Like many of Britain's national favourites, gin did not originate from our shores - we take a deeper look into the history of London gin..
Like many of Britain’s national favourites, gin did not originate from our shores. In fact, if you don’t count the Italian monks who are thought to have used juniper berries as flavourings in distilled spirits back in the 11th Century, it’s Holland that is credited as the birthplace of gin. Its inventor is widely thought to be a Dutch physician who went by the name of Franciscus Sylvius, who used it for medicinal purposes back in 1550. The English first got their hands on the spirit while over there fighting against the Spanish in the Thirty Years’ War, using it to calm their nerves before a battle and warm them up. Yes, that’s right. Gin is the original ‘Dutch Courage’. The soldiers took their newly found favourite spirit home with them of course, and they never looked back.
After the Worshipful Company of Distillers was formed by King Charles I in 1638, which gave members a monopoly on the distilling trade within twenty-one miles of London and Westminster – it was clear that London would play a special role in the history of gin. We owe the real tradition of London gin, as well as its attachment to it, however, to yet another Dutchman.
Even though London gin had been around for a while, it wasn’t until the ruler of the Dutch republic, William of Orange, and his wife Mary sat on the English throne that it really started to take off with Londoners. The ‘Glorious Revolution’ was the breeding ground for gin’s popularity, and William even encouraged the distillation of gin and other spirits during his and Mary’s reign. Anyone could do it too, in the comfort of their own homes if they wanted. Soon it became so common that wages were sometimes paid in gin. What with the price – cheap compared to beer, and the state of the water – completely unsafe, gin was simply a logical option for many of the poorer Londoners. By the early eighteenth century London was home to thousands of ‘dram shops’ and around ten million gallons of gin were being distilled in the capital. The city was completely caught up in the spirit, as it were, and their love affair with gin was about to turn into an obsession…