Magazine article History Today

From the Editor

Magazine article History Today

From the Editor

Article excerpt

Britons have long had a reputation for heavy drinking. St Boniface, writing in the eighth century, told of how drunkenness was 'an evil peculiar to pagans and to our race. Neither the Franks, nor the Gauls, nor the Lombards, nor the Romans, nor the Greeks do it.' They still don't, as any visitor to Milan, or Paris, where a small glass of wine is likely to last all evening, will observe. Britons still do, as anyone walking through a British city centre on a weekend night will see. But they have not always done so, as James Nicholls explains in this month's cover feature.

Teetotalism has never taken off in Britain, unlike in Ireland where, despite stereotypes, the Pioneer temperance movement remains strong. Nor has it endured US-style prohibition. But it has embraced periods of relative sobriety. Hogarth's Beer Street, though typically xenophobic, tells a truth. It recognises that if you must drink in the quantities that northern Europeans tend to, you are advised to stick with something weak and tasty. A century after Hogarth, Gladstone sought to civilise Britons through the drinking of 'sophisticated' wine sold cheaply by greengrocers. It was a well meaning move but did not work. Britons just drank wine in the quantities they once supped beer with predictable results. …

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