed that a man that earns a guinea or 25s. a week will go to those beer-houses, and will find that he is not satisfied, and away he rues to a gin-shop. I have actually noticed it in a clerk of my own. He says, ' It is ten o'clock, I shall not go home yet ;' and he goes to a gin- shop, and, after taking a small quantity of ale, he goes and takes some pennyworths of gin, and it upsets the whole frame altogether ; hut I think if you were to put them all out at eleven o'clock, it would be a great benefit.". " I have a lodger with me," says George lush, a keeper of a beerhouse, " that one night had a friend with him ; he called for a pot of beer after ten o'clock, and I would not give it him, and he said he would go off to a public-house, and he went to the Marsh Gate, and he stayed till half-past eleven, and he came home, and I was obliged to lead him to bod." Thomas Ellis, another retailer of beer, says, " I have turned out as many as 120 out of my house at ten o'clock at night, and I have gone into the three neighbouring gin-shops and counted 54 out of those 120."

Even in London, however, where the practice has been hitherto by far most prevalent, there is reason to believe that spirit-drinking is beginning to give way before the increased consumption of beer, which has followed the opening of the trade in the latter article. Mr. W. Kimber, broker, of Lambeth, being asked if he is in the habit of going to beer-houses, replies, " Yes, I make a point of going there, for I enjoy the ale much better than I do at other places. Before I used to go there, I used to take a good deal of spirits ; and since I have been in the habit of going there, I have not taken any spirits, and my health is better in consequence." William Keay, foreman to Mr. Nunn, coachmaker, in Westminster Bridge Road, states that his men, who now drink ale at the beer-house (for that is the common beverage there), used to drink a good deal of gin formerly when they drank porter, and that they now drink more beer and less spirits. Dr. Evans also asserts, that among mechanics and artisans, the habit of spirit- drinking has very much diminished. So Mr. Farren, brewer, at Nine Elms, vauxhall, says, " I apprehend there are a great many people that were in the habit of drinking grog, that now drink ale instead."

Mr. Farren's evidence is extremely interesting, in reference to various points connected with the operation of the new law. He states that he brews entirely for the beer- shops, and is the only brewer in London whose business is exclusively confined to that branch. Such is the revolution, however, that has been occasioned in the trade generally, that " Barclay and Perkins," he says, " and other great houses, finding that there is a decrease in the consumption of porter, and an increase of the consumption of ale, have gone into the ale trade ; nearly all the new trade is composed of mild ale." From all that he has seen, Mr. Farren asserts that the conduct of the persons who have taken out licenses to keep beer-shops in London has been perfectly orderly. " I have got," he adds, " between forty and fifty customers, and I do not think there is one but what is perfectly respectable." The ale sold in these houses is by no means all of London manufacture. This witness states that the average quantity of Scotch ale imported into London is 2,150 barrels a week; that there is hardly a beer-house but what takes in Scotch ale, in addition to the brewers' ale ; and that there is also ale brought from almost every county in England, and a vast quantity of porter from Dublin. To fit up a London beer-house respectably will cost from 100/- to 300/-, and their rents may average 40/- a year each. At first, as was naturally to be expected, there was a rush into the new trade, and any mischief that resulted might be fairly imputed to its having been in this way overdone. But that evil has since in a great degree, if not completely, corrected itself. It appears that in the first three months after the bill came into operation, 1508 licenses were taken out in London : in the year 1831 the number taken out was 1407 ; and in 1832 it was only 1200. " Of the 1503 licenses granted in the first quarter," says Mr. Farren, " I am of opinion that not less tnan 800 were taken out by chandler-shop keepers, who had previously been privileged to sell beer not exceeding a certain price, without license. Allowing then for the licenses applicable to that class of persons, there would remain 708 licenses taken out by individuals who went into the new trade. I apprehend that there has been little or no diminution in the number of licenses taken out by chandler-shop keepers ; and, therefore, deducting 800 for chandler-shops from the 1206 licenses granted in the year ending 5th January, 1833, there would remain only 406 licenses for beer-house keepers." Upon this calculation, then, we have a reduction on the number of the new retailers, in fifteen months, of 302 out of 708, or more than forty-two per cent. It is probable that the trade has now found its level.

