Abstracts - for the 8 September 2011

Food and Beverages: Retailing, Distribution and Consumption in Historical Perspective

Abstracts 11.30-13.00

Jasmine Kilburn-Toppin, Victoria and Albert Museum/Royal College of Art, UK, ' "Discords have arisen and brotherly love decreased": the spatial and material contexts of the guild feast in early modern London'

The guild feast or dinner was a significant site for the conspicuous consumption of food and alcohol in the urban environment. The gifting of silver drinking vessels for communal use and the sharing of alcoholic drinks were apparently essential for the forging and demonstration of social and political bonds between members of the same ‘never dying’ body of ‘artisans’. However, such occasions of choreographed conviviality were not as straightforwardly harmonious as the rhetorical language of company wardens would have us believe. Early modern civic culture - which often involved interaction between persons of very varied material circumstances - is known to have been, at times, highly divisive and ridden with conflict. Court minutes of craft guilds frequently refer to feasting occasions at which ‘brotherly love’ appears to have been entirely absent: for example when young company members refused to defer to the livery, or ‘uncivil language’ was exchanged between liverymen of similar status.

Through an analysis of drink-fuelled skirmishes within the Carpenters’, Armourers’ and Goldsmiths’ companies of the seventeenth century, this paper will situate notions of conflict within specific material and spatial contexts. It will suggest that disputes between men of the same guild at feasts often centred on issues of age, social background and relative craft skills: though these markers of manhood manifested themselves and depended upon where he sat - or served - within the Company hall or parlour; the clothes he was obliged to wear; his material contribution to the dinner and his access to the Company plate and treasures. As company halls were reimagined and rebuilt and the material culture of interiors changed from the later sixteenth century, the nature of social relations between guildsmen at the feast were also transformed.   


Mark Hailwood, University of Warwick, UK, ‘Rethinking men’s consumption of alcohol in the early modern English alehouse’

Whilst changes in the actual levels of alcohol consumption in early modern England remain unclear, historians agree that the institution of the alehouse came to play an increasingly important role in the consumption of alcohol. From the middle of the sixteenth century the numbers of alehouses in early modern England exploded, more than doubling by the middle of the seventeenth century. What was driving this increase? Traditionally, social historians of the early modern alehouse suggested that this rise in alehouse numbers was a direct response to increased levels of poverty caused by demographic and economic pressures—the growing ranks of the poor were thought to have increasingly turned to the consumption of alcohol ‘to blot out some of the horror of their lives’, craving narcotic relief as they engaged in the ‘desperate pursuit of drunken oblivion’.

This paper argues that this conventional explanation for the increase in the consumption of alcohol in alehouses is insufficient. In particular, by favouring a ‘drink-as-despair’ explanation, historians have tended to overlook the important cultural and social appeal of alehouse-going in the period. By examining a range of seventeenth-century broadside ballads, this paper will reconstruct the cultural values associated with the consumption of alcohol in alehouses. It will argue that far from being a direct response to poverty, alehouse-going was more often than not seen as an opportunity for the labouring and artisan classes to engage in a form of conspicuous expenditure intended to demonstrate a certain distance from poverty. Furthermore, the paper will argue that this conspicuous expenditure was central to the articulation of a certain code of plebeian masculinity that historians of masculinity in the period have failed to acknowledge.


Deborah Toner, Institute for the Study of the Americas, University of London, UK, ‘Closing time for machismo? Reassessing the gender dynamics of alcohol consumption in nineteenth-century Mexico’

Anthropological, sociological and historical studies of drinking in modern Mexican history have focused on the concept of machismo, which suggests the preponderance of heavy drinking, chauvinism, aggression and violence as an extreme, though common, expression of masculinity. Judgements about the prevalence of a macho culture of alcohol consumption amongst the lower classes, in particular, emerged from judicial records and newspaper reports that provide information about social drinking practices from highly negative viewpoints, since they deal overwhelmingly with the criminal and destructive aspects of public drunkenness. A deeper analysis of these sources, however, reveals a much more complex situation, in which the consumption of alcohol was involved in the construction of a range of different, contested masculine identities, and in the negotiation of different models of gender relations at different levels of society in the nineteenth century.

Drinking together in all male groups with a similar social background was an important arena for the consolidation of lower class masculine identity, and it also gave rise to opportunities for competition for status. However, the presence of women in public drinking places and their participation in social drinking practices alongside men was much more common and harmonious than contemporary observers and studies of machismo would have us believe. In some instances, men of low social status, and even some women, faced censure from their own communities, neighbours, and families (and not just the authorities) for recurrent, irresponsible or socially disruptive patterns of alcohol consumption, and these cases are highly suggestive of the predominance, not of a drunken, violent, chauvinistic machismo amongst the lower orders, but of the expectation that men act as responsible, respectable, hard-working fathers, husbands, and role models.


