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Many of you will no doubt be familiar with William Hogarth's 'Gin Lane', a brutal depiction of the horrors and consequences of gin drinking. But how did this spirit, enjoyed by so many today, begin life with such a bad reputation? And why is it called 'Mother's Ruin'? We've delved into the past to find out more…
In the late 1600s, an act allowing the public to brew their own alcohol at home without a fee was passed. At the same time, there was also a restriction on the importation of brandy and wine. This saw an explosion of people producing their own spirits, mainly flavoured with juniper. The alcohol was frequently made with low quality ingredients and the unpalatable taste masked with flavours like rose water. The 'Gin Craze' period had begun.
By the 1730s, there were over 7,000 gin shops in London and it was estimated that the average person was drinking over 63 litres (!) of gin each year. The gin being home-brewed was incredibly strong and drunk in vast quantities, not in the leisurely fashion with ice and a slice that we relish today.
This huge consumption of this highly intoxicating substance had a big impact on society causing misery, increased crime, low birth rate and death. For the first time, women and men were allowed to drink together in the gin shops and it's here that gin was christened 'mother's ruin'. It was believed that women drinking alongside men led them to prostitution and neglecting their children.
Action was needed and in 1736 a Gin Act was brought in to tax sales, though with little effect. It saw respected sellers put out of business and black market gin, often poisonous, thrive.
It took another 15 years until a more successful law was put in place for the Gin Craze begin to die down. Economic change and a series of bad harvests, that pushed up the cost of grain and food whilst wages dropped, also contributed to the dying out of gin consumption. By 1757, gin was no longer the drug of choice and the craze was over.