Mr. Farren enters into some details, which set in a striking light the amount of the consumption of beer in London, as compared with other parts of the kingdom. If the comparison be even confined to England and Wales (and this we think is the fair view, there being little ale drunk by the great body of the inhabitants of either Scotland or Ireland), it appears that the consumption of London and its immediate vicinity is not much less than twice what it would be were it proportioned to the population. The population of London and its dependencies is not quite one-ninth of the population of all England and Wales ; but the consumption of beer in this district is not much under one-fifth of the whole consumption of the country. If all the beer brewed and consumed within ten miles of London were taken into the, account, Mr. Farren is of opinion that the rate of consumption in the metropolitan district would be greatly augmented.

There is, as we have said, no evidence of any evil or inconvenience whatever having followed the opening of the beer trade in London. On the contrary, all the witnesses examined by the Committee agree in stating that great benefits have attended the measure. The price of beer has unquestionably been reduced by more than the difference occasioned by the removal of the tax ; though it is not easy to ascertain the exact amount of the reduction, owing partly to the circumstance that the descriptions of beverage now sold are not the same with those that were in demand, or rather which the public were forced to be contented with, before the opening of the trade. It appears from the evidence of several of the witnesses, that many of the public-houses still charge their customers about a penny on the pot more than they would be charged for liquor of the same quality at the beer-shops. One beer-shop keeper says that he has got some at 6d. a pot that you cannot get for 7d. at a public- house. Another witness says that for a mixture of ale and porter for which before the remission of the tax he used to pay 7d. at the public-house, he now pays only 5d. at the beer-shop. Another, who is a dealer, states that he sells ale for 6d. a pot, for which, before the passing of the beer-bill, he used himself invariably to pay 9d. From Mr. Farren's evidence, it appears that the reduction made by the brewers to their customers has been 12s. on the barrel, being 3s. more than the amount of the duty. Upon the whole it would seem that, in addition to the duty amounting to about 1d. on the pot, the average reduction upon all sorts of ale, as sold at the beer-shops, has been nearly 1d. more. The price varies, however, in different parts of the country, and, perhaps, also in différents districts of town ; and it is to be recollected that it is, in most cases, higher at the public-houses than at the beer-shops. In the neighbourhood of Boston, in Lincolnshire, for instance, one witness states that the same beer which is sold for 6d. in the former may be had for 4d. in the latter. There are some attempts on the part of other witnesses to make it appear that the cheaper beverage is of an inferior quality ; but the weight of evidence is greatly on the other side.

When we leave London, however, and proceed to the other great towns comprehended in the inquiry, we find the statements of the different witnesses more unsatisfactory. Of Birmingham, for instance, we have a most favourable account; but as it comes from the principal agent of a company of brewers, by whom most of the beer-houses throughout the town and its vicinity are supplied with ale, and by whom many of them have been set up, it may be thought to bo liable to objection, in the absence of any corroborative testimony. Mr. Dawes, the witness in question, states that the company with which he is connected had then (in May last) opened two hundred beerhouses in Birmingham and the country within eight or ten miles round, and that they had refused an equal number of applications from other parties. The reduction that has taken place, in the price of beer, he rates at from 15 to 25 per cent.,'independently of the amount of the duty'. The duty having been 0.75d. a quart, it has fallen, he says, If 1.75d. altogether. The beer-houses have, besides, afforded accommodation to travellers of a certain description, which before they could not procure except at an exorbitant rate, and sometimes not at all. This is corroborated by other witnesses. Drunkenness in Birmingham, Mr. Dawes says, has diminished since the opening of the beer-houses ; and that as to the new law having been the cause of an increase of crime, there 'is not the most remote idea of anything of the kind in that town. The rent of the heer-houses there is in general 10/. and upwards. Spirit-drinking, the witness thinks, has considerably decreased. So greatly are the beer-shops appreciated, he says, by the labouring classes, that they could have got up a petition in their favour, signed by females alone, to the number of 10,000 or 20,000 ;—" in this kind of way," he adds, however, in explanation, " if they could have got it (the beer) to take home with them."

