Brewster Sessions

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:

1830s: 1830 1831 1832 1833 1834 1835 1836 1837 1838 1839
1840s: 1840 1841 1842 1843 1844 1845 1846 1847 1848 1849
1850s: 1850 1851 1852 1853 1854 1855 1856 1857 1858 1859
1860s: 1860 1861 1862 1863 1864 1865 1866 1867 1868 1869
1870s: 1870 1871 1872 1873 1874 1875 1876 1877 1878 1879
1880s: 1880 1881 1882 1883 1884 1885 1886 1887 1888 1889
1890s: 1890 1891 1892 1893 1894 1895 1896 1897 1898 1899
1900s: 1900 1901 1902 1903 1904 1905 1906 1907 1908 1909
1910s: 1910 1911 1912 1913 1914 1915 1916 1917 1918 1919

Historic Background

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 accommodation for travellers and usually 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.[1]

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.[2]

year males females total as % of pop
Huddersfield (population 30,830)
1849 212 13 225 0.73%
1850 219 26 245 0.79%
1851 289 30 319 1.03%
Halifax (population 33,582)
1849 152 32 184 0.55%
1850 147 52 199 0.59%
1851 109 43 152 0.45%
Bradford (population 103,778)
1849 255 37 292 0.28%
1850 121 14 135 0.13%
1851 85 14 109 0.11%


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 beerhouses 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.[3]

Further Reading

Notes and References

  1. Wikipedia: Beer Street and Gin Lane.
  2. Quoted in a temperance article in Huddersfield Chronicle (05/Apr/1856).
  3. See A practical guide to the Licensing Act, 1904.

Brewster Sessions

This page was last modified on 31 July 2017 and has been edited by Dave Pattern.

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