Object: Beer Tankard
Pubs were central to the life of Somers Town, as elsewhere. They were the living rooms of the poor. They were also places to meet and discuss politics. There was a pub on every corner. This pewter tankard comes from The Carpenters Arms, on Burton Crescent, across the Euston Road from Somers Town. It is for pouring full pints of beer and it is engraved with the name of the pub landlady, Mary Ann Spencer, who took over the licence from her deceased husband in 1862.
In this period, significant anxiety arose about the role of drinking alcohol in criminal activities and the decline of morals. A temperance movement became active and it campaigned to expunge alcohol not just from social life, but also more widely, for example from its uses in medicine, administered to both patients and staff in hospitals. That is why the alcohol-free London Temperance Hospital opened nearby on Gower Street in 1873, moving to Hampstead Road, in 1885.
Charles Dickens observed how, in this period, small neighbourhood pubs were becoming ‘gin palaces’ – large rooms full of ‘drunken besotted men, and wretched broken-down miserable women’. Poverty drove them to drink. Just as there were cholera or yellow fever maps, the Temperance Society in 1860 presented a map of the spread of the ‘disease’ of gin palaces. Like many parts of central London, St Pancras was dense with a measly rash of pink spots. It had a dense population: The numbers: 114, 234 above the age of 15; 546 dealers in intoxicating drink, meaning that 1 in 209 people was serving alcohol to the local populace. It was worse elsewhere, but there was quite a concentration of those dealers in drink alleviating the misery in the slums of Somers Town.
By Esther Leslie