Thursday, 13 January 2011

Allsopp defends himself again

Henry Allsopp wasn't a man to let go easily. And he appears to have been quite a prolific letter-writer, judging by the number that turn up in the medical press.


[To the Editor of the Medical Times and Gazette.] Sir,—Referring to an article in your Journal of last week, I will not stop to inquire, as you do not appear to have done so, whether it be a fact, that the large quantities of a drug called strychnine, manufactured in Paris, are intended for this country, and devoted to the poisoning of the English drinkers of bitter beer, but will at once respond to your call upon "the honest manufacturers of bitter beer to take up this subject, and satisfy the public that this atrocious falsification is limited."

I will not appeal as the senior partner of a firm which, for nearly half a century, has been one of the most eminent in the pale ale trade,— I will not appeal, I say, to the millions of our customers who have grown grey in the consumption of our ales, to prove that such an insinuation cannot by possibility apply to us; but, on behalf of ourselves and the trade, I will at once challenge the very largest and strictest inquiry. The surveillance you allude to we court to the utmost. Our vats, mash-tubs, coppers, and all the apparatus of our breweries are from this day open to you.

A "commission" has been threatened, and a public report as if upon an already proved delinquency ! Let such commission be at once appointed. Let it consist of the most acute investigators. We offer to defray the charges of it. Let it at once proceed to examine our stock in course of manufacture in our stores and in the docks; nay, more, that there may be no possible contrivance, let this "commission" test the thousands of barrels and hundreds of thousands of dozens lying in our customers' cellars, whose names we are prepared to give, that the examination be complete as well of the past as the present.

Will this, Sir, suffice ? Can more be suggested,—for all that is required shall be done. But, when this is over, and the public, and the Medical Profession, and the men of science are quite satisfied, I trust we may then be permitted to request from medical gentlemen and men of science, that, before throwing out suggestions in the public Press likely to lead to "a belief in the universality of a fraud that would absolutely destroy the sale of their beer, and ruin a large and deserving class," they would be good enough to make such previous inquiries as may put it in their power to exempt such " large and deserving class from such ruin."
I am, &c. Henry Allsopp.
The Brewery, Burton-on-Trent."
"Medical Times and Gazette", Volume 4", 1852, pages 377-378.

Offering to throw open his brewery for investigation is a sign of how potentially damaging the strychnine scare could have been to Allsopp's business. And let any of his beer be analysed. He was even prepared to pay for the investigation himself

The letter seems to have convinced the editors of Allsopp's honesty. Though, being in the position to have the last word, they couldn't resist trying to vindicate their actions. By saying that while Bass, Allsopp and Ind might not be poisoning their customers, who knows what less reputable firms were up to. The implication is that the working class couldn't afford to buy their beer and had to rely on the products of less honest brewers.
"BITTER BEER. In another column we insert a letter from Mr. Allsopp, the substance of which has already appeared in the Times. It is a frank, honest declaration, and quite satisfies us that Mr. Allsopp has been no party to any falsification; and that he, in common with the other great brewers, have really supplied the public with what they profess to do, viz., good, genuine, wholesome bitter beer. When we pointed out, on a former occasion, the importance of the great brewers coming forward and making the statements now tendered by Messrs. Allsopp, Bass, and Ind, it was not so much to clear their own characters as to prevent a general panic arising among their consumers, which would doubtless have rapidly and completely ruined their trade. The general question, however, remains much as it did. Tt has been stated, that strychnine has been imported into England in large quantities for a certain purpose. Is it true that there has been such importation ? is it true that there has been such application? Messrs. Allsopp, Bass, and Ind do not, unfortunately, make up the total of our brewers and retailers; and their assertions, satisfactory as regards their own productions, leave the point, as far as the small vendors and middlemen are concerned, unsettled.

Mr. Allsopp is not likely to have paid much attention to the subject of the adulteration of food. The probability is, that he has no conception of the frauds which are practised by the traders of the poor classes, nor of the total want of anything like prevention on the part of the authorities. Adulteration is not practised to any great extent among the rich. Their tradesmen know that it is their interest as well as their duty to supply a good article. The bread, the butter, the meat, the coffee, the tea, and the beer of our upper classes are, for the most part, unexceptionable. If any common article of diet bo much adulterated, it is wine. But among the poor it i» very different; the demand is more than the supply ; the suppliers more numerous than the amount of their stock, justifies; the purchasers are clamorous for cheapness, and consider abundance more than quality. All the incentives to care and discrimination which act upon the higher tradesman are absent here; and the result is, that between a careless public and an unscrupulous trade, the amount of falsification of food is almost incredible. It is only by glimpses that we get a knowledge of what is going on, but those glimpses-disclose to us a state of things which demand prompt and instant investigation. If we wished to investigate the bread or the meat which is sold in Ratcliff-highway or Whitechapel, we should not go to a baker or a butcher of Belgravia or Hyde Park-square; and it would be just as absurd to admit the " bitter beer" of our eminent brewers as a proper sample of the beverage of the poorer class.

There is one part of Mr. Allsop's letter in which he almost reproaches us for having brought this matter forward. But he will see, on a little reflection, that it was our bounden duty to make those statements public in this country which had been publicly proclaimed in Paris, and published in the leading political journal of the day, and in one of the most eminent of the medical periodicals. As medical men, and guardians of the public health, it was impossible for us to let the matter pass over without comment. Put the question to any sensible man in the kingdom, as to what course we should have pursued, and there can be but one answer. It is absurd to call upon us to prove M. Payen's assertion. It is not in our power to do so ; but it is in our power to call upon those whom it concerns to disprove it; and we conceive that, if we did not do this, we should be doing our duty neither to the public nor to the Profession."
"Medical Times and Gazette, Volume 4", 1852, page 376.

So it was perfectly reasonable for them to scare the public and potentially ruin the business of Burton brewers based on a few remarks of a foreign chemist. And without anything as dull as evidence or facts. Just a bunch of hearsay and wild supposition. Not much different from today's press, with all their horror stories of an "epidemic" of "binge drinking".

"You may not be adulterating your beer, but we're sure others are" is the gist. A combination of supposition and suspicion that is very difficult to refute because it's so vague. I wonder if they published an apology when it became clear that the whole story was pure fantasy and that no beer had ever been bittered with strychnine?


Arctic Alchemy said...

One would think such an investigation would have originated in Paris, rather than in Burton. I would also think it would be easier to demand a few laboratories for it's export records then accuse an entire industry in a foreign country.

Much has been written about Henry and his honesty as a man and great integrity as a business leader, his letter in response is yet another example of his character and passion for not only his business, but the brewing industry in general.

Ron Pattinson said...

Allsopp comes out of this much better than the snide editors. But isn't the press just the same today?

Arctic Alchemy said...

Absolutely correct Ron, it even happens to beer bloggers :}