Beer Houses

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This is a backup of the West Yorkshire Archive Service's "Off the Record" wiki from 2015. The live went offline in 2016 and remains unavailable.

This was a reaction to the Gin Palaces and the social disorder caused by drunkenness. The Beer Act of 1830 introduced a new lower tier of premises permitted to sell alcohol, the Beer Houses. Small beer, which was brewed to have a low alcohol content, was commonly drunk by all ages as the local water was often unsafe. Even the evangelical church and temperance movements of the day viewed the drinking of beer very much as a secondary evil and a normal accompaniment to a meal.

Under the 1830 Act any householder who paid rates could apply, with a one-off payment of two guineas, to sell beer or cider in his home (usually the front parlour) and even brew his own on his premises. The permission did not extend to the sale of spirits and fortified wines and any beer house discovered selling those items were closed down and the owner heavily fined. Beer houses were not permitted to open on Sundays. The beer was usually served in jugs or dispensed direct from tapped wooden barrels lying on a table in the corner of the room. Often profits were so high the owners were able to buy the house next door to live in, turning every room in their former home into bars and lounges for customers.

In the first year, four hundred beer houses opened but within eight years there were 46,000 opened across the country, far outnumbering the combined total of long established taverns, public houses, inns and hotels. Because it was so easy to obtain permission and the profits could be huge compared to the low cost of gaining permission, the number of beer houses was continuing to rise and in some towns nearly every other house in a street could be a Beer House. Finally in 1869 the growth had to be checked by magisterial control and new licensing laws were introduced. See Public Houses and Licensing (Alehouses) .