The Brewster Sessions were the "annual meetings of licensing justices to deal with the grant, renewal, and transfer of licences to sell intoxicating liquor".
The sessions often took place over two sittings, with the second session hearing appeals and deciding on decision deferred from the first session.
From 1830 until 1869, the local magistrates did not control the issuing of the basic two guinea licence to beerhouses. However, during this period, beerhouse owners often applied to the Brewster Sessions for the more valuable full licence. For example, Jonathan Sandford of Burnlee, near Holmfirth, had purchased a two guinea licence in the mid-1830s but, despite repeated applications, wasn't awarded a full licence until the Brewster Sessions of 1855.
Following the Incorporation of Huddersfield in 1868, two separate annual sessions were held — one of the districts incorporated into the Borough and a separate Upper Agbrigg session for the outlying districts. The full name of the latter being the Brewster Sessions for the Upper Agbrigg Petty Sessional Division of the West Riding.
The following summaries are based on newspaper coverage of the sessions and include any subsequent licence transfers noted during the year. Where reported in the press, the separate Upper Agbrigg session is also included in the summary:
Alehouses were ordinary dwellings where the householder sold home-brewed beer and ale. Taverns were licensed to sell wines and tended to attract those with more money, such as merchants. Inns provided food and accommodation for travellers and typically had stabling for horses.
With the relaxation of distilling laws, the early 1700s saw an increase in gin consumption. By the mid-1730s an estimated 5,000,000 premises were selling cheap gin and, increasingly, the evils of society were blamed on "gin fever". Conversely, beer was seen as being both nutritious and often safer to drink than water — in fact, the early temperance movement promoted moderate beer drinking rather than total abstinence. William Hogarth's famous engraving titled "Beer Street" illustrated the merits of beer drinking whilst his "Gin Lane" depicted the horrors of gin consumption, with a half-naked mother letting her baby fall to the ground.
With increased legislation against spirits and wine, many taverns converted to coffee houses.
The Beerhouse Act of 1830 liberalised the regulations around beer drinking, and allowed many to brew and sell beer on their premises upon payment for a one-off licence costing two guineas. Part of the reasoning behind the act was to increase competition amongst brewers and to reduce the number of people drinking strong spirits such as gin.
The sale of wines and spirits remained strictly controlled by local magistrates via the Brewster Sessions. Despite only requiring the two guinea licence, the separate licences issued by the magistrates were seen as being more valuable and beerhouse owners made applications each year — usually unsuccessful — to the Brewster Sessions.
A report compiled in 1853 gave the following statistics for persons taken in custody for "drunkenness and disorderly conduct". Although members of the temperance movement saw them as evidence of a severe problem in Huddersfield, more likely they suggest statistics were not being collected in the same way in Bradford.
|year||males||females||total||as % of pop|
|Huddersfield (population 30,830)|
|Halifax (population 33,582)|
|Bradford (population 103,778)|
The unfettered growth in beerhouses led to new legislation in 1869, which brought them back under the control of the local magistrates, allowing them to close disorderly premises and making it much harder to obtain a new beerhouse licence. Over the subsequent decades, many of the beerhouses closed but some were purchased by breweries or applied to become fully licensed public houses.
The 1904 Licensing Act sought to curb the number of beerhouses in towns and cities by offering compensation to the owners of premises who had their licences cancelled. The compensation funds were raised by a levy placed on the remaining beerhouses.