I'm fascinated by beerhouses, partly because I drank in a couple of them. They were the product of an odd rush of liberalism with regard to the beer trade. It didn't last long. Almost immediately the authorities tried rolling back the changes. Much of the pub legislation in the final decades of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th was intended to stamp them out. Miraculously, some survived until almost the 21st century. (Do any still exist? I think not, but I could be wrong.)
The idyllic image of the village inn sounds too good to be true. And probably was. Painting all beerhouses as dens of vice and crime is surely an exaggeration, too. Others argued the exact opposite: that because beerhouses sold no spirits they were more sober establishments than fully-licensed houses.
Up to the year 1830 this system of licences had remained the only means by which the sale of beer by retail was permitted; but in that year a remarkable change took place. It was alleged that the sale of beer had become a monopoly in the hands of a few wealthy capitalists, and that it was most important to break down this monopoly by allowing any occupier to obtain a licence for the sale of beer by retail on premises specified in the licence, with one restriction only—that the applicant should enter into a bond, with sureties to the amount of twenty pounds, as a provision for the payment of penalties under the Act which authorised this new description of public-houses. The duty imposed on this licence was two guineas.
In 1834, the evil arising from this almost unlimited free trade in beer was such, that it was found necessary to restrict the operation of the Act of 1830. This was done by dividing these new houses into two classes, according as drinking was allowed or not allowed on the premises. For the first class of licences the applicant had to produce a certificate of good character signed by six of his neighbours, - if in the country, or to prove that his house was worth ten pounds per annum if in a town. For the second class no new regulations were imposed. These restrictions were further extended in 1840 by adding a rateable qualification for both classes ; fifteen pounds per annum in London and large towns, eleven pounds per annum in smaller towns, and eight pounds per annum in the country generally.
Now we believe that by thus establishing a second description of house for the sale of fermented liquors, at least for the sale of beer, the Legislature made a most unfortunate mistake, a mistake which has had a most demoralizing effect on the people. Under the old system, all over the country, there was but one class of public-houses. Most of these houses had their regular customers, who dropped into the bar-parlour to read the country paper and hear the gossip of the village, paying their footing, and contributing to the good fellowship of the evening, but not indulging in over much drink, or giving way to disorder. Any of the younger and looser sort who wanted to drink were accommodated in the tap-room. No doubt there was merriment not too refined, no doubt there was drinking not too moderate; but there was a little check upon Hodge in the tap-room when he knew his master, Farmer Styles, was in the bar-parlour. No sooner were beer-houses established than this check ceased. The riotous boor who wanted to indulge in drink and debauchery deserted the Rose and Crown and the Blue Pig, kept by steady-going wheezy publicans who went to church on Sunday and had a reputable standing in the parish, and betook himself to the Hit-or-Miss up Squash Lane, where there was a market for unconsidered trifles, and a house of call for poachers, cadgers, and thieves; where the landlord was not too squeamish, or his daughters too retiring. The respectable ceased to act as a check on the dissolute, and irregularities which were only winked at, or not even permitted, in public houses, were encouraged and stimulated in the beer-house.
In that year Sir Selwin Ibbotson carried a Bill through the House of Commons which became law in the same session, the effect of which, in the words of the Report (vol. i. p. 64), is 'to give to the magistrates the same discretion' in beer-houses as in the case of publicans, as to allowing the sale of beer or wine to be consumed on the premises; and only limiting that absolute discretion, in the case of licences for consumption off the premises, by requiring them to assign as the grounds of refusal the bad character of the applicant or of the house.' This year a further step has been taken, and the grant of new licences and certificates is for the present suspended.
* Mr. Calcraft, Chairman of the Select Committee on the Beer Trade in 1830, observed with reference to the Beer House Act, 'the principle of the Bill is that of free trade in beer, a principle which the Committee understood that the House had adopted, and considered it was necessary to carry to its fullest extent, in order to give full effect to the repeal of the beer duties'"
"The Quarterly review, Volume 131" 1870, pages 406-408.
The Hit-or-Miss up Squash Lane. Sounds just like the sort of pub I'd frequent. "where the landlord was not too squeamish, or his daughters too retiring" what a wonderful turn of phrase.