Saturday, 5 November 2011

What is the usual beverage of the common people?

Not much today. Just a short piece about Scottish drinking habits.

This is an excerpt from an article about the Poor Laws in England and how the Scottish approach differed. The author praises the Scots for not being soft and encouraging idleness like the English did with their workhouses. Change a few details and it could easily sound like a modern Tory's speech. (Take a look if you doubt me.)
"6. What is the usual beverage of the common people? do they generally drink beer? and how do they procure it?

A. The usual beverage of the common people is milk, failing that useful article, water, or small beer not much better than water, is their beverage. The small beer is usually procured from public houses.

7. What may be the number of ale-houses, in reference to the population of districts?

A. There are ten public-houses in this parish, few of them of extensive business, and the population thereof is 1700 souls or thereby.

8. Is it customary for labourers to resort to such houses?

A. It is not common for country labourers to resort to public-houses, except when they have received some money from their master for extra services, or when they are delivering grain or other articles, on which occasions an allowance in money is always given them. The inhabitants of towns and villages are better customers to the publican than the country labourers.

9. Is it usual for common brewers to become owners of such houses, and serve them exclusively with their own manufacture? or do the tenants brew their own beer?

A. The brewers in Scotland are very seldom owners of public-houses, the sale of ale and small beer being too inconsiderable to make it any object for them to rent houses with a view of procuring the exclusive consumption of customers. The tenants of public-houses rarely brew their own beer; indeed that is quite unnecessary, for one common brewer can with ease supply all the beer that is wanted in four or five parishes. Private brewing is not customary in Scotland, except in the harvest months, when many of the large farmers brew beer for the use of their reapers—bread and beer being almost in every case the only articles for dinner."
"Blackwood's Edinburgh magazine, Volume 3, April - September 1818", 18 , pages 13 - 14.

It's another one of those brief but fact-filled texts that I love so much.

Under discussion is a country parish. With 10 pubs for a mere 1,700 people, I'm not surprised none of them did that much trade. Agricultural labourers, we are told,  rarely drank anything stronger than Small Beer. We've already seen that in the 18th century and early 19th century, only a small proportion of the beer brewed in Scotland was Strong Beer. In England, it was the other way around, a majority being Strong Beer.

Hang on, I've numbers to demonstrate that:

Scottish and English beer production 1803 - 1820
Scotland England
year Strong beer (barrels) Table beer (barrels) total all beer (barrels) %age Table Beer Strong beer (barrels) Table beer (barrels) total all beer (barrels) %age Table Beer
1803 106,436 248,936 355,371 70.05% 5,582,516 1,660,828 7,243,344 22.93%
1804 93,035 230,240 323,275 71.22% 5,265,623 1,779,570 7,045,193 25.26%
1805 104,534 221,439 325,973 67.93% 5,412,131 1,776,807 7,188,938 24.72%
1806 118,911 230,198 349,109 65.94% 5,443,502 1,771,754 7,215,256 24.56%
1807 121,395 233,942 355,337 65.84% 5,577,176 1,732,710 7,309,886 23.70%
1808 114,086 234,493 348,579 67.27% 5,571,359 1,710,242 7,281,601 23.49%
1809 117,711 220,828 338,539 65.23% 5,513,111 1,682,899 7,196,010 23.39%
1810 126,806 227,487 354,293 64.21% 5,753,319 1,653,588 7,406,907 22.32%
1811 119,533 230,233 349,766 65.82% 5,902,903 1,649,564 7,552,467 21.84%
1812 121,174 222,153 343,328 64.71% 5,860,869 1,593,395 7,454,264 21.38%
1813 116,060 198,826 314,886 63.14% 5,382,946 1,455,758 6,838,704 21.29%
1814 132,717 206,175 338,892 60.84% 5,642,014 1,432,728 7,074,742 20.25%
1815 135,210 221,698 356,907 62.12% 6,150,543 1,518,301 7,668,844 19.80%
1816 126,582 222,278 348,859 63.72% 5,982,379 1,514,867 7,497,246 20.21%
1817 111,160 205,977 317,137 64.95% 5,236,048 1,453,960 6,690,008 21.73%
1818 108,948 192,434 301,381 63.85% 5,364,009 1,434,642 6,798,651 21.10%
1819 123,664 209,380 333,044 62.87% 5,629,240 1,460,244 7,089,484 20.60%
1820 116,299 207,010 323,309 64.03% 5,296,699 1,444,287 6,740,986 21.43%
"Accounts and Papers: Miscellaneous, session 23 January to 11 July 1821", 1821, pages 353-354.
"Accounts and Papers: Miscellaneous, session 23 January to 11 July 1821", 1821, page 269.

Which is all very ironic, what with Scotland being renowned for its strong beers. They might have made Scottish brewers famous, but the folks back home mostly drank the weak stuff.

Why didn't agricultural labourers go to the pub? Because they didn't have any cash. As soon as they were gievn some, they were straight down the boozer. A bit like Little Dave. As soon as he got his giro he was down the pub and wouldn't leave until it was all gone. Happy days.

The question about tied houses is an odd one. But dead useful for my purposes. I'm still trying to get my head around when the tied house system first appeared and how it developed. London brewers owned some pubs (or their leases) in the 18th century. But it was nowhere near a majority of pubs that were controlled by brewers. That, as far as I can tell, was an indirect result of Licensing Acts, starting with the one of 1869. As new licences became virtually impossible to obtain and magistrates began delicensing pubs, there was a scramble to secure pubs. Or rather their licences.

For reasons I've never been able to explain, though tied houses did exist in Scotland, the majority of the pub trade was, nominally at least, free.And that difference seems to stretch back to at least the beginning of the 19th century. Could the high percentage of beer exported be connected to this? Were Scottish brewers not as dependent on the local market as their English colleagues?

Finally two other differences with England: no pub brewing and only domestic (i.e. farm) brewing at harvest time. The beer supplied at harvest was, in England, usually a type of low-gravity Mild. Maybe about 4% ABV. Domestic brewing was popular in parts of England well into the 19th century. And in others the same was true of pub brewing until after WW I.

Wow. I've managed to stretch that one out. I only meant to write a couple of paragraphs.


Anonymous said...

In many cases a public house was simply a spare room open to the public where beer was sold as an income supplement.That's why there were so many of them.
Although not in Scotland, the landlord of the Lord Nelson did some research on pubs in Burnham Market.At one time there were 12 of them, in 11 the landlord had another full time occupation.

The Beer Wrangler said...

Were low income levels anything to do with the higher consumption of table beer, or was there a cultural trend towards weaker beer? I know from the Scottish part of my family/ancestry that the type of Presbyterian Christianity (and temperance movement from the late 1820's onwards) made for more restrictive culture.
I wonder if there was less demand for stronger beer, or perhaps pressure on the breweries to brew less strong beer for these reasons.

Ron Pattinson said...

Beer Wrangler, it's a bit early to be the effect of the temperance movement. And the proportion of strong beer increased as the 19th century progressed.

I don't really know the answer. It could well be a cultural thing.