“Ah, beer. The cause of and the solution to all of life’s problems”
– Homer Simpson
Further competition for the drinks custom from the Smithfield Market came as a result of the Beer Act of 1830. This was ‘designed to move the populace away from spirits such as gin’ and ‘entitled nearly anyone to manufacture, sell, and consume large amounts of beer and ale’14. This intended ‘novel solution to solving the ruination of the working class’15was to make beer cheap and very readily available. The beerhouses were only permitted to sell beer and cider.
‘At this time beer was seen as a harmless and even nutritional drink – it was swigged by small children and the clergy alike’15.
It is argued that:
‘This legalization of beer as a national drug of choice resulted in some consequences that could not have been foreseen, most notably the rise in the number of the country’s alcoholics.’14
But it also led to ‘an unprecedented prosperity among Northern farmers’ due to the consequential, booming demand for barley and, more surprisingly, also resulted in ‘forestalling revolutionary activity’ 14 – of which there was plenty in the area of the George & Dragon.
It is also argued that the Beer Act, turning homes into beerhouses, began to reduce the gender gap of alcohol consumption, at least in rural areas, but perhaps also in the towns:
‘While the men were banding together at the pubs, many women were left often alone in well-stocked homes’.14
In Manchester and Salford, by 1850, the number of beerhouses exceeded 1000, almost double the number of taverns and public houses:16 an average of one new beerhouse a week for 20 years. By 1867 there were over 2000 beerhouses, outnumbering pubs by four to one17.
Many dwellings in the area of the Smithfield Market became beerhouses, in large numbers in Great Ancoats Street and Oldham Road, but also a few in Turner Street, Tib Street, Oak Street and Coop Street. There were only two in Swan Street, reflecting not only the shortness of the street and the fact that it now had six public houses, but also that most of the properties were already thriving places of work, for dealers, shopkeepers, shoemakers, hatters – even the offices of two attorneys, including one next door to the George & Dragon who shared his premises with a flour dealer.
14Dr Gay Sibley,‘Good for England, Bad for Her Women: The Beer Act of 1830 and the Cornering of Rural Revolution’
15‘The History of Public Houses in the UK’, 2010. www.publichouses.org.uk
16Pigot’s Directory of Manchester & Salford, 1850
17Alistair Mutch,‘Manchester & Liverpool Pubs compared, 1840-1914’,