I've already posted about the uneven distribution of pub breweries in the 19th century. How it had all but disappeared in the Southeast, but was still strong in parts of the Midlands and the North. The peiece below is about cottage brewing. Or the working classes brewing for themselves at home. What immediately struck me was how the area singled out as a hotbed of cottage brewing was also a stronghold of pub brewing. Fascinating, eh?
This is taken from a debate in the House of Commons in 1874 about the abolition of the malt tax. It was a big deal because the malt tax was the source of around a third of the government's tax income. Of course, the tax was abolished six years by the Free Mash Tun Act. Not that beer then became untaxed, just that the tax was moved onto the product itself rather than the raw materials required to make it.
"He should doubtless be met by the remark that the only effect of reducing the malt tax would be to increase the quantity of beer drunk in the country, and that at the present time more beer was drunk than was good for the people. His answer to that statement was that it was not the amount of pure beer drunk that injured the people, but the quantity of adulterated poison sold under the name of beer, which was the cause of the misery and wretchedness they all so much deplored. He was anxious to restore the practice of cottage brewing, which, in consequence of the high price of malt, had fallen into disuse in most agricultural districts, although it still existed to a great extent in the suburbs of manufacturing towns like Halifax, Leeds, Huddersfield and Todmorden. In 1865 he sent a reliable person round to collect information as to the extent of cottage brewing in that part of the country, and the information he obtained was most interesting. He had it put: into a concise form and would read the result:—
TOWNSHIP. PARISH. Total Families. Brew at Home. Would brew, but can't afford. Buy Beer. Do not drink Beer. Elland Halifax 1419 1237 51 73 58 Hipper-holme-cum-Brighouse Ditto 1737 1301 141 157 138 Quarmby-Cum-Linley Huddersfield 987 784 84 71 48 Idle Calverly 2231 1643 220 106 262 Lansfield Halifax 876 610 46 48 172 Middle Third of Stansfield Ditto 798 591 54 49 104 Todmorden and Walsden Rochdale 1774 1293 139 93 249 9822 7459 735 597 1031
§ Given in another form it might be stated as follows:—76 per cent of the inhabitants of these townships brewed at home; 8 per cent would brew, but could not afford to do so; 6 per cent bought beer; 10 per cent did not drink beer. The habit of cottage brewing prevailed at one time to a vast extent all over England, and it was ill consequence of the increased price of malt, owing to the malt tax, that it had fallen into disuse. Cobbett told them in the Political Register, vol. 87, p. 720, that—
"Mr. Ellman stated to a Committee of the House of Commons in 1821, that 15 years before that, when he became a farmer, every labourer in his parish of Glynde where he lived, brewed his own beer, and drank it by his own fireside, forty-five years back from 1821 takes us to 1776. At that time there was no tax on malt if made by persons for their own consumption. In the year 1783 this permission ceased."
In the districts where the practice of cottage brewing was in force, the husband and sons of the woman who brewed the beer were among the most sober and respectable of the population, remaining at home in the evening with their families instead of going to the public-house. Where cottage brewing had disappeared, men were forced into public-houses, and were there led into temptations which attendance at such places gave rise to. Beer was increased in price about 100 per cent by this tax, and this increase in the price was a great inducement to adulterate it. China clay was first used in the cotton manufactures because of the high price of the raw material, owing to the American War, and so adulteration in beer was encouraged by the high price of malt. The high price of beer undoubtedly encouraged the drinking of spirits—a fearful source of evil. The man who got his glass of beer at home was not the man who would get drunk on spirits—or what were called spirits—sold at public-houses. Therefore it was in the interests of temperance and of the public health that he sought for the reduction of this tax, which would enable cottagers to brew a pure and unadulterated drink. He had been looked upon almost as a visionary for supposing that the country would ever go back to cottage brewing.
The Times had done him the honour of ridiculing him in a leading article for some remarks that had fallen from him relative to cottage brewing when he introduced a deputation to the Chancellor of the Exchequer the other day in reference to this question. That article was doubtless written by a man who had lived in London all his life, and who knew nothing about the habits of labouring people in the country. The correspondent of that journal, who was engaged in collecting facts in connection with the lock-out of agricultural labourers, alluded in more than one of his letters to the fact that malt was given out in harvest time to the farm labourers, which they brewed themselves. Therefore the statement in The Times article was contradicted by The Times correspondent. Evidence was given before the Malt Tax Committee in 1868 to show that the farm labourers preferred beer to tea, and that they could work better on the former than on the latter beverage. A labourer from Playford, of the name of Elias Amos, gave the following evidence—
"(Q. 4768.) "You think the people would prefer beer to tea?—I do."
"(Q. 4769.) "Could they work better upon the beer?—Yes."
"(Q. 4770.) "Is there no other reason why you think they would drink beer instead of tea? Would it not cost more to have a fire, night and morning, to make your tea?—Beer does you more good than tea."
"(Q. 4799.) "I make good beer when I brew it for the harvest. I brew 2 bushels instead of 1½ bushels, and make the same quantity of beer in harvest. I want better beer when I work hard."
If our labourers did not drink beer, what were they to drink? He should be told tea. Our physicians were arriving at a very different opinion with respect to the wholesomeness of tea from what was entertained a few years ago and they found that it was impossible for a man to undergo laborious exercise as well upon tea as upon beer. Thus Dr. Smith, the physician appointed by the Privy Council to inquire into the dietary of the poor, had reported that the continuous use of either tea or coffee was calculated to have an injurious action upon the brain. These were his words—
"The action of both tea and coffee, but particularly the former, upon the brain is well known. The importance of this action is not So well appreciated as it ought to be; but I am fully persuaded that it has a most injurious influence upon health and even upon sanity. Tea is hurtful in the absence of food after a long fast (as at breakfast), to the poor and ill-fed. It is not adapted to sustain exertion."MALT TAX.—RESOLUTION, HC Deb 23 April 1874 vol 218 cc1021-41,
—practical Dietaries, by Edward Smith, M.D., one of the Physicians employed by the Privy Council to inquire into the Dietary of the Poor; and dedicated, by permission, to Mrs. Gladstone.""
That's an impressive percentage of the locals who brewed their own beer in those bits of West Yorkshire - about three quarters. What town could match that today?
The tea or beer debate raged for quite a while in the 19th century. There were many who maintained it was a poor, non-nutritious drink unsuitable for those performing hard pohysical labour. it's funny, given the place tea later acquired in British culture, to see the vehemence of the opposition to its spread.