Daily entries from the 17th century London diary
Phil, hope this qualifys as background info, orignally posted 31/1. DC
"A point about the amount of alcohol consumed was that it was considered safer than drinking water in Sam’s day. A weak solution of alcohol was seen as killing off bugs such as cholera (how scientific this is I don’t know). The small beer given to children would have been well watered down - I suspect this may be what Pepys’ daily ‘Morning Draft’ consisted of. (Then again, Sam obviously liked a pint!)
In the churchyard of Winchester Cathedral is the tombstone of the ‘Hampshire Grenadier.’ His epitaph reads:-
“In Memory of Thomas Thetcher a Grenadier in the North Reg. of Hants Militia,who died of a violent Fever contracted by drinking Small Beer when hot the 12th of May 1764. Aged 26 Years… Here sleeps in peace a Hampshire Grenadier,Who caught his death by drinking cold small Beer, Soldiers be wise from his untimely fall And when ye’re hot drink Strong or none at all.”
There’s a picture of the Hampshire Grenadier tombstone at
Needless to say local brewers (until the 1970s), W Strongs of Romseylater used the phrase “drink Strong or none at all” in their advertising copy…
Although various interpretations of Thomas’ fate are possible, it seems likely that he died because the beer he drank on that hot May day in 1764 (over a century after Pepys’ time) was too weak to kill off the cholera, typhus or whatever other nasty was in it."
The beer might have been brewed not to contain much alcohol. Drinks that were safer than water in that day would have been beer, whiskey, tea, and coffee as they all have a step in preparation where the water is boiled. Diluting the beverage later with water would add pathogens. Bacteria were unknown is this period.
Beer, and or ale was during Pepys' time considered to be a food, and not an alcoholic drink per se. A Brewer was seen to be a producer of food, just the same as a farmer. Because of this, a Brewer could be presented at Court, and a solicitor could not. The lawyer worked for a fee, and was considered to be "in trade". Barristers got around this by receiving "consultation fees".
(This is a slightly different version of an entry I posted for 4 Mar, 1659/60)Declining beer consumption over the 17th centuryBeer had been the traditional drink in England for centuries, but by Pepys's time it was starting to face competition for the first time. Gin, for one, was new on the London scene, but it was just one of a host of new beverages cutting into the national consumption of beer. By 1673, a petition was presented to Parliament that tea, coffee, and brandy be prohibited in order to support the local brewers.The problem for English ales had begun not long before the start of the diary, when both Parliament and the Royalists created excise duties on beer to pay for the Civil War - Parliament had created the first of these in 1643. After the Restoration beer duties became more important than ever, because they became a replacement for the old baronial duties that funded the army. By 1650 the tax on a barrel of strong beer was 2s. 6d. and became gradually greater all the time.At the same time, the government was encouraging the distilling of gin as a cheap alternative, beginning when both Charles II and James II licensed brewers to distill as well. In these circumstances the decline of beer consumption was inevitable, although the situation only hit public awareness around 1690. In the 18th century gin drinking became a huge public problem, but that's another story.This information comes from Frederick Hackwood's _Inns, Ales, and Drinking Customs of Old England_, a chatty but informative guide to all things alcohol-related in Olde Englande.
Beer at this time was brewed in households as well as taverns and monasteries. The usual method was to steep a large quantity of malted grain in hot but not boiling water, then drain and collect the runnings. The "first runnings," which had leached the most fermentable malt from the grain, would then make Strong Beer; then a "Second Running" would be collected, much weaker and lighter in color, to make Small Beer. The wort may or may not have been boiled for over an hour, depending on custom and whether hops were added (boiling would have further sanitized the water, of course, which may have added to the health benefits of coffee and tea).Fermentation may be achieved by adding a quantity of fresh beer, the dregs from a previous brew, or even a piece of bread. Some Belgian styles depended on leaving the wort in open casks to catch a wild yeast (the role of yeast in fermentation was not known until Pasteur, perhaps people believed it was achieved by spontaneous generation).A Strong Beer, with its extra fermantables, would yield a higher alcohol beer, although no more powerful than today's average beer, which would be safer to drink. Since there would be fewer fermantables in a Small Beer, what little alcohol it produced may have been overwhelmed by re-contamination once it was handled and served. Certainly if it was watered down, it was just as risky to drink as regular water.
beer regarded as food.
I heard a historian recently aver that the 19th Century Temperance Movement led to quite widespread under-nourishment amongst the poor who, having denied themselves beer, went short of the vitamins (especially B-complex) and minerals that they had formerly got from the drink.
House of Lords Journal Volume 12: 6 March 1671A Message was sent to the House of Commons, by Justice Tyrrill and Baron Turner:
To return the Bill for an additional Excise upon Beer, Ale, and other Liquors, wherein the Lords have made some Amendments, and have added a Proviso; to which the Concurrence of the House of Commons is desired.http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?co...
Diary of Thomas Burton esq, volume 4Monday, April 11, 1659. Resolved, that the farmers of the Excise of Beer and Ale, within London, Middlesex, and Surrey, be required to pay into the receipt of the Exchequer the sum of 15,700l. on Saturday next; and the further sum of 20,000l., on or before the first day of next term.
Log in to post an annotation.
If you don't have an account, then register here.