How Battles Over Booze Shaped Modern Liverpool - In Conversation with David Beckingham

Posted on June 07, 2017 by Heather Gallagher

How did Liverpool transform its 19th century reputation for drunkenness? David Beckingham, author of The Licensed City explains the social impact of licensing laws in a city centred on drinking culture. 



What made you decide to study Liverpool and what did you focus on in your research?

For much of the nineteenth century, Liverpool enjoyed a terrible reputation for drunkenness. According to police statistics it was at various times the most drunken city in England. At its peak in the 1870s, there was something like 20,000 annual police proceedings for drunkenness. I was interested to find out more about why Liverpool looked so at odds with other cities. 

I began by considering the role of numbers in constructing municipal reputations. I was cautious of these numbers, aware that they were counting incidents of policing and not every act of consuming alcohol. But I wanted to know what that record said about Victorian Liverpool, a city whose civic ambitions betrayed a series of social anxieties. 

This meant asking why the authorities in Liverpool thought that the city had such a drink problem. Because policing reflecting anxieties about largely public behaviours, I started to consider the role that drink played in the social and street life of the city. This took me on a kind of archive tour of the docksides, the slums of north Liverpool, the mercantile heart around the Town Hall, and the theatre land of Williamson Square. I focus on the regulatory mechanism for controlling the sale of alcohol through pubs. This is the licensed city of my title, a city where regulators were keen to address the links between drink and a range of social problems.


How did you go about your research for this book? Were you surprised by any of your findings?

My book grew out of a PhD in Geography. Most of my research was done in Liverpool’s Central Library, where I read the minute books of the Council, Watch Committee (which was in charge of policing) and magistrates. Newspapers were also fantastically useful. I particularly liked reading old satirical papers like Porcupine. They provide a very different angle on the sometimes rather dry tone of official minute books and, even through their criticisms, revealed the sense of civic pride and identity so central to social reform. 

The archives also have some wonderful temperance material, produced by reformers campaigning against drink. This included an amazing set of maps of pubs in different parts of town, which are reprinted in the book. Being trained as a geographer, I was interested to think about what kind of political work was done by representing information in this way. They show us how tempting it can be to construct reductive moral arguments about people and places. 

I really wanted to learn about the cultures of Liverpool’s pubs. We know what they looked like: plans formed part of the licensing process and there are plenty of street photographs that reflect changing branding and design. Liverpool still has some famous examples of pubs from the period. I tried to imagine what they would have sounded like as people talked over their beer about their daily concerns. The written records aren’t really set up for that, of course. Things were usually recorded when they went wrong, but by understanding this it is still possible to glimpse daily life. 

Most surprising, to me, was just how detailed these records could be. They show magistrates manipulating the layout of pubs, doing away with screens or doors to cosy corners where people could get up to mischief. My favourite examples come from cases where publicans were tasked with managing women who were reputed to be prostitutes. The law didn’t ban women from seeking liquid refreshment, but it asked that they stay no longer than was necessary for ‘reasonable refreshment’. Importantly, it didn’t spell out how long this was. One London Road publican was told that if he spotted a known prostitute she should not be allowed to stay on his premises for longer than four minutes. The obvious concern was to prevent pubs being used by prostitutes to solicit for sex. To me it conjures up an image of the pub’s staff lining up clocks along the bar. I can’t imagine the magistrates’ intention was to endorse speed drinking, but this tells us a lot about their priorities. It has been really instructive to see just how these gendered moral codes ran right the way down through the social life of the city.


Photograph courtesy of Colin Wilkinson at Blue Coat Press


Why did alcohol become such a pressing political issue in the nineteenth century?

In a way, that concern with prostitution helps explain something very important about drink. It intersected with such a broad range of social issues and policy arenas, right the way from labour productivity and criminality through to health and housing reform. 

It is clear to me that the problem of prostitution played a particular role in politicising the management of pubs in Liverpool, in no small part because of the political clout of some of the city’s brewers. This helped turn drink from a question of individual moral responsibility into a collective question about the city’s management to be challenged through the ballot box.

Nationally, the growth of the temperance movement also reflects a distinctive feature of drink: it made really very tangible an important and unresolved debate about the rights and reach of the state to govern individual behaviours. This is really what got me interested in drink in the first place. It is a great case study for understanding the developing governance of everyday life in Victorian Britain.


To what extent did you find that reforming licensing laws tackled the social issues that Liverpool was facing in the nineteenth century?

