During roughly 50 years from 1728 to 1794, there was a period in London where the whole population nearly went completely mad. And the main culprit was gin. The impact of gin on London’s deprived city population is something that is compared to crack cocaine hitting American inner-city ghettos. It’s a time in Britain that is now known as the Gin Craze, but you could also use the more modern term of drug-crazed.
The problem was that until gin, the British population was not used to anything stronger than beer. Nobody knows the period where it was the worst, historians note 1720 to 1751 because this is where we have the most evidence that people complained about the issue – but it could have been happening long before that.
London’s gin consumption was at its biggest during the year 1743, and despite the Gin Act of 1751, the high levels lasted well into 1757. It took a series of crop failures to force the distillation of grain to be banned, due to food shortages! Street vendors would even add in lethal ingredients such as turpentine or sulphuric acid to add a certain flavor to their gin – which was already a much higher percentage of alcohol than today.
Gin bars would have back rooms where men and women would spend the night vomiting unconscious on straw. This led to the term Mother’s Ruin or Mother Gin because, during this same period, death rates started to outstrip birth rates. Historians believe the main cause was that mothers were so drunk on gin they would not look after babies and young children. There is a statistic that showed during 1723, 75% of babies died before they reached the age of five. And doctors did write numerous reports about babies deformed with fetal alcohol syndrome, and gin was also blamed for lowering fertility in men.
The rising amount of drunks and general disorder forced the government to act. This led to regulations around how gin was produced, though it took over eight government acts over 30 years before they finally reached regulation that worked for everyone. In the end, it was simply a case of raising the duty tax that made drinking gin too expensive for the urban poor.