Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Spirit dealer on Leith Street, Edinburgh

A social history sort of post today. About the former Scottish practice of drinking in shops.


Mr John Walker, Examined:—

The Chairman.—What is your trade or profession ?—A spirit dealer.

Do you trade on your own account, or do you manage for another ?—I am manager to William Rutherford & Son, 5, Leith Street.

How long have you been connected with the spirit trade?—Eighteen years.

You are acquainted with the working of the law before as well as since the passing of the Forbes Mackenzie Act ?—So far as I have paid attention to the matter.

Is Messrs Rutherford's business wholesale or retail?—Both.
Are you aware of any inconvenience they have experienced in their trade by the provisions of the Mackenzie Act ?—None.
They have no ground of complaint ?—No.

Are they, as large dealers, satisfied with the law as at present existing ?— Perfectly satisfied.

Have you found any increase or diminution in your trade since the passing of the Act?—There has been a slight increase I should say; but that may be attributed to other causes than the Act. The cause, I think, is that we give the best of articles, good accommodation and good service, and our general management altogether is good.

Mr Rutherford has several places of business in Edinburgh ?—Six.
Are spirits sold to be consumed on the promises in all these six ?—Yes.
Do you find any difficulty in closing these establishments at 11 at night ?— None whatever.

They were never open on any part of Sunday ?—They never were.
Has your business increased from a greater number of persons coming to your houses ?—There has been a general increase since the railways have been extended. There is a large influx of people into Edinburgh, and cheap trips bring great numbers to the town, and many of these visitors come in to get refreshments with us, such as porter and ale, and cheese and bread.

Have you observed of late years any change in the proportion of spirits consumed by your customers, as compared with porter and ale ?—I should say the malt liquor is on the increase.

To any considerable extent?—I should say to a considerable extent in proportion to the drawings of the establishment.

Do you think that that has a tendency to check intemperance or otherwise? —There is little intemperance in our shops. We never see a tipsy man in the shop. It is a mere place of refreshment; for a glass of pale ale, a nip of brandy, or such like; and it is frequented by many of the principal gentlemen in town, and we never see any intemperance in it at all.

You have none of the tag-rag visiting you?—We never let them in at all. Have you any shops in the old town?—We have two in the High Street, No. 72 and No. 75.

So far as your business is concerned, your firm are perfectly satisfied with the Act as it at present stands ?—I reiterate Mr Rutherford's ideas when I state that he does not wish any alteration in the Act at all. Mr Rutherford authorised you to state that for him ?—Yes. And there is no difficulty in getting them out at 11 ?—There would be even more difficulty at 12 than at 11, according to my experience.

Would that be from their having had a glass more ?—It would have a tendency that way.

Do you think the hour of opening is early enough ?—Quite early enough. Are any more of your shops in the older part of the town ?—Yes; we have No. 3, Drummond Street, and No. 30, Bristol Street.

Are these situated among the working population ?—The Drummond Street one is more like the Leith Street shop. It is frequented by students and clerks.

I suppose the High Street is where you have the commonest people ?—Yes. But still the greatest regularity prevails ?—We have never occasion for the police at all.

Does your remark apply to all the six ?—Yes.

In what way can you object to any persons coining into your premises, if they conduct themselves quietly? —We never object to persons coming in if Evidence, they are sober, except they are loose-looking characters. People who conduct themselves well, like respectable mechanics, we never refuse at all; but all low people going about begging, we would not sell to them at all.

If the person were intoxicated, would you object to serve him ?—We hate the sight of him.

And you would not supply him ?—Never.

Can you state what is the extent of the business of Mr Rutherford, as to the number of puncheons disposed of in a year in the retail trade ?—I am scarcely qualified to do that.

He has also an extensive wholesale trade?—Very extensive.

He has the largest retail establishment in Edinburgh?—I should think ours is the largest. His name is known throughout all Britain for the character of his establishments.

Do you supply other refreslunents besides liquors to persons visiting ?—We have penny sandwiches, and cheese and bread, and plates of ham, but no soup or cooked provisions.

Have any of your customers ever made objection at being made to go at 11 ?—There may be individual exceptions, but, as a rule, they never grumble. They go when they are warned, at five minutes to 11.

To whom do you supply spirits in wholesale?—We often send to London.

Do you supply retail dealers in town ?—We do not supply shops,—at least from our retail warehouse.

Are there other than licensed dealers applying to you for spirits from your wholesale warehouse?—Private individuals, for their own consumption.

But no persons who mean to sell it in houses not licensed ?—Not to my knowledge. I never knew of such a thing.

You do not knowingly sell to any shebeens ?—Never.

Mr Swinton.—What class of customers come to your shop in Drummond Street ?—The middle-classes—gentlemen, students, bankers'-clerks, etc.,—perhaps respectable females for a bottle of ale; and we perhaps send out half-dozen of bottles of ale to supply families.

Are there many students who come to your house in Drummond Street?—A good many come for their cheese-and-bread, or for their glass of bitter beer and a sandwich, in the forenoon.

