Friday, 29 June 2007


No, I haven't switched to an agricultural theme. I'll let Charles Booth explain:

  • Ida street has 5 public houses three of which are fully licensed: many rough women about and many women in the pubs. Monday is recognised as ladies day: in Carr Street it is known as "cowshed" day and probably here also; poor women being known by their husbands and male neighbours as "cows". Monday is their drinking day because they still have a little pocket money left: they drink in public houses which become in consequence "cowsheds".

Wags, eh, those cheeky, chirpy cockneys. Very Alf Garnett.

"Who is this Charles Booth?" That's a good question. He was a socilogist who undertook an enormous survey of ordinary life in London during the 1890's. Hi interviewed hundreds of people with different trades and asked them about their work. Images of his original handwritten notebooks are on the web. Don't worry about trying to write some academic's crappy handwriting, because I've transcribed the most interesting bits. Strange taste I have in reading matter, eh?

Here's some more of what he has to say about cowsheds:

  • Speaking of women´s drinking Flanagan said that the King´s Arms was the "cowshed" par excellence of the district. The King´s Arms is in the High Street, it is an old establihed house and has lately been done up. This was confirmed by Mr. Young one of the guardians for the parish who has a perambulator shop nearly opposite. He said 11 AM and between 6 and 8 PM were the great hours for women´s drinking. All classes go in, no one seems in the least to mind being seen. Their tipple is gin. He has watched a butchers stall just opposite and noticed that every buyer of a joint was taken off there for a drink. Monday is the chief cowshed day. Sometimes in a poor street you will hear an old woman say to a young married woman "Come along my dear, you just put your husbands clothes away, he will never find it out, besides every one does it." That is how the women of the lower classes begin drinking. As factory girls they don´t indulge themselves at all regularly in this way.

    In the lower middle classes he thinks the drinking habit is started in the courting days. A young man now always takes his young woman into a public house, so does the young married man. Young married couples will often spend many hours of the evening at the public house, it is dull at home but bright and amusing out. Then the taste is acquired which afterwards becomes a habit. (Flanagan was a police inspector interviewd by Booth. The pub still exists: 18 Kingsland High Street, Dalston, E8 2JP)

  • Women´s drinking has certainly increased whereas men´s has if anything has diminished. Men drink beer but women more often spirits. It is beer upon which the working man gets drunk. Factory girls drink but it is more often the young married woman and middle aged women who indulge too much. It is in these latter that Flanagan has noticed the increase; not by any means only among the women of the poor, it is more noticeable among what would be the "middle class of a district like this". They have no shame at going into a public house either during or after their shopping, between 4 and 6 of an afternoon are their hours. Grocers licenses have not had much to do with it because it is away from home that the women indulge. In this district there is nothing in the allegation that women buy spirits and charge them to groceries to their husbands accounts. "Why should they? It is the immediate stimulus they want and they have no shame at going into a public house."

The Victorians and Edwardians didn't half get in a tizzy about women of the lower orders drinking. At least the "respectable" members of society - politicians, clegymen, magistrates and the like - did. Not that it bothered the member of the lower orders themselves. They saw nothing wrong with their womenfolk indulging in the odd nip of gin. Which illustrates how much our view of Victorian society - seen through the eyes of the higher classes - is a distortion of the reality. The attitudes of the London poor seem remarkably modern, compared to the pompous, often hypocritical morality of their "betters".

London as usual, was ahead of the game in social change. In other parts of the country, entering a pub was tantamount to proof of being a fallen woman.

  • I remember too that we had visits from some Chief Constables from towns in the North of England, including Newcatle and Durham, who had come to tell the Control Board of a serious increase in drinking among wome in their towns, which was, they emphasized, a growing evil one non-existent before the war. . . . In the old days few decent women would go into a public house at all, and now they were walking in "bold as brass", putting their money down and calling for beer . . . they feared that it might continue after the war. I had, of course, known that women in ordinary times used public houses much less up north than in the London district, but I was not aware until then how wide was the difference. It seemed to me strange that leading police officials ahould be so troubled at what in the south was a quite normal custom. (From page 106 of "70 Rolling Years" the autobiography of Sydney Nevile, who worked in the brewing industry between 1888 and 1958)

What are things coming to, when women can walk ito pubs and ask for beer? Is it any wonder the world is in such a mess?

You can find more transcripts from Booth here. London pubs were already making enormous prices in the 1890's and paying the local plod standard practice for publicans. And why did pubs really swap over from pewter tankards to glasses?

No comments: