There is no doubt that drunkenness was, to say the least, prominent in the Victorian East End; and, for that matter across the country as a whole.
For many years prior to the onset of the Jack the Ripper murders, in 1888, campaigners had been warning of the dire consequences that might come about if the drinking habits of the poor were not checked.
THE WAY DRUNKARDS ARE MADE
THE INFANT DRINK TRAFFIC
One problem, that was highlighted by the following article, which appeared in the Westminster Gazette on Monday, 18th October, 1897, was the habit of parents to send their children to the nearest pub to fetch back alcoholic beverages for their parents to enjoy:-
“That’s the way drunkards are made,” said a publican to me the other day as a child of eight or nine tottered out of a bar with a pint jug full, that his mother had sent him to fetch.
“I had dropped in,” writes a Westminster Gazelle representative, “to find out his opinion about serving children with liquor, and he quite agreed that it was a sin and a shame. “But what are we to do?”, he added, ” we can’t afford to lose our custom. You see, the parents would only send the children to the house round the corner.”
NO HARM IN SERVING CHILDREN
Doubtless there was some reason in what he said; but the majority of public-house owners are not on his side in the matter.
Drop into any casual house and find out what the manager or the barman has to say; they will tell you that they see no harm in serving the children with liquor. The parents will see to it that surreptitious sips are not taken on the way home. And so far from acquiring a taste which will make them drunkards when they grow up, the children who are sent out for the family liquor are likely to get sickened of all taste for strong drink by being driven so often to carry it back home from the public-house.
If you doubt whether children do really take such a prominent part in the drink traffic, you should pay a visit into Whitechapel, or, for that matter, to any poor part of London at the dinner hour, or in the evening.
You will soon be convinced that children of all ages, even the veriest mites, are sent to fetch the beer from the public-houses.
DRUNKENNESS AMONG CHILDREN
At their recent meeting at Bristol, the Women’s Temperance Union called special attention to the prevalence of drunkenness among children. Even babies, one speaker declared, are made drunk from the moment they arc born. That was, of course, due to the drinking habits of their mothers who nursed them.
But if you couldn’t prevent the women from drinking, you could prevent children from being served with liquor at the public-houses, and thus acquiring a taste for alcohol which would in the end turn them out drunkards.
A representative of the Westminster Gazette who interviewed a well known member of the Abstinence Union, was shown some instructive snap-shots which had been taken of children leaving and entering public-houses, laden with bottles and jugs of all sorts.
Many of the children are barefooted and in rags, not a few of them are so small that they can barely totter along with the jug full.
And here and there is a snap-shot of a child taking the surreptitious sip at a street corner as he hurries along in dread fear of being seen.
MAKE IT ILLEGAL TO SERVE CHILDREN
What the Women’s Temperance Union want is an Act of Parliament making it illegal for children under thirteen to be served with liquor at all. They think this is a modest demand, and would like to fix the age at sixteen.
But they remember the fate of Mr. Conybeare’s measure a few years ago, which aimed at a similar prohibition, and they would be content with so much.
It is hopeless to expect more.
THE LIVERPOOL EXAMPLE
In Liverpool the magistrates have taken the matter into their own hands, and although they have not technically the law on their side, by the threat of refusing to renew licences, many of the public-house owners have been persuaded in their own interest to refuse to serve children under thirteen.
It is not uncommon in a Liverpool bar to read the announcement that “children under thirteen are not served here.”
The action of the Liverpool magistrates is said to have had an excellent result, in spite of hostile criticism. It has been followed by about forty other places, and Birmingham is also making a similar stand against the serving of liquor to children.
NOTHING DONE IN LONDON
But nothing has been done in London, and thousands of children beneath our very eyes are daily being taught the first cravings of drink, and that familiarity with the bar which will be their ultimate ruin.
Is it too much, say the Temperance Societies, to ask the Government to introduce a measure to prevent such a scandalous state of things? And is it too much, they add, to expect that the House of Lords shall not mutilate it, like they did Mr. Conybeare’s Bill, beyond recognition.”
A POETIC FINALE
The following verses appear in the Manchester Guardian, evidently from the pen of a well-known hand, with whose “wit and wisdom” the frequenters of the lobbies at St. Stephen’s are tolerably familiar:-
I thank the goodness and the grace
Which on my birth have smiled,
And made me, in these Christian days,
A happy English child.
I was not born as, it appears,
Some wretched ones have been,
Compelled to spend their infant years
Deprived of beer and gin.
Kind friends with care provide that naught
My rising virtue baulk
To seek the public l am taught
As soon as can walk.
Tis there my tottering steps they lead,
And shape my course aright,
To those entrancing homes, indeed,
Of sweetness and of light.
There, in an atmosphere divine,
I spend life’s earliest day,
And to great Bacchus’ holy shrine
My youthful offering pay.
Oh, joy! to think my happy lot
In such a land should fall
A Christian nation, is it not,
Where Drink is Lord of all?