The evidence with respect to the town of Warwick, on the contrary, in the same county, represents the beer-shops as having been the source of all sorts of evils. The witness here is a police officer of the borough. Speaking of the effects of the new system, " I find," he says in difieren! parts of his evidence, " that crime has increased a great deal in the neighbourhood;—common prostitutes, common thieves, and boys, are suffered to go to',the beer-houses, and tipple and drink at all hours of the night ;—I have apprehended a great many boys; and when I have had conversation with them, I have found that they have been seduced into crime by the low characters that they met at these beer-houses, that would not have been allowed to go into the old public-houses." He conceives that the beer-shops are operating with injurious"effect even upon the old public-houses, and driving their landlords, in order that they may be enabled to keep their ground, to permit the same disorders which are tolerated by their competitors.

The evidence with regard to Liverpool is nearly of the same complexion. It comes from two witnesses, one a publican, the other a wholesale and retail dealer in wine and spirits. The former thinks the consumption of spirits has increased since the opening of the beer-shops (which he says are called Jerry-shops in Liverpool), and that the consumption of beer, in his opinion, has not increased at all. The other witness mentions an evil which is not, we believe, noticed in any other part of the Report. The owners of the beer-shops in Liverpool, he says, " generally consist of persons who employ large bodies of labouring men, being themselves labouring men, either in the capacity of foreman or master of such men as undertake contracts for large excavations at the docks, and employing men in the discharge of vessels, who are technically called in Liverpool ' lumpers ;' and those men always give the preference to those persons who frequent their beer-houses ; and in some instances, it has come to my knowledge from the working men themselves, that they have complained very much of the operation of the beer-bill, as they have been compelled to spend a portion of their earnings at the beer-houses." The only two classes, he states, in Liverpool, who have been affected by the change, are the Irish labourers, and younjj men in the lower walks of life, of the age of fifteen and upwards, both of which classes, comprising large numbers, have become in consequence much more dissolute and drunken. The evidence as to Sheffield, which is given by Mr. George Wells, now a solicitor, and lately in the magistrates' clerks' office, in that town, is equally unfavourable. The number of beer-houses in Sheffield on tho 1st of February last, was 280 ; that of the public-houses being 386. Tho rents of the beer-houses are nearly all under 10/. a year. Spirits are understood to be sold in 'them covertly ; gaming is not unfrequently permitted ; and it is no uncommon thing for the outer door to be fastened at night, while the company remain till eleven or twelve o'clock. The number of dram-shops has increased fourfold since the beer act passed. The thieves have also increased. We have the same kind of evidence as to Leeds, from the mayor of the town, and the chief constable of the town. According to the latter, there are in Leeds 280 licensed ale-houses, and 251 beer-shops, of which last the rent varies from about 5l. to about 20/. This witness also produces a statement, by which it appears that, during the three years before the beer bill was in operation, 639 persons only .were brought before the magistrates for being drunk, being at the rate of 213 in the year; whereas, in the first 31 months after the opening of the trade, the number was 2023, being at the rate of 783 annually, or not much under .four times as many as formerly. By an analysis of this curious document, we further find that the increase of drunken cases has taken place to the greatest extent among females under twenty-one years of age, of whom there are now more than six that get drunk for one that did for

