Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - Tempted London : Young men, [Anon.], [c1889] - Chapter 4 - Drink

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"HAVING a drink" may almost be called the latch-key to everything that is vicious. It is the first of the temptations by which youths are assailed, and its pertinacious propinquity renders it the most difficult to avoid. A glass of beer is the usual result of friends casually meeting, or of any little occurrence that requires celebrating in company. The lapse of time has in no way lessened the cruel force of Mr. George Cruikshank's "The Worship of Bacchus "- a large cartoon, it will be remembered, wherein is depicted the appearance of the glass of wine in every social occurrence from a birth to a death, and inclusive of all things that could happen between. How far the lack of conversational powers in middle-class young responsible for this habit of "nipping" it is not too much to say that in quite half the cases of friendly drinks as the result of accidental meetings one of the parties would just as soon be without them. We must all be familiar with the spectacle of two young men suddenly meeting each other in the street, shaking hands, blushing, looking foolish [-55-] unable to think of any apposite remarks, and proposing a "drink" in sheer despair. It is the best way out of the difficulty of having nothing to say, without offending either side and it becomes therefore the universal panacea for a barrenness of ideas. The two young men adjourn to the nearest bar, and drink something which neither of them wants, and which it is a fixed rule that only one shall pay for. "Standing" drinks is one of those senseless habits which no amount of argument can eradicate from the minds of men. If ever two or three acquaintances have a drink to ether one of them pays for all. The process of selecting the payer is arrived at by tossing, the result of this very frequently being that the one who least wished for a drink has to pay for two or three others besides himself. But matters are seldom allowed to rest here. Those who have not paid demand another drink, and insist upon the one who has "standing out," which means that he is not to run the risk of being "let in" to pay for another drink, but is only to participate in the pleasure. And so on, until, if there be three of them, each has consumed three drinks, paid for three, and not required one of them. We have had many cases brought under our notice of young men who deprive themselves of their midday meals, so that they may join five or six others in some private drinking bar, and indulge in the pastimes of chaffing the barmaid and tossing for glasses of ale. To appreciate the effect of this upon the constitution, one cannot do better than read Dr. Richardson's speech upon "Moderate Drinking," delivered at Exeter Hall in 1877, and which has since been [-56-] incorporated in a pamphlet In that he clearly proves the baneful influence upon the action of the heart of drinking even as little as a quart of malt liquor a day. But when a man, in order to pay for the alcohol that he not only does not require, but would be better without, deceives himself of the food that is necessary to keep him in health the effect must be doubly disastrous. Indeed, some men who believe that their business requires them to drink often make a rule of eating a biscuit or something of that kind with every glass, which prevents the liquor having as speedy an effect upon them as it otherwise would.
    It has been already stated that if a young man were proof against the allurements of drink he would have nothing to fear, comparatively speaking, from the temptations of London. Strange as this may appear at the first blush, amidst the evidences of falls and sins from varieties of passion the researches of the Commission prove its correctness.
    If drinking is not necessarily the precursor of every vice, it at least accompanies them all, robbing them of their apparent grossness, and "educating" the minds of the young to their enjoyment. That which to the sober man seems utterly hateful and despicable will appear only "good fun" to him whose brain is somewhat fuddled by alcoholic fumes. Nobody gets what is called "jolly" until he has drunk something. and the "getting jolly " is only another term for misbehaviour. Youths who live in lodgings, cheerless and comfortless at the best are those who are the readiest to "get jolly," so long as the money lasts; young men who live at home are [-57-] prevented to a great extent by the fear of losing the respect of their family.
    The money spent by many clerks and warehousemen upon drink forms an enormous proportion of their wages. We have had instances given us of clerks earning from 1 to 30s. a week spending from a shilling to two shillings every night in beer, and depriving themselves of necessaries in order to keep up the habit This would not be spent in one house, but in three or four, the youth walking from one rendezvous to the other to meet his "pals," and have a chat either with the landlord or the barmaid. The barmaids at suburban public-houses are frequently the wives or daughters of the landlords, and have to be addressed with proper respect; but so long as this is done, any one may converse with them, without the trouble of an introduction. To the youth accustomed to the society of mother and sisters, who finds himself lonely and neglected in his lodgings, the conversation of women is pleasant, and he may thus fall into the habit of going nightly to the same public-house in order to speak to a motherly landlady or a ready-tongued, but otherwise unobjectionable daughter. but he cannot do this without drinking, and the cost of the drink is the price he pays for a relief from the barrenness of home. In this way he slowly drifts into habits of intemperance, without being aware of it himself, and without seeing any sign-posts to warn him of his direction.
