Mother’s Ruin Gin…’Opium of the people’.
Countless books in gin history reference Mothers Ruin and interestingly all with a unique tale to tell. Let us answer the question, why was gin nicknamed ‘Mother’s Ruin’?
Britain was importing vast quantities of French brandy during the early to mid-1600s. Prince William of Orange took over the British throne in 1689, when all this took a turn for the gin!
Legislation created then allowed the public to produce gin in their own home, providing they passed a 10-day public notice. The ‘Gin Craze’ became infectious, and between 1720 and 1757, thousands of distilleries began to emerge all over England.
‘Gin Craze’ was thanks to a new act titled the Mutiny Act, which specified if you were distilling alcohol in your home you wouldn’t be asked to house soldiers.
By 1730, gin was cheap and easily accessible to the masses (music to my ears!). London gin production had reached 10 million gallons, and there were over 7,000 gin shops. The peak was in 1743, when the average person consumed 14 gallons every year!
The ‘Gin Craze’ was not all-good news, as it adopted the nickname ‘Opium of the people’ after a rise in crime, death rates and prostitution. Up to 75% of children died before their fifth birthday, and gin held responsibility for lowering fertility.
Despite this, England could not get enough of the juniper-based spirit. Extreme measures were taken to get hold of it, such as selling children, furnishings and even pawning off family members!
The government intervened and to reduce consumption, the low rate of tax on gin at the time needed to change. The Gin Act in 1736 was introduced which prevented the public selling distilled spirits, unless they purchased a licence costing £50 (the equivalent of £100,000 today). This forced the sale of gin underground, putting reputable sellers out of business and a rise in bootleggers. Only three licences were acquired to sell gin between 1736 and 1743.
So… back to ‘Mother’s Ruin’. As more women became hooked on gin between 1720 and 1757, this led to the mistreatment of their children and a rise in prostitution. Women became more addicted to gin than their male counterparts – gaining the juniper-based spirit a countless number of nicknames such as ‘Mother’s Ruin’.
‘Gin Lane’, a famous print illustrated by William Hogarth was created. The picture shows a drunken woman sniffing smokeless tobacco (snuff) whilst her baby is plummeting into the gin-vault below. This showed the hazards of drinking gin and how the spirit can dramatically affect family life.
In quick succession, a new Gin Act was introduced which prevented the distillers, grocers and bakers selling gin. Consecutive poor grain harvests increased the price of grain and food, combined with the new restrictions, meant gin was not so affordable.
1757 marked the end of the ‘Gin Craze’, with a significant decline in consumption of gin and the hard-to-knock label ‘Mother’s Ruin’.
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