Gin Lane: William Hogarth and the Gin Craze

(2 customer reviews)

Leicester Square underground Station, Cranbourn Street (Exit 4)

Guided by Ronnie Haydon

Walk Times

Day Walk Type Start Time End Time
Wednesday Weekly 2.30 pm 4.30 pm Summer Reserve Online

N.B. this walk will not take place on the following dates:

03-07-2024

Short read: Madame Jenever to Mother’s Ruin

Medium read: In 1751 William Hogarth publicised two new works: ‘…Two large Prints design’d and etch’d by Mr Hogarth, call’d BEER STREET and GIN LANE…To be had at the Golden Head in Leicester Fields, where may be had all his other works.’

Our tour follows the events and moral panic that led to the creation of the more infamous Gin Lane. It starts at the site of William Hogarth’s home and painting room near Leicester Square, where the artist sold the prints at a low price, the better to spread the message of the drink’s ‘horrid effects’. From there, we explore the streets of Covent Garden, where gin had become the preferred lubricant for frequenters of chandlers’ shops, stews and taverns. On our walk we examine the role of the great and the good, most notably Henry Fielding and his brother John, in trying to regulate the once-modish spirit. On our way to discovering the site of the infamous rookeries of St Giles, we also explore the argument that laws passed to suppress gin drinking among the poor were really prompted by widespread fears about what came to be known as foetal alcohol syndrome, or whether the Gin Craze created a panic among the ruling classes for more sinister reasons.

Long read: Gin, aka Madam Juniper, Mother Jenever, Mother’s Ruin, or ‘cursed Fiend…that on the Vitals preys’  went from being a fashionable, patriotic juniper-infused tipple to the curse of London’s miserable poor over the course of three decades in the early eighteenth century. This period became known as the Gin Craze. At its height, gin’s popularity was seen as the root of all ills: from fecklessness to infanticide.

At the heart of the moral panic surrounding the excessive drinking of gin stands one unforgettable image: Gin Lane, by William Hogarth.

Ronnie’s tour follows the events that led to what was seen as an epidemic of spirit drinking, and how William Hogarth’s talent for social commentary led him to step right into the drunken fray by creating Gin Lane, and its companion piece, Beer Street.

We start at Leicester Square, and the site of Hogarth’s home and studio from 1733, and move through the streets of Covent Garden following the artist’s fortunes, and the streets and alleyways where, at the height of the Gin Craze, every chandler’s shop would sell you a measure of gin for a penny. On our way, we’ll discover how the spirit came to be deplored among the great and the good, and discuss the frantic attempts to regulate its production. As our tour homes in on the infamous rookeries of St Giles, we also explore the argument that attempts to suppress gin drinking among the poor were really prompted by widespread fears about what came to be known as foetal alcohol syndrome,or whether the Gin Craze created hysteria among the ruling classes for more sinister reasons.

‘What must become of an infant, who is conceived in gin, with the poisonous distillations of which it is nourished, both in the womb and at the breast?’ (Sir John Fielding)

‘Poverty misery and ruin are to be seen Distress even unto madness and death, and not a house in tolerable condition but Pawnbrokers and the Gin shop.’ (William Hogarth)

2 reviews for Gin Lane: William Hogarth and the Gin Craze

  1. Jane

    An interesting new tour. A part of London’s history I was not familiar with. Ronnie can recite great poems and delightfully entertaining.

  2. Christoph Karner

    A very good and highly interesting walk and very well presented.
    Ronnie really makes us understand what happened in the first halve of the 18th century, brings art, politics, life, disease, geographie of this part of London and much more to life in front of our eyes.
    The walk can be highly recommended.

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