    Recent statistics show that 125,477,275 was spent in one year upon intoxicating drinks and 1,461,519 persons were tempted into crime as a result. The number of drinking-houses has enor-[-58-]mously increased. There are over 20,000 public- houses in London, one to every 200 people. Then there are nearly 4,000 private clubs for young men, such as dancing dubs, social clubs, betting clubs, all relying mainly upon drink for their financial success. These are rapidly increasing in number. The Secretary of the United Kingdom Alliance says, "The greater part of the mischief done and misery caused by drink never comes to light at all, and money is expended indirectly for drink which can never be estimated." An idea of the amount of money produce by this weakness of mankind may be obtained by a consideration of the value of some of the public-houses in the metropolis. One in South London, on changing hands at a recent sale, secured 43,000 as the price of the goodwill and fixtures, which were not of a very imposing character. The "Angel" at Islington far exceeds this in value. For a puWic-house near St. Paul's Cathedral, 22,000 was demanded a s the price of the goodwill and fixtures, the odd 2,000 amply paying for the latter. A public-house near New Bond Street had the large sum of 7,000 spent on its decoration alone, yet it does not surpass many of the elegant city bars. It would astound the uninitiated to know the amounts for which these glittering palaces are assessed, and the rates and taxes they are able to pay in proportion. There are houses in the city rated at over 1,000, and their extreme magnificence and splendour fully justify the assessment. The more magnificent are frequently hidden in courts and alleys. Many of them have most deceptive entrances, in consequence of the overcrowd-[-59-]ing of every foot of ground with offices. Frequently in the rear of some large shipping or broker's office there is a gorgeous public-house; the appearance of gilded column, glittering plate-glass, and drinking groups is suddenly revealed by opening the wrong door. Such places are decorated with a lavish disregard of expenditure. This is more particularly the case with the large houses having a frontage to the streets, such as the Four Swans in Gracechurch Street, "Gog and Magog" and "Queen Anne" in Cheapside, with innumerable others in the neighbourhoods of the various exchanges. 200 apiece was given for seven pictures, of luxurious subjects, to a Viennese artist of repute by the proprietors of an establishment in the Strand, which it is the ambition of many young city men to visit in the evenings, when a small but high-class band plays a selection of music. To this place ladies may be taken, and lager beer may be drunk there; and, for the outlay of about half a crown, the youth may forget that he is a toiling cleric and fancy himself the gay and rich Lothario, a fancy which seems to him the acme of happiness. But the half-crown is sorely missed all the rest of the week.
    Publicans are a prosperous fraternity, notwithstanding their bitter lamentations anent the temperance legislation of recent years. From their really beautiful establishments they dole out their incentives to  mental decay, bodily ruin, vice, and violence with much greater rapidity than the medical profession arid the police can cope with. Many of the proprietors of these places are among the wealthiest of men, and hold distinguished places in city circles. [-60-] On inquiring at some of the great hotels, more especially those connected with the railway termini, we find that the public bar so prominent at each of these is relied upon to produce a very considerable portion of the whole income. We have been assured in particular cases that more is actually obtained from the consumption of liquor at these bars than is produced out of the rest of the establishments.   
    Hotel and railway-station bars are presided over by young ladies with faultless figures, but they are of too imposing a character to attract young city men, save on rare occasions. The barmaids are a little too grand in style, and their hauteur of manner is painfully chilling to the clerk who is not at all sure that his collar looks as clean as it might.