Are there many who come in the evening ?—They are not in the habit of coining in the evening to my knowledge.

Do they drink spirits ?—Not generally; it is usually porter, or beer, or pale ale.

The Chairman.—What was your usual hour of closing previous to the Forbes Mackenzie Act ?—We always closed about half-past 11.

And you have found no inconvenience from having to close half an hour earlier ?—None whatever.

Or rather, you found it more easy to comply with the law than before ?—We never had much difficulty in getting them out, but now we have none at all.

Are there a great number of students in the habit of coming about you ?— Not a great number.

I suppose your customers are people who come in and go out again, and do not stay long ?—Our principal business is done standing at the counter in Leith Street.

You have parlours and sitting-rooms?—We have great accommodation upstairs, but it is all quietly conducted, and people never stay long. The thing goes on like clockwork.

Do they take spirits generally ?—They may have it. They have toddy occasionally, or a glass of brandy. If half a dozen come in together, they may all take different things.

Do you provide materials for toddy ?—Yes.

Do you have newspapers ?—Yes; in the coffee-room we have all the principal papers of the day.
Do you have newspapers at all the shops ?—Yes.
Do you supply tea or coffee ?—No; nothing of that sort."
"Report by Her Majesty's commissioners for Inquiring into the Licensing System, and Sale and Consumption of Excisable Liquors in Scotland" , 1860, pages 50-51.

Funny how they had a coffee  room, but didn't sell coffee. The curt reply to the question about tea and coffee implies Mr. Walker thought it was a ridiculous thing to ask.

The there's the bit about the railway's bringing day-trippers into the town who needed cheese and ale, or perhaps a dram, to refresh themselves. Penny sandwiches, cheese and ham. Doesn't sound much different from today, does it? Except that this wasn't a pub, but a shop.

See how careful he is to stress the respectability of his customers: "gentlemen, students, bankers'-clerks, etc.,—perhaps respectable females"; "People who conduct themselves well, like respectable mechanics, we never refuse at all; but all low people going about begging, we would not sell to them at all." Funny how students are seen as respectable. Not so sure that would be the case today.

Oddly enough, the address at 5, Leith Street is now a bar called the Newsroom. Judging by the comments here, it doesn't seem that respectable any more.

Note how concerned the authorities were about shebeens or illegal pubs. It seems Irish migrants had brought the concept with them to Scotland. At least that's what they thought. It could well have just been unfounded prejudice. They weren't exactly pc back then.

Finally, which beers were were mentioned by name? Porter, Pale Ale and Bitter Beer. No mention of Scotch Ale, Wee Heavy or any other specifically Scottish style.

9 comments:

half_man_half_pint said...

Rutherford's Leith St -
http://www.edinphoto.org.uk/0_street_l/0_street_views_-_leith_street_1973_looking_down_leith_street.htm

Rutherford's Drummond St (now "Ciao Roma" restaurant) - http://www.edinphoto.org.uk/0_buildings_r/0_buildings_-_rutherfords_021483.htm

DrJohn said...

It's a relief that they didn't allow that "tag-rag" crowd in to the premises at all!It must have been more difficult to keep the rabble out of a shop than out of a pub.

Ron Pattinson said...

Half_man-half-pint, thanks very much for that. As you'll see, I've added the photo to the post.

I note that the one on Leith Street was a Whitbread pub. And that it had changed from shop to pub.

Barm said...

I think you might have the wrong end of the stick on this one, Ron. It was quite common for bars in Scotland to be referred to as shops or dram-shops. You still hear it among the older generation. "I drink in the Scotia Bar." – "Aye, that's a good shop."

I can't see any Whitbread insignia on the bar frontage. Only on the bus. But that is a fantastic photo.

Ron Pattinson said...

Barm, just above the RUT in Rutherfords I can see a Whitbread Hind logo.

Not sure about the exact nature Rutherfords shop, but the next interview in the report is with a grocer. He was selling customers drams, too.

Barm said...

Rutherford's were still trading in Leith St and Drummond St in 1905, according to this directory: http://addressinghistory.edina.ac.uk/directories/postofficeedinbu19051906edin0_0426.jpg

Barm said...

And, shockingly, as I would have noticed if I'd read half man half pint's comment properly, the shop in Drummond St was still going under the Rutherford's name three years ago, and hung on long enough for Google to catch it being dismantled: here.

I don't think that's a Whitbread hind on the Leith St frontage. Here on the photo of the Drummond St shop you can see that it's some sort of horse emblem, presumably Rutherford's own trademark.

Ron Pattinson said...

Barm, I think you're right. On the Drummond Street premises you can it better and it's a horse rather than the Whitbread Hind.

Robbie Johnston said...

Hello,
I am a manager at The Newsroom and i found this post while researching the building's history.. I invite you to come in, have a complimentary cocktail and experience our respectability and hospitality :)

Cheers!

Robbie
info@newsroomedinburgh.co.uk