merly. The next greatest increase is among males under twenty-one ; it appears to be from 1 to 4"235. Among males above twenty-one, the increase is from 1 to 3745 j and among females above twenty-one, it is from 1 to 2'423. If the accuracy of this document is to be depended on, the results which it shows are certainly appalling ; and it is not to be denied that such a statement seems to go far to establish the position, that, in some places, the first experience of the new system has been eminently disastrous. We should like, however, to know what measures have been resorted to by the magistrates to repress this growing dissipation—in how many of the drunken cases brought before them they have imposed any punishment upon the offenders—and whftt means, if any, they have taken to keep the beer-houses within their jurisdiction in order, and to apply to them those restraints which the same law that has established them has provided for their regulation. Is the police of the town sufficiently strong? or, being strong enough, is it sufficiently active in this part of its duty ?

We cannot now enter at any length into an analysis of the voluminous evidence collected by the committee, with regard to the effect of the opening of the beer trade in the country. Suffice it to state, that the principal evils which are alleged to have attended the measure are the same which its opponents charge it with having produced in the towns. It is asserted to have occasioned a large increase of drunkenness, profligacy, and crime among the mass of the population—to have engendered in some places habits of turbulence and disinclination to work among the labouring classes—and generally to have contributed powerfully to the initiation into dissipated habits of young people and children. The circumstance that beer-houses are often opened in retired lanes, in woods, on heaths, and in other places remote from observation, is dwelt upon by many of the witnesses as pregnant with the worst consequences. In the country the police is usually still more inefficient than in towns, in most of which it is extremely inadequate ; and the difficulty of keeping the beer-shops in order is accordingly greater. In some cases, the poor-rates are stated to have been augmented by the increased idleness and immorality which the change in the law has occasioned ; and the wives of the labourers are represented as in general complaining bitterly of what its operation has been, in so far as they and tlieir families are concerned, considerably less of what their husbands earn now finding its way to the baker and the grocer than formerly, since the beer-shop keeper has come in for his share. It would rather appear that, not only the clergy and the landlords, but the farmers also are, in general, strongly opposed to the new system.

We have ño wish to conceal or overlook these statements, although they are not very specific, and are probably in a considerable degree coloured by the influence of prejudices, natural to the quarters from which they proceed. Allowing them, however, all the weight which they can fairly claim, we must not forget many other important considerations which bear upon the question. It is pretty evident, from the various accounts we have quoted, that the opening of the new beer-houses has not been attended, in some places, with any of the injurious effects which it is alleged to have produced in others. In London, and we would also say, in Birmingham, it appears to be allowed on all hands to have been quite innocuous. One chief reason of this we believe to be, that in both these places the system of police is of a very superior order, and the duties of the magistracy are performed with a diligence and regularity quite unknown in most rural districts, and equalled even in very few of our other great towns. Indeed, throughout the greater part of England, a police can hardly be said to exist, either in our villages, or m our third and fourth- rate towns. Hence in a great degree both tho disorders of beer-houses, and the prevalence of crime in general. We quite believe the statements of many of the witnesses, magistrates, and others, as to the extreme difficulty that is found in many places in keeping a sufficient watch over these houses, and even in suppressing disorders when known to take place in them. The people of England are prejudiced and wronghcaded upon this subject to a very remarkable degree. They imagine that much of the essence of the liberties and happiness of the country consists in the absence of a police. There never was a greater mistake. A police, properly constituted, is the good citizen's best protection. Should we be the freer if we had 110 laws to restrain. and punish criminals ? But what is the use of laws without a force to make them be obeyed ? If the latter be objected to, the former ought also to be dispensed with. But the chief folly is, that, if a judgment may be formed from our practice, it is not a police which we dislike, but a good or efficient police. The mere form of the thing we have a great attachment to ; deeming a constabulary force which is incapable of doing any service, or is never called upon to act, to be indispensable to our humblest parishes. By the plan which we pursue, we entail upon ourselves the very evils which it is our wish to avoid. With a good police we might safely have milder laws, and more liberty in divers ways than we actually have. Such an instrument would much more effectually prevent the commission of ccimes by watching criminals, than we now do by sending them to the treadmill, to Botany Bay, or to the gallows. Would fewer executions, fewer imprisonments, and fewer punishments of all sorts, imply any diminution of the public liberties ? And was such a law as that, which, till lately, regulated the sale of beer in England, one of a particularly liberal and popular character? On the contrary, no system could have been devised more intensely aristocratic and coercive. And yet the chief, perhaps the only danger attendant upon the abolition of this tyranny, is created by our want of a regular police to see to the prevention of disorder, in the room of the capricious and irresponsible despotism to which we used to be subjected.

