by this author
Patrick Dillon was born in London and has always held a passionate
interest in it and its history. He studied architecture and
architectural history at University College, London. He has,
for the past twelve years, run a successful London architectural
practice with projects including buildings for the Poetry
Society and the Chelsea Theatre. He has a special expertise
in the history of eighteenth century architecture, and is
currently acting as a consultant on the redevelopment of the
Benjamin Franklin House in London as a museum and study center.
Patrick is married and has two children. He has previously
published two novels, Truth (Penguin, 1997) and Lies
Patrick Dillon on Gin:
Gin: The Much-Lamented Death of Madam Geneva is a
history of gin-drinking in early eighteenth century London,
when the "Gin Craze" was thought by some to threaten
the destruction of civilization.
Gin was introduced from Holland in the 1690s. William II
encouraged a distilling industry in London because it used
up grain and gave a boost to farmers and landowners. But gin
– "Madam Geneva" as it was known – soon
got out of control. London in the early eighteenth century
was very like big western cities today: fast-moving and dangerous,
obsessed with fashion and conspicuous consumption, fuelled
by speculation, lotteries and gambling. Reformers soon focused
on Madam Geneva as the cause of all London’s problems,
blaming her for everything from crime to the break-up of families.
After several attempts to deal with the problem, Parliament
brought in prohibition of spirits in 1736. The effect was
very like prohibition in America in the 1920s. Gin-drinking
went underground. Bootleggers produced cheap and dangerous
hooch; a gin counter-culture grew up. Government attempts
to exert control provoked riots (just after the act was passed,
Jacobite protesters even exploded a bomb in Westminster Hall),
and simply drove the problem underground. Informers were killed.
Prohibition was dropped in 1743, and from then on governments
pursued a pragmatic policy. Henry Fielding and William Hogarth
– whose "Gin Lane" was an unforgettable image
of urban decay – were among the many to press for further
controls. The result was a compromise. The "Gin Craze"
came to an end, but distilling passed from small operators
to the control of the large businesses – names like
Burnetts and Gordons – which still dominate it today.
The book linked my two passions: London and the early eighteenth
century. It involved detailed research over many months in
court archives, contemporary newspapers, pamphlets and memoirs.
The Gin Craze and accompanying Gin Panic have many resonances
for the current debate over drugs legislation.