Saturday, 8 December 2012

Hawking carters

I told you I'd be getting back to this subject. Carters illegally selling beer from their carts

Britain's licensing laws have long been arcane and often, frankly, ridiculous. The delivery of alcohol in particular caused the authorities many headaches over the years.

The text below is a report of the proceedings of the licensing authorities in Falkirk. At the time, much bottling wasn't done by the brewery itself, but by third parties. In Falkirk these independent bottlers held public house licences, allowing them to sell all types of alcohol for both on- and off-premises consumption. It's slightly odd that they had such licences, given that they disn't actually have anywhere for on consumption. But which licence would make most sense? The other options were a grocer's licence, I suppose the equivalent of a normal off-licence, and an excise licence, which allowed the wholesaling of liquor.

The local head of the police was in favour of grocer's licences. Let's listen to him argue his case:

The Clerk read the following report by Mr Gordon, superintendent of police: - "I have the honour to bring under your notice what appears to me to be a hitherto unnoticed irregularity in the licensing system of this burgh, viz., the granting of public-house certificates to our brewery and bottling establishments. Under the certificates presently held by them, the occupiers of these places could conduct an ordinary, public-house business, by selling porter and ales to all and sundry, to be consumed on the premises, although, to their credit be it said, I never heard of anything of the kind being done, in Falkirk. To have the matter put on a proper and satisfactory footing, I would respectfully suggest that an "off," or "grocer's certificate," be substituted for that of a "public-house certificate." Section 11. of the Public-Houses Acts Amendment (Scotland) Act, 1862, authorises your Honours to make that change if you think fit, and I have thought it proper to write the parties concerned that I am to oppose a renewal of their "public-house certificates." and have asked, them to attend the Licensing Court in their own interests. The only difficulty I have in recommending that a grocer's certificate be granted; is, that it leaves untouched the serious question of the hawking of spirituous liquors by bottlers' carts and grocers' vans, in regard to which, special complaint has been made to me by representative members of the trade. I am not a believer in the application of drastic measures without due warning being given, but I would respectfully suggest - if you think fit to grant grocers' certificates - that it should be made perfectly plain to the respective certificate-holders that if the practice of hawking is to be carried on to the same extent in the future as in the past, the only effective remedy - the withdrawal of all these certificates - will have to be considered. I have just received from the Chief Constable a most serious complaint against a Falkirk bottler openly selling beer to drunken men at Plean on Friday last. The driver of the cart was drunk himself, and after the posse of drunk men were served, he commenced to hawk bottles of beer from door to door. Provost Weir happened to be with the Chief Constable at the time, and witnessed what took place. It appears from inquiries which the Chief Constable has made, a constable had only a very short time before left the village, so that they thought they had the coast clear. I think it my duty to state that my remarks as to hawking have no reference whatever to Mr Aitken, of the Brewery." Continuing, Mr Gordon said he would like to supplement his report by making a few remarks, and giving some information which would prove to them the great need that existed for dealing in some way or other with the extensive hawking which prevailed from bottlers' carts and grocers' vans, and to show that during the past licensing year the police had not been inattentive to their duties in regard to the matter. They had been doing their very best to check the evil, but they had to contend against great difficulties. The people amongst whom the beer was hawked banded themselves together not to give the police any information, and it was only by a side wind that they heard of breaches of the law. Notwithstanding the great difficulty the police had in bringing those case before the Court, they had during the year dealt with eight cases for hawking liquor. Before he mentioned those cases he would say that no one was to suppose that the parties whose names he would read out were greater sinners than others in Falkirk and district, as he did not know of a single bottler or grocer who had a van or vans on the road who had not been in similar trouble at one time or another, either through their men hawking whisky or beer. This question of hawking had indeed assumed considerable dimensions, and it was one of the chief evils they had amongst them at present. Continuing, Mr Gordon referred individually to the eight cases in which proceedings had been taken for hawking liquor.

. . . . .

Mr Gordon (continuing) said he might mention that one of the bottlers (Mr Barr, Falkirk) had dismissed two of his carters when he found out that they were hawking liquor. There were three courses open to their Honours in this matter. They were quite entitled, if they thought fit, to grant the licences at present held by the bottlers, with or without any comment: they could substitute for their present public-house licence a grocer's certificate : or they could take away their licences altogether, and let them obtain an excise licence. The latter method would stop the evil of hawking entirely, as they would not be entitled to sell less than 4.5 gallons to any person, or four gallons in bottles. This was, however, rather a drastic measure to take, considering that so short notice had been given to the bottlers. He therefore thought it was better that they should take the middle course, and substitute a grocer's certificate for the present licence. They ought to keep in mind, how ever, that they were not getting rid of the evil : they were only providing against the bottlers selling for consumption on the premises, which had never been done to his knowledge. He however, would make it very plain to the bottlers that these grocers' certificates were liable to be taken from them, provided that their Honours think that hawking has not ceased, or almost so. There would always be hawking, no matter how strict the regulations, but it would be possible for the bottlers to meet and arrange amongst themselves some line of action . They ought to see that their men were not paid a commisssion on the sale of liquor. It would be an improvement if that commission were withdrawn, and if they were paid a higher commission on the sale of aerated waters. If the carters got a commission on the sale of beer, their bread and butter, as it were, depended on how much they sold, and they had no inducement to keep within the requirements of the law. Then there were wheels within wheels in this business. Those carters undersold the licensed dealers, and carried the liquor under the noses of those who hold licences. The bottlers should arrange on a standard price, under which no man would sell, or he would be called a "black leg" in the trade. When that was done, the chief cause of hawking would be done away with, as no-one would pass the door of a regular spirit dealer when he could get beer at the same price from him as from the carters."
Falkirk Herald - Wednesday 12 April 1899, pages 4 - 5.

The problem, it seems, lay with the way the carters were paid. They were paid a commission on the beer they sold. Hawking it door to door was an obvious way of increasing sales and hence their earnings.

I can't help thinking that the incident where the Superintendent and the Provost was a carter selling beer to drunks had led him to make his proposal. Sucking up to the Provost or genuine concern? Make up your own mind.

1 comment:

Jeff Renner said...

Interesting that he suggests that "The bottlers should arrange on a standard price, under which no man would sell."

I don't know about the UK, but that is called price fixing in the US and is highly illegal. I think it became so at about the time of your article or shortly after.