What the beer-houses want, in our opinion, where the new law is alleged to have operated injuriously, is merely to be somewhat better looked after. A return to the old regime of the magistracy is quite out of the question. We have got rid for ever of that machinery of oppression, favouritism, and jobbing, and must now have fixed rules by which to proceed in this matter, and no more mere arbitrary dictation. Let the beer-houses, if necessary, be put under stricter regulations—they cannot be put down. The right of any man to obtain a license to sell beer, under certain specified conditions, must be preserved. It is upon these principles that the act has been framed which was passed by parliament towards the close of the late session. By this statute it is provided, first, that every person applying hereafter for a beer license shall, along with his application, produce a certificate signed by six rated inhabitants of the parish, to the effect that the applicant is a person of good character, and likely to manage a house for the sale of beer or cider by retail, in a peaceable, orderly, and respectable manner. Upon presenting such a certificate, with the attestation of one of the overseers, that the persons subscribing it are really rated parishioners, the applicant is to obtain his license as a matter of course. Secondly, the duty is raised from its present amount of two guineas to five pounds. This alteration of the law will probably do something to exclude the more necessitous and irresponsible class of applicants, and to confine the trade to persons of some substance and respectability. The penalties for misconduct are also made more severe, it being now competent for the justices, in addition to the fine, to disqualify the offender for selling beer for a period of two years on a second conviction, instead of only on a third, as before ; and on a third conviction to disqualify him for ever. Lastly, the old law is amended in those of its provisions which referred to the hours during which beer-houses might be kept open ; it being now (very properly, we think) enacted that they shall not be open for beer to be drunk on the premises on any Sunday, Good- Friday, Christmas-Day, or day appointed for a public fast or thanksgiving, before half-past twelve in the afternoon, nor at all between ten in the morning and that hour. They were formerly allowed to be open on such days, as usual, from four till ten in the morning. They are still, as before, to be shut again from three till five in the afternoon. And it is enacted that the justices of the peace, in quarter-sessions, shall have the power to fix, once in each year, the hour at which they shall be closed at night on every other day ; provided that the hour so fixed shall not, in any town, be earlier than ten o'clock or later than eleven ; or in any country district earlier than nine or later than ten.

These alterations are all, we think, improvements upon the former act; and we are not disposed to say that it would have been wise to have gone farther in the way of limiting the mere right to open a house for the sale of beer. The committee, in their report, proposed, in addition to the restrictions which have been adopted, that the applicant should require to be rated to the parish at a certain amount, varying between 71. and 15/., to be fixed for every town or parish by the magistrates at quarter-sessions ; but this would have been a power extremely liable to be abused, and it has therefore been wisely withheld. We concur, however, in another recommendation of the committee, to the effect that it is expedient that the system under which all houses are licensed for the retail of beer and spirituous liquors, should be revised in a future session of parliament ; and we believe, with the Committee, that very serious reasons of justice and public advantage may be adduced in favour of an assimilation of all the regulations, as to hours and management, to which every description of house licensed to sell beer or spirituous liquors by retail should be subjected.

"The Companion to the Newspaper" By Society for the Diffusion of Political Knowledge
Published by Charles Knight, 1834, pages 152-156,M1


Alan said...

Are you aware of any place I can get a little more detail about this?

Ron Pattinson said...

Possibly. Should I perform some more Google Book searches?