    Several publicans have informed our Commissioners that they prefer a neighbourhood where there are plenty of young men, as they contribute largely to the success of a public-house. In the Clapham Road there is a public-house ingeniously constructed for the convenience and comfort of the young man from the city. From the proprietor's point of view it is all that money and business tact could desire. A convenient range of private bars with cushioned seats and mahogany partitions, silver-plated tankards with a piece of looking-glass at the bottom as a warning to replenish, are the attractions of the lower portions. Above are billiard and card-rooms with a concert-room, which is kept especially select. none but decently dressed persons being admitted. Here drink is not rudely forced upon the visitor; he may take his scat in a comfortably furnished and nicely decorated room without being [-61] pestered by a worrying waiter. He will ring a bell when he requires refreshment, and it will be brought to him. There is a piano, and a prepossessing, well-dressed young lady attends from 7 to 11, who cheerfully accompanies any song or renders a piece at intervals. The young lady may be a perfectly modest young lady, but it is not her policy to insist too much upon this, and when a lot of half-educated youths find a woman amongst them they vie with each other in the rudeness of their attentions.   
    This is the sort of place which first inveigles the respectable young man into an atmosphere of drink, the place that a drinking man would select to prove the harmlessness of a little amusement to a timid acquaintance, or for the introduction of a young teetotaler with no worse a motive than a sincere desire to give him the least harmful chance of amusement, after the confinement of a long day's work in the city. There is always a friendly young man in each business house, who will take an interest in the new-comer and show him about. He may chance to be a good, sensible, open-hearted, religious young man, or he may, as is more often the case, be the thoughtless or vicious leader of all sorts of dissipation. This is evidence of the care necessary in the selection of first acquaintances. Few young men will take to drink from any particular liking for the liquor itself; in fact, to one wisely restrained by his parents from any indulgence whatever in alcoholic beverages the flavour is at first distasteful. What is jokingly known as "the whisky shudder" is a frequent complaint with embryo drinkers. People unused to [-62-] spirits cannot repress a shiver when taking them, and this it is the aim of every weak-minded youth to overcome. It is laughed at as a sign of a novice, and is proportionately distasteful to the boy who wishes to appear a man. There are a great number of junior clerks who quickly assimilate themselves to drinking, smoking, and various promiscuous acquaintances; but there are also a considerable number who at any rate make some show of resistance. So long as they rigidly adhere to their convictions they are safe, but directly they endeavour to adapt themselves to the wishes of others their ramparts crumble away and they are left defenceless to the enemy.
    The evening stroll, which it is almost impossible to suppress, but which is responsible for most of the deviations of young, brings two young men together with nothing in common but a desire to kill time. One is a teetotaler ; the other is a good enough fellow, but accustomed to allow himself a few glasses of beer in the evening; and on the invitation of the latter the former is induced to enter a public-house, merely to keep him company and drink a glass of lemonade.
    Surely our readers will in their own former experience recall many such cases. The one persuades himself that there can be nothing wrong in going into a public-house, if he has no beer or spirits; and besides, if he refuses he will lose his companion, who will assuredly go in without him, and will thus run the risk of wandering about by himself for the rest of the evening. The undesirability of this must be experienced to be understood. He will [-63-] enter the fatal door for the lemonade, if for nothing worse than to oblige his friend, though he has not the slightest desire to drink even that, and cannot understand the necessity of drinking just to drink and nothing more. Though he may come out without breaking his pledge or violating his principles, the spell is broken, the dignity of his resolution is broken, and the mischief is begun. Henceforth the access to the bar is rendered easier for him, and in due time the objection to being supposed "soft" will induce him to partake of some beer or spirits. The feeling of elevation resulting  from the first drink or two, aided by the loud laughter with which the remarks of those around him are attended, sends the youth back to his dreary lodging with a new zest for life. He sees that instead of monotonously reading in an ill-lighted room, his share of which is only the right to sit upon a chair, or of attending some dull course of lectures, or endeavouring to improve his position by learning a language or shorthand, he can, for a very small outlay, obtain a comfortable corner in a snug room, pleasant, hilarious company, female conversation, hear the latest kind of news that can only be heard amongst young men, and generally feel himself a man of the world. The drink, which at first he would rather have been without, gradually becomes more pleasant to him, until he attains an actual desire for the malt liqour on his tongue, and later may begin to feel restless and uneasy without it.   
