Beer Street and Gin Lane

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Beer Street and Gin Lane
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William Hogarth

a. Beer Street. b. Gin Lane

London, Baldwin Craddock & Joy 1822

Copper engravings

390 x 330mm

£1600

Hogarth's most famous images, showing the contrast between the benefits of drinking beer and the evils of drinking gin or 'mother's ruin'. In Beer Street the inhabitants are extremely fat and jolly; baskets of fish, vegetables and a basket of books (indicating education) are displayed in the foreground, and two men quaff enormous tankards of frothing beer, On the left is a courting couple, and a butcher waving a huge joint of beef, while two fishwives carrying enormous baskets of fish read a ballad sheet (literacy). The pub sign of The Barley Mow is being repainted showing merrymakers dancing around the Barley Mow or heap of harvested barley, the road paving and houses are being repaired (all except that of N. Pinch Pawn Broker which is falling down), prosperous people travel in carriages along the street and The Sun public house sways up a huge barrel of beer from a cart. The church steeple in the background is probably St. Martin's in the Fields and the flag shows that the date is October 30th, George II's birthday. Nothing could be a greater contrast than the squalor and degradation of Gin Lane. Here, on the steps leading up from Gin Royal whose inscription above the door reads Drunk for a Penny, Dead Drunk for two pence, Clean Straw for Nothing, a mother lets her baby fall to its death from the top of a flight of steps and an emaciated minstrel has starved to death. On the right a crowd riots outside a gin retailer, small children knock back the liquor and a woman is being buried in the street outside the undertakers. On the left at S. Gripe Pawn Broker a carpenter pawns the tools of his trade, a woman pawns her cooking pots, and in the background a house collapses into the street revealing that a man has hanged himself in despair. Two men and a dog gnaw a bare bone, a mother pours gin into her baby's mouth and an abandoned baby squalls on a heap of rubble. Tumbledown slums around the steeple of the church of St. George's Bloomsbury surmounted with the statue of George 1st, indicate that this is the area known as the Ruins of St. Giles in what is now Seven Dials.