D'Maris Coffman, University of Cambridge, UK, ‘Anticipating the state: reassessing the ‘old’ English excises and the development of brewing in England

As David Hume noticed, the excises on beer and malt served as the backbone of the eighteenth-century British fiscal system. The excise administration’s corps of professional collectors provided a model to the other branches and engendered the envy of the continental European powers. The British state profited from bureaucratization, transparency, efficiency, and Parliament’s ‘credible commitment to servicing the national debt (North & Weingast, 1989; Brewer, 1988). According to Gregory King (1695), households spent more on beer and ale than any other single item, and a significant portion of the agricultural produce of the kingdom was consumed in its production (Mathias, 1959 [1992]). As Peter Mathias suggested in his seminal account of the The Brewing Industry in England (1959 [1992]), changes in the excise laws, especially the introduction of the Malt Tax and the Hops Duty, altered traditional recipes for beer and ale, influenced industry organization and ultimately dictated strategies for the retailing of these beverages. 

This paper explores both the econometric evidence for these developments and the anecdotal evidence, drawn from brewers’ accounts and from contemporary polemics at three critical periods in the 1690s, 1700s and 1750s. Building on work done by Will Ashworth and Miles Ogborn, this paper also offers novel interpretations of the role of the excise in the changing eighteenth-century English economy.  


Stéphane Le Bras, University of Paul-Valery, Montpellier III, France, ‘Being the middlemen: wine wholesaling in Languedoc in the twentieth century. A dominating activity between restructuration and integration (1900-1960)’

Once the aftermath of the Phyloxera epidemic dissipated at the beginning of the XXth century, the wine market in Languedoc seems to resume its frenzied and uneven course. Indeed, the wine economy is characterized since the 1900s by an irregular economy. Like shown by G. Gavignaud-Fontaine for the Languedoc region or M. Lachiver for the national territory, crises are frequent in the wine economy and these crises are often followed by period of sharp but swift prosperity.

These economic variations are all the more impacting as, in Languedoc, wine is the main resource and the entire society is dependent on the distribution of the grape harvest and its productions. Being the French leading region in the wine-producing sector, Languedoc is as well from 1900 to 1960, the heart of a profound restructuration and modernization of its wine-based field and its market.

        In this erratic and overwhelming context, the languedocian wholesalers, who are the vital wheels in the smooth running of the market, the essential go-betweens and middlemen between the world of the property and that of the retailing, have to face the fluctuations - ceaseless and excessive –of the prices, new rivals coming from outside the region and the legislative interventionism of the State, which is often seen as disturbing in a profession marked by a profound liberal state of mind.

        Trough unreleased archives (regional and professional press, Chambers of commerce, departmental and private archives), Stéphane Le Bras is proposing here to study how, in a sector deeply affected by individualism and a growing disorderly market, the wholesalers, while securing the control of the market, its practices and its standards, have to face major transformations of their professional field.

In a first part, we will analyze how the merchants are trying to impose their liberal ideology on the market to study, in a second part, how the wholesalers are experiencing (in an active and a passive ways) the major changes of their trade, mainly restructuration and integration.


Adrian R. Bailey, University of Exeter, UK, ‘Regulating the supermarket in 1960s Britain: exploring the changing relationship of food manufacturers and retailers through the Cadbury archive’

The paper explores changes in the relationship between manufacturers and retailers in the late 1960s and 1970s, following the abolition of Resale Price Maintenance (RPM) legislation in the UK.  The liberalisation of pricing and its implications for manufacturers and retailers is explored through a case study of Cadbury Brothers Ltd in the wake of the RPM abolition, which impacted chocolate and confectionery in 1967.  The aims of the paper are, first, to outline the marketing strategy at Cadbury prior to, and following, the change in legislation and, second, to examine the changing relationships between Cadbury and its distributors.  The details of the Restricted Trade Practice court hearing, fought by Cadbury have previously been described by Harold Crane, who acted as the legal advisor to Mackintosh during the case.  Crane’s summary of the case is detailed and gives due weight to the arguments for and against the Act in the context of the confectionery market, but the account is selective and conceals the historical development of the ‘Four Firms’ arguments leading up to the court hearing (i.e. Cadbury, Rowntree, Mackintosh and Bassett).  The research presented here has been funded by a small grant from the Business Archives Council (BAC) and makes reference to overlooked materials held at the Cadbury archive in Bournville.  The materials, held in 31 large boxes and recently catalogued by the author, relate to internal communications between Cadbury directors and managers; communications between Cadbury and other confectionery manufacturers; and correspondence with retailers and retail trade associations during the late 1960s.  The Cadbury catalogue indicates that there is limited archival information relating to Cadbury post-war distribution, which makes these materials of significance for researchers seeking to build upon existing management histories of the firm.



Dr Laura Ugolini

Room MC334

Tel: 01902 321890

Email: L.Ugolini@wlv.ac.uk