Slappy Bonita, Mother’s Ruin, The Makeshift, King Theodor of Corsica? No idea what I’m on about? Well you need an education on the History of Gin. May I introduce you to Madam Geneva, very much acquainted with the East End and very much a part of London history.
Enjoy my song a week entry in tribute, ‘Geneva’s Call’.
Play London song above, view video for story behind the song or read below.
The Gin Craze
There are few things finer in life than a glass or two of your favourite alcoholic beverage. The warmth in the stomach, the taste on the palate and the glow that spreads from the ends of your fingers to the tips of your toes. Everything is fine, everything is okay. Conversation flows, and you become the funniest man on the planet. You dance, you laugh, you cry. At closing time you spin out into the street and party on under the stars. After a brief pitstop at the local kebab shop for your usual, with a double helping of chilli sauce and a side order Salmanella, you continue on into the early hours of the morning. When the sun rises you find yourself passed out in a hedge and save for the traffic cone for a top hat and being covered from head to foot in your own vomit, as naked as the day you were born. Ah the nostalgia. But then there are those that abuse alcohol…
In the 18th century everybody hated the French because, well they were French. And so tax on French products was high and this included wine and brandy. Britain had had a good couple of years of grain harvest and that combined with the introduction of a spirit by a Dutch king (his own troops used to take it into battle with them resulting the term – Dutch courage) saw a boom in the sale of a beverage named White Satin. (Also known as slackly bonito, mothers ruin, the makeshift) Commonly known to us as Gin. Even Queen Mary drank the stuff. It was extremely popular in the 1700s especially amongst the poorer class of people who up until then had to drink ale as a water substitute.
In order to be in the business of selling gin all you had to do was stick up a notice and within 10 days you could legally manufacture and sell liquor. And so cheap distilleries cropped up everywhere and because of the boom in urbanisation, it was too hard for authorities to keep an eye on it all. Soon Gin was being sold from illegal gin shops right through to wheelbarrows in the street. Now because the poor were small and malnourished, their metabolism couldn’t possibly cope with the content of alcohol that they were taking in. They were still drinking it in ale glass measurements. So alcoholism boomed along with crime, prostitution, vanerial disease and death.
Now reformers obviously took issue with this, at one point even claiming that 84,000 infant deaths were directly related to the consumption of Gin. They went about trying to put laws in place. One law encouraged the reporting of illegal Gin shops where informers were paid a substantial amount of money for keeping an eye on neighbourhood activities. But this wasn’t too successful as the spies ended up getting attacked in the street, sometimes by mobs of up to hundreds of people.
Eventually the 3rd Gin Act was passed which saw the excise on the alcohol raised by 1200%. This combined with the increased price of grain, helped to finally get things under control. But not before the well publicised case of a woman named Judith. Judith had been enjoying a lovely day with her daughter Mary, receiving charity from the local parish. The child had been given some brand-new clothes and mother and daughter were wandering home when Judith, an alcoholic got the thirst. She proceeded to strangle her daughter to death before selling the brand-new clothes to pay for a bottle of gin.