    Our inquiries have tended to prove that there is just as much inducement for young men to spend [-64-] their spare day-time in drinking-bars as their night-time. Incredible as it may seem, we have discovered that nearly every drinking-place in the city has its distinctive attraction, and this principally is not in the quality of its liquors, but in something altogether apart therefrom. A few examples will perhaps explain what we mean.
    A public-house in Queen Street, distinguished by a name of most most significant import, which will be readily called to mind by those who know it, is celebrated for a barmaid with a blind knack of picking out winning horses from the long lists of names published daily in the papers. Middle-aged men, who ought to know better, put trustfulness in her discrimination, and resort to her bar three or four times a day to hear her oracular utterances. She trades upon this celebrity to the utmost, and can nearly always assure that her counter will be well attended. Those young men who affect covert-coats and smooth faces are ever in force here, and are quite willing to entrust their money to her, if she will only do them the honour of taking it. But she will have nothing to do with any who are not regular customers, therefore it is necessary to use the house frequently to obtain the benefit of her guidance. How she gained her reputation nobody seems to know, but there is always a demonstrative person in the bar ready to bear testimony to her universal correctness. She is, of course, invaluable to the landord as a draw, but many youths have discovered to their cost that she is not infallible.
    There is a curious old wine-bar in Hercules Passage in the city. It is underground, and [-65-] approached by a steep flight of steps. It is beyond the reach of more than a very few rays of daylight, and is lighted by wax candles and nothing else. The effect is unique, and many people take their friends to see it. It will be understood that it cannot be seen without drinking something.
    A basement wine-bar in Eastcheap which had been once or twice cautioned by the police, endeavoured to change its character by  dismissing the barmaids and employing young men; but a month's  trial was sufficient for the proprietor, who found his takings fall off nearly 50 per cent, and the old state of things was restored. This almost suggests the idea that if it were made illegal to employ women in public-houses - and certainly one would think these are almost the last places in which they should be employed - a considerable check would be put upon the sale of intoxicants.
    There is a public-house in the City Road that is notoriously the resort of thieves; and there is another near Moorgate Street Station where those "shady" individuals who hawk bits of cloth and wearing apparel from door to door in the suburbs meet for the exchange of articles and to discuss plans. It may not be generally known that these degenerated tally-men work their districts in league, and if they find one class a goods does not sell well in Hampstead they will hand it over to the man who works Peckham or Bow.
    There are several taverns in the city that in addition to the downstairs bars, have private upstairs bars, wherein are fixed telegraph tape machines, that rapidly disgorge all the very latest betting and [-66-] sporting news. It is a usual thing to charge a penny extra for the drinks that are sold in such bars, to compensate for the extra advantages. Many a youth with sporting tendencies will have the necessary "payment drink" to get into these rooms, wherein there is sure to be at least one typical horsey man ready to unload all sorts of turf secrets in return for a drink.
    These examples tend to show that although drink-shops are bad enough in their proper characters, they become much more dangerous in the hands of skilful directors, when they are virtually made to comprehend nearly every temptation to young men. If drink-shops merely sold drink there would probably not be so much liquor consumed by 20 per cent. as there is now, and nobody knows this better than the publicans themselves. There are two great attractions for a tavern to possess: the first and most potent is a sporting landlord, with a reputation ; the second is barmaids.
    The majority of city public-houses have now dining-rooms attached. The man who dines is almost forced to drink beer with his meal. The difficulty of obtaining a glass of water in a restaurant is well known to those who have tried it, and success seems to make the individual feel that he is a kind of pariah at the feast. These little things have much influence over youths who have not sufficient resolution to withstand the frequent repetitions of  "Water, sir?"  uttered in loud, surprised tones by the waiters to whom the request has been made. There is always a smoking-room to every such dining-place, and the temptation is strong upon [-67-] the young to adjourn thereto, and smoke and drink for so long as they dare remain away from their stools.
