Gin Lane

Gin Lane

William Hogarth (1697 - 1764)

Date: 1751
385 x 313 mm
Medium: Etching and engraving
Object number: PT1097
DescriptionGin Lane
Etching and engraving.
1751. State 2.
Paulson 186.
Gin Lane and Beer Street: 1755

Hogarth produced Gin Lane in 1751 as part of a campaign in support of the Gin Act. The act made the distillation of gin illegal in England. In contrast, Beer Street tries to encourage beer drinking.

What's the story?
Hogarth sets Gin Lane in the poverty stricken parish of St Giles. The most shocking figure in the engraving is the drunken mother who inadvertently allows her child to fall over the banister rail to her death. The year 1751 was the height of the "London Gin Craze". Since 1690 the British Government had encouraged gin production to keep grain prices high and to promote the industry. It was intended that much of the gin would be exported to Britain's colonies. However there was little quality control and licences for distilling only required an application letter. This soon led to over production.

Over production led to a dramatic fall in price and a huge rise in consumption by London's poor. By 1750 over a quarter of all residences in the parish of St Giles were gin shops. The shops also operated as receivers of stolen goods and were coordinating points for prostitution and other crimes.

Beer Street is set in a relatively prosperous area near St Martins in the Field. We see a scene of contented workmen drinking tankards of foaming beer, smoking pipes, eating huge hams and flirting with young women. The buildings in the scene are being repaired. The pawnshop in this scene is dilapidated in contrast to the one in Gin Lane.

Gin Lane

Hogarth sets Gin Lane in the poverty stricken area of St Giles. In it he depicts suicide, murder, starvation and disease all caused by the effects of drunkenness due to the drinking of gin, a powerful and relatively cheap alcoholic spirit that was wildly available to people of all ages. Hogarth was commenting on what came to be known as the "London Gin Craze" which led to an epidemic of alcoholism amongst the poor.

In Gin Lane the only businesses that are thriving are the Pawnshop the Gin distilleries and the undertaker. All the other businesses in the scene are housed in dilapidated and crumbling buildings.

People are queuing to pawn their goods in Mr. S Gripe's pawnshop to get money to buy gin. A hungry child is outside the shop sharing a bone with a dog. Next to him another child appears to be in an unconscious state due to drinking gin.

Outside of the undertakers, a young half naked woman is being placed into a coffin for burial.
Another man is seen skipping down the street carrying a bellows over his head in one hand and a spike on which a child has been impaled in the other.

In the streets an alcohol-fuelled crowd is rioting. One man is being pushed in a wheelbarrow while another man pours a glass of gin down his throat.

A woman can be seen forcing her baby to drink a glass of gin. During Hogarth's time many mothers gave their babies and young children gin to make them sleep or to stop them from crying, as a consequence many children died from alcohol poisoning or from neglect by their alcoholic parents.

A barber has hung himself because the men have spent all of their money on gin.

In the centre of the scene we see a drunken woman who has allowed her child to fall head first over the banister rail into the stairwell of the gin cellar to a certain death, as she is about to take a pinch of snuff.
This character of the "Mother Gin" as she has become to be known may have been based on Judith Dufour. Her two-year-old daughter had been removed from her care due to her alcoholism and placed in the workhouse. In the workhouse the child had been given some new clothes. Sometime later Dufour reclaimed her child and then strangled it for the clothes the child was wearing so that she could sell them and buy a bottle of gin.

This drunk and starving figure is a ballad-seller who is holding a bottle in a basket and a glass. A song sheet about gin is falling from the basket. A black dog, a traditional symbol of depression, sits next to him.