The Drinking Classes

It is likely that the customers of the George & Dragon mainly comprised working men from the immediate vicinity, also visitors to the various shops and dealers’ warehouses. Almost without exception the workplaces in the area were also the homes of the occupants and, in many cases, their extended families and boarders. Workers from the Griffin Foundry alone might have contributed a fair proportion of the pub’s income, as according to one authority,8 foundrymen and forgemen working in temperatures of 90-140 deg F could each get through from eight to 24 pints of weak beer per shift. Perhaps just as well that it was not strong beer.

Beer probably would have been the big seller among working men at the George & Dragon in this period but the pub was also licensed to sell wines and spirits. Gin was a popular spirit, particularly with women, and ‘gin palaces’ and ‘gin vaults’ grew in number following the Government’s encouragement of gin production and restriction of imports of brandy in the mid-1700s.

‘Little nips of whisky, little drops of gin,
Make a lady wonder where on earth she’s bin’

Anon.

Emigrants from Ireland and Scotland, brought with them their liking for whiskey/whisky, and, often through regional and kinship ties, channels of importation were developed, including those that later in the century would supply the George & Dragon.

We don’t know from where the George & Dragon obtained its stock in this period, though it is likely that the beer would have been produced locally, perhaps even on the premises. It was common for pubs of the day to include a small brewhouse, often using water from a well dug in the cellar. The remnants of an old well were uncovered in the cellar during the refurbishment of Band on the Wall in 2009. We know also that, round the corner in Tib Street in the early 19th century a professional ‘well-sinker’ resided. There was no effective water supply infrastructure in Manchester at the time, though the pits across the road in Swan Street provided a rudimentary supply to some households and workplaces. The city’s first successful water company began the supply of water through iron pipes in 1816 – for those who could afford to be connected. These probably did not include the residents of Swan Street at this time.

Later in the century improved water supply and technological innovations in brewing would enable the shelf life of beer to be considerably extended. Until then, given the limitations of horse-drawn transport, and the uneven quality of the roads, long distance deliveries of beer would be impracticable.

We can speculate that in its early years trade would have been modest at the George & Dragon, a small corner pub in a far from affluent part of the city. It was very much a ‘local’. But it is likely that turnover would have grown steadily as more and more people came to live and work in the area.


8 Matthew Hilton, review of ‘Liquid Pleasures: a Social History of Drinks in Modern Britain,’ by John Burnett.