    Before we leave the day-time drinking-places we must mention one whose attractions are legion, whose size is like unto that of a  small town, and whose frequenters comprehend all the broken down, once well-to-do city men. The whole of it is underground, and it extends from one important thoroughfare to another, a distance of over three hundred feet A central passage runs the whole length, and is dotted by little cigar-shops and paper-stalls, presided over by women. It is replete with snug little bars, and has more secluded corners than any other restaurant in London. Hither resort, on account of the Stock Exchange prices telegraph, the poorer class of speculators, both in horses and stocks, and several dealers make a scanty living by advising the casual customers on "certainties". In the middle of the day it is crowded with clerks and others for about two hours, who either watch the billiards, or retreat to one of the quiet corners, or get inveigled into conversation with some of the stock-dealers. Any of these proceedings means losing money. Many a young man has been led into timewasting habits by allowing himself to casually enter this most accommodating restaurant. The biscuits, cheese, and olives that are supplied gratis constitute an attraction to those who wish to drink, but are anxious not to spend too much on their lunches.
    The most harmful class of taverns are those which are made the usual resort of women of bad character. [-68-] We have had many of them pointed out to us, which derive the greater part of their trade from the business resulting from these frequenters. One tavern at Islington is one of the most notorious of this class. Here there is a large saloon bar which, after 8 o'clock at night, is almost monopolized by the class of persons just mentioned. They are allowed to remain there as long as ever they like, and no man is safe from their impertinences, if he once ventures into the saloon. The scenes that may be witnessed there as the hour grows late are better imagined than described. Equally bad is another at Charing Cross, which might almost be dubbed a casual club for these unfortunate creatures. There are others, notably one in Oxford Street, as to which the most disgraceful reports are in circulation; but owing to the nervous care that is taken to keep things from the notice of the stranger, there does not seem to be much to fear, except from those who make a habit of frequenting them. Very truly does Mr. Joseph Ling, of the National Temperance League, say that "there is no safety for any one but in total abstention."
    In many public-houses unlawful games of cards are played by those whom the landlords can trust; and very young men can soon get themselves "trusted." We hear of baccarat, ace of arts, faro, passage, hazard, etc., being played between 1 and 3 o'clock in the middle of the day in city taverns, and of youths losing several shillings in their dinner-hours. The public-houses that allow this do not run much risk; for perhaps the chief virtue of young men, whatever their pleasures may be, is scrupulous [-69-] honour towards all those who have fleeced them or destroyed them.
    The majority of the city drinking-places close by about 7 o'clock, and then the houses in the suburbs commence to get busy; for, so long as they have money in their pockets, young men must drink at all hours of the day.
    There are some drinking-bars in the city which are so irreproachably respectable in appearance that to enter them confers a certain distinction upon the customer. One of these is to be found in Old Broad Street opposite the National Bank, and has simply the name of the firm over the front and no sign or other outward mark of drink upon it; another is in Pope's Head Alley. In these places men in black cut-away coats sell the drinks over the counter, only wines and spirits of good quality being retailed, and there is no gaudy display of cut-g1ass and other insignia to set the bar off. Here the drinks are always as good as they can be, and the most distinguished city men use these shops without hesitation. Given the necessity of drink, you could not go to better places to get it.
    Many city wine-bars are buried deep under ground, and are approached by ladders at a very uncomfortable angle. They are really converted cellars, and the wine is always kept in the casks and drawn therefrom. At such places biscuits and cheese are provided gratis, and the hungry tippler can spend the money on drink that was intended for his food, enjoying meanwhile the provisions so laudably placed at the disposal of casual callers. Most of these underground bars are kept by [-70-] foreigners, some of whom employ barmaids, whilst others rely solely upon their individua1 exertions, backed up by "large dock glasses for 4d."
    Several public-houses in central positions find that it pays them to encourage debating clubs, who meet perhaps twice or thrice a week. There is nothing encourages thirst so much as talking, especially when that principally takes the form of shouting, and the shouting at these debates is sometimes alarming. Angry quarrels arise, which are only terminated by the exhaustion of one or other of the parties, the one who can talk the loudest winning the day. These debates attract a lot of garrulous people, who generally try to talk each other down, and naturally get themselves very hoarse in the attempt. The youth who frequents these places for the purpose of enlarging his ideas will find himself, as a rule, woefully mistaken.
