We’ve also heard about gin being referred to as Dutch Courage or Mother’s Ruin…but where does Mother’s Ruin originate from?
Gin – summers evenings spent in pub gardens across the UK drinking long glasses of G&T. Is there anything more quintessentially English? A G&T might also remind you of when you were younger and it was a drink that was the choice of your Mum and her girlfriends when they got together.
We’re all aware of the history of gin) and that the world’s oldest distillery is still being used in Plymouth.
In the 1700’s gin was insanely cheap to make as it only needed grain, water, and readily available herbs (juniper bushes grew wild), and its deregulation brought about a different drinking culture. Gin drinking increased rapidly in England around this time as you didn’t need a licence to produce gin ,plus ,the Government had imposed some hefty duties on imported drinks. This saw a period called the Gin Craze evolve as hundreds of gin shops sprang up in London.
For the wealthy, gin was a novelty – a new drink to while away the hours spent playing cards and in gaming houses. For the poor, it was a cheap, fast-acting way to oblivion, a temporary respite from relentless deprivation.
Much of the gin was drunk by women, consequently, the children were neglected, daughters were sold into prostitution, and wet nurses gave gin to babies to quieten them. This worked provided they were given a large enough dose! Coffee houses were traditionally dominated by men but with gin being cheap as chips, women made a living from producing it and selling it. It was much worse for a woman to be seen as a drunk than a man – the woman had duties at home to take care of; running a house, looking after the children and if she spent all of her time drinking gin, all of these would fall by the wayside.
People would do anything to get gin…a cattle drover sold his eleven-year-old daughter to a trader for a gallon of gin, and a coachman pawned his wife for a quart bottle!
William Hogarth’s Gin Lane (1751) picture depicts the state of the nation at the time – it shows a drunk woman, ragged and scarred, breasts exposed, hair unkempt, eyes unfocused, taking snuff as her baby falls into the vault below. “Drunk for a Penny/Dead Drunk for twopence/ Clean Straw for Nothing”, is a motto which Hogarth apparently saw at a gin-shop in Southwark.
Jump forward to the 20th Century and after prohibition, gin prevails again and the ‘Cocktail Age’ is born. This crossed the Atlantic from the USA to the UK via a young lady who wanted to show her friends how to fill the time between teatime and dinner and in the 1920’s gin was the trendy drink to be seen with when you were out socialising. The prohibition era saw men and women drinking together in saloons – the women drank, smoked, danced and drove, all of which started to show that women were able to keep up with the men.
However, during the 1950’s it was thought that drinking a pint of gin and having an extremely hot bath was recommended as a way to induce a miscarriage as a back street abortion. Another nod to it being linked with women.
As the 50’s turned into the 60’s the origins of the term Mother’s Ruin were a mystery to most, but the name stuck around. For most of us growing up, a G&T was Mother’s Ruin because it was your Mum’s drink of choice (whilst Dad stuck to lager) and had a good chance of making her rather tipsy!
Not so these days. Gin has never really been a drink just for women and with the explosion in craft gin distillers it has picked up an enthusiastic audience of every gender.