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The Sipsmith Blog

Gin and London | Hogarth’s Gin Lane

in Articles March 11, 2013
Gin Lane

William Hogarth: satirist, painter, social critic, cartoonist, and safe to say, not the biggest fan of gin, if his Gin Lane series is anything to go by. In fact, the Sipsmith distillery is not far at all from his house in Chiswick…

Hogarth would have been rather outnumbered in his annoyance in his time though, because the hoi polloi of London were positively crazy about the stuff in the eighteenth century. Men and women would (and sometimes did) sell their own children to get their hands on some gin money, and let’s just say that public decency and decorum started to go the way of the dodo for a while. Hogarth, rather preoccupied with morality, became so concerned about how much the masses were drinking that he created the engravings ‘Gin Lane’ and ‘Beer Street’ in 1751 as part of a government campaign to restrict the sale of gin – while ‘Beer Street’ was a place of industry, happiness and hard work, ‘Gin Lane’ was a den of squalor and social ills.

Sipsmith History of Distilling

This crude gin was flavoured with turpentine as well as juniper (and sometimes sulphuric acid), and it was much sweeter than the London gin we know today.

Gin had become the poor man’s opium, but unlike opium, gin was cheap. This crude gin was flavoured with turpentine as well as juniper (and sometimes sulphuric acid), and it was much sweeter than the London gin we know today. After the 1736 Gin Act (which increased taxes on gin and made selling it without a licence illegal), bootleggers thrived while respectable businesses crumbled. Eventually everything settled down, much to Hogarth’s satisfaction assumedly, and the people cut back a bit.

fifty pound act

Whilst the circumstances might not be the same as in Hogarth’s time, today we are experiencing a new (and definitely much more refined) gin craze in the capital and elsewhere in the country.

Back in 2013 and we’ve left the turpentine and sulphuric acid behind (rather dangerous ingredients we felt…), and yet the tradition of small-scale producers remains. We found that the Gin Act of 1751, which really put a stop to the Gin Craze of the Georgian era by banning any still that had a capacity less than 1,800 litres, is still going strong – we had to get a special dispensation from this rule for Prudence because she only holds 300! Whilst the circumstances might not be the same as in Hogarth’s time, today we are experiencing a new (and definitely much more refined) gin craze in the capital and elsewhere in the country. London is positively obsessed with it, and this time around, it’s with the quality, not quantity…

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