    A member of the Stock Exchange keeps a public-house in Clapham. This fact shows the class of men who think it no disgrace to take taverns nowadays.
    There are many curiosities in London in the hands of the publican, which it would almost seem should be taken charge of by more responsible people. Such is the last of the city gates, "St. John's Gate." This is rented by a public-house which carries on its business right into the very sacred centre of Dr. Johnsons room. It is necessary to drink to see over it, as it is to witness the delights of "Sir Paul Pindar," "D.D." and "Daniel Webster," any of which would be worth seeing if "a drink" were not the passport.
[-71-] Several houses in various courts off Cheapside, and in the neighbourhood of Foster Lane, and, to a greater extent still, in certain portions of the suburbs have a room reserved on the first floor where social evenings and " free-and-easy " concerts are held. Considerable pains are taken by the prorietors to make these attractive, in order to keep the young men in the city as long as possible after business hours. The proprietor will actually pay good-looking girls to attend, in order to keep the custom of the visitors. Each house is used by its own particular set, and the members after a time come to know one another rather intimately, and can obtain a considerable amount of credit from the landlord. One will have a special attraction for the young girls in these buildings, another will have facilities for those interested in "tips" and the races, another will be remarkable for its barmaids, and so on. In one near St. Paul's we found a dance terminating the musical evening.
    These evening parties are much looked forward to by tired and worried warehousemen and clerics. The expense is small - only what may be spent in drink - for no charge is made for admission, the freedom of behaviour is unlimited, a friend is easily made, nobody affects to be better than his fellows, and everybody appears desirous of making himself as agreeable to everybody else as possible. Furthermore, the majority of these entertainments may be attended by the sweethearts of the young men. But the very nature of the arrangements is destructive of morality. Young men and young women are brought together without restraint. The songs sung would [-72-] not be tolerated in any reasonably regulated assembly. The comic element, as it is termed, predominates and the broader it becomes the greater favour does it obtain, any particularly bold indecency being generally received with especial applause. The meeting seldom breaks up without many of the revellers becoming the worse for drink. The "free-and-easies" are a recognized institution in the city, where the young man may take a female employee of his firm or other acquaintance, without the expense of the the theatre, music-hall, or dancing academy, which would be too great a tax upon his resources. One may see young men and women in those places first introduced, who have never previously tasted drink and who listen, at first, to the questionable songs with something akin to pained surprise. Yet as others - men  and women too - will laugh quite heartily, joining freely in some coarse chorus, and giving point to what is most objectionable, the new-comers will soon find their consciences dulled to the necessary level. One may hear these young women boasting of the number of glasses of wine or spirits which they can take without "Making fools of themselves.".
    In the suburbs the same class of entertainment is supplied, though the name is varied. There we find "smoking concerts" or "social evenings" taking place every night of the week. There are some public-houses where these semi-private entertainments are of such a character that they attract young men from distant parts of London. Others have advantages of comfort and decoration which make them favourite resorts for young men with musical [-73-] tastes.  Some have an unenviable notoriety for the character of the entertainments and their frequenters, and are therefore generally crammed.
    The only drawback to the complete success of the "free-and-easy" is that it must terminate shortly after 12, and youths who are in for "making a night of it" do not relish this. They have perhaps not drunk very much during the evening, yet enough to make them feel that they would like more. But the publicans, however much they may wish to, dare not allow them to remain after closing time and they are ejected, noisy and "jolly", into the street. But the difficulty is easily got over, for one or two of the party are members of some "club" in the neighbourhood, whither they can all go and "stop as long as they like."  "Club" sounds unobjectionable enough, but it is generally an evil hour for those who consent to the arrangement, instead of seeking their homes. These clubs have arisen in the crowded central suburbs of London within the last few years, and are virtually after-hours' drinking-bars, where gambling, betting, card-playing, all unlawful games of chance are indulged in, where young women are admitted and dancing all night is the rule, where every one can stay until 6 o'clock in the morning, and the subscription for membership is about 2s. 6d year.