Patrick Dillon

book 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 (Penguin, 1998).

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.


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