Feature

United Kingdom: A long history of getting trashed

Back in the eighth century, St. Boniface complained to the Archbishop of Canterbury that the English exhibited &ldquo;the vice of drunkenness,&rdquo; said Tristram Hunt in <em>The Times.</em>

Tristram Hunt
The Times

What is it about Brits and binge drinking? asked historian Tristram Hunt. The government has deplored the way “provincial town centers have become vomitous no-go areas” on Saturday nights. But anybody trying to stop this scourge is up against a lot of history. Back in the eighth century, St. Boniface complained to the Archbishop of Canterbury that the English exhibited “the vice of drunkenness,” a problem not seen among “the Franks nor the Gauls nor the Lombards nor the Romans nor the Greeks.” In 1742, a population “barely 1/10th our size” guzzled 19 million gallons of gin—10 times the amount drunk today. Later, in an attempt to guide Britons to the softer stuff, the government passed the 1830 Beer Act to promote the establishment of pubs serving beer and ale. So by the mid-1870s, we were drinking 344 gallons of beer per person every year—nearly a gallon a day. During World War I, the government said drink was “doing us more damage than all the German submarines put together.” Yet nothing has separated John Bull from his pint. Perhaps, as St. Boniface said, the abuse of alcohol is “an evil peculiar to our race.”

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