Thursday, 25 October 2012

Drinkers' revolt

You can understand why they were pissed off, drinkers in 1914, when the price of beer went up. It had cost the same not just for one generation, but two or three. As usual, drinkers blamed greedy publicans and brewers.

To put into context the price rise, standard Mild had cost 2d a pint before the outbreak of war. A halfpenny a half-pint was a 50% increase. A hell of a lot for someone whose grandfather had probably never seen the cost of beer rise in his lifetime.

The raising the price beer by half-penny a half-pint in the public-houses was responsible for many amusing scenes on Friday in the suburbs.

In the saloon bars, where stout and bitter are the favourite beverages, little or no demur was made by regular customers though some grumbled and asked for spirits, preferring to pay the extra halfpenny for whisky. But in the four-ale bars, where the price the half-pint has hitherto been a penny the working-man was vociferous his complaints. Moreover, he was well aware of the fact increased duty had not been levied on the beer that was offered to him at a 50 per cent. price increase, and he was outspoken his opinion of the publicans combining together to "rob him" as he put it. He was quite willing, he said to pay the "half-penny tax" for the war if the money went Mr Lloyd George, but he was not going to pay it for the benefit of the publican and the brewer.

Scenes were frequent in suburban public-houses. At one hostelry in South London, close to some works where about twenty men have been in the habit of going at dinner-time for their daily half-pint, the irate workmen refused the beer when drawn, marched out in a body, and went to a neighbouring off-licensed house, where, borrowing cans, they got their beer at the old price and drank it in the road. So strong was the feeling shown, and so pronounced the drop the takings for beer, that several publicans in South London took fright, and lowered four-ale and six-ale (4d and 6d a quart) to the old price, keeping the figure at 2.5d for a glass of "bitter."

Notices were posted on Saturday by publicans in several places South-East Lancashire intimating that "owing to the alterations in the map of Europe" the price of beer would be increased by a half-penny per half-pint on Monday.

A large number of struggling beer-house-keepers in Bolton have decided to give up business rather than pay the new tax. Many houses will be closed.

Important concessions with reference to the imposition of the tax on beer were made on Tuesday by Mr. Lloyd George in the House Commons. The Chancellor stated that instead of the proposed tax of 17s 3d a barrel from the present date duties would be levied as follow:—
From present date to March 31, 1916 15/3 a barrel 
March 31, 1916, to March 31, 1917  16/3 a barrel 
From then onwards  17/3 a barrel "
Western Gazette - Friday 27 November 1914, page 10.
There's a nice little bit about the class system in pubs. The saloon bars were the haunt of the middle classes, who drank more expensive beers like Bitter and Stout. In the public bar - here called a four-ale bar because most of the punters drank four-ale, as standard Mild was colloquially known because of its price of 4d a quart - the working classes drank Mild.

Scenes like this would be repeated later in the war, for example in April 1917, when beer duty was again raised. The complaint was the same, too: publicans raising the price the charged for beer that they had bought at the old price.

That plan for a gradual increase spread over several years was never implemented. And the tax didn't increase to 17s 3d in late 1914, but to 23s. There were further duty increases in April 1916 and April 1917.

1 comment:

Gary Gillman said...

Who was it that wrote, "Beer is nice, but has a price"?

It was after these tsunami increases, that's for sure.