That’s a really important question. It is wrong to assume that the broader social changes I narrate were all down to licensing. Licensing has to be seen alongside other reforms such as slum clearance, as well as changes in prosperity and social attitudes to drink. But that’s the interesting thing about drink: it links to so many other features of urban life. The magistrates reduced the numbers of licences, particularly beerhouses in the working-class parts of town, and they really did try to address what went on in pubs. They also learnt how to use licensing to shape the world beyond the pub. In that, they showed that licensing was a useful tool of social governance, and the argument I make is that this was often directed at behaviours other than simply drinking. 

It would also be wrong to see any successes as all their own work, however: I place great emphasis on the campaigns of social reformers. They were central to the definition of particular behaviours as problems that required intervention. For me the most telling thing is that reformers thought that licensing was working. This fed into a really useful political narrative that their social action was helping transform how their city was run. That takes us full circle back to the idea of reputation.


For more information on The Licensed City please visit our website.
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The Significance of the IRA in Britain, in conversation with Gerard Patrick Noonan

Posted on May 31, 2017 by Anthony Cond

To celebrate the release of The IRA in Britain 1919-1923, Gerard Patrick Noonan discusses the significance of the IRA’s terrorist campaign in Britain and the importance of this research as the first book to uncover the topic. 



What contribution did IRA gunrunning in Britain make to the success of the IRA in Ireland?

I think IRA gunrunning in Britain was a significant factor in the success of the IRA’s campaign in Ireland in the War of Independence. The IRA in Ireland was perennially short of munitions or the right sort of munitions at any rate: rifles, handguns, machine guns, explosives and ammunition. It did not have enough of these munitions to arm all its members. It was forced to turn abroad to augment its arsenal. Irish Republicans had been gunrunning in Britain from the 1860s, at least. So the IRA tapped these sources and developed others. Sometimes the munitions were bought – on the black market or from soldiers recently returned from fighting in the First World War. Other times the weapons were stolen from British Army barracks or Territorial Army drill halls. They were then smuggled to Ireland. By my calculations, around 330 firearms, 27,000 rounds of ammunition and 470 kg of explosives were smuggled to Ireland from 1919 to 1921. (These figures are based on surviving evidence; more may have been smuggled for which evidence does not survive.) These munitions allowed the IRA in Ireland to put up as good a fight as it did, forcing the British Government to agree to a truce and peace talks in the summer of 1921. ‘I always have it before me that we have got to help supply an army …’ one gunrunner in Liverpool said. And that is what he and his comrades did.

During the Civil War, the anti-Treaty IRA worked to acquire weapons and smuggle them to Ireland. However, their former comrades now in the National Army, aware of their modus operandi, liaised with the police to frustrate them.


How significant was the IRA’s terrorist campaign in Britain?

Militarily, it was not terribly significant, apart from the first incident. However, it garnered a good deal of press attention and may have put British politicians under pressure. The main aim of the campaign was to revenge the violence of the police in Ireland, especially their newly recruited British members known popularly as the Black and Tans and Auxiliaries. The campaign started off spectacularly in November 1920, with warehouses being set alight on Merseyside and causing over £600,000 worth of damage. However, from then until the campaign was halted in July 1921, largely because of police countermeasures, the attacks were on a much smaller scale and involved the burning of crops, timber yards, railway and telephone infrastructure etc. The families of men in the Irish police were targeted as well. Overall, two civilians were killed and about £669,000 worth of damage was caused to property. A coda in June 1922 saw two London IRA men assassinate Sir Henry Wilson, a Conservative MP from an Anglo-Irish family. This was a significant event, in that it contributed to the outbreak of the Civil War in Ireland later that month.


How successful were the authorities in tackling the IRA?

During the War of Independence, the police had a mixed record in tackling the IRA. They did not make any serious inroads into the IRA’s gunrunning activities, probably because they lacked actionable intelligence. The commencement of the terrorist campaign, however, seems to have jolted them and the political establishment into action. By arresting a number of significant figures, mounting patrols and protecting property, they hampered the IRA’s campaign. Overall, the IRA mounted 239 terrorist incidents between November 1920 and July 1921; convictions were secured for only 64. During the Civil War, the police worked with the newly installed government in the Irish Free State to successfully monitor and frustrate the activities of Republicans in Britain.


Why do you think this is the first book-length study of the topic?

It is curious that mine is the first book to tackle the subject. I suppose this has got to do with the fact that the topic is not terribly well known, even in academic circles. While many people have heard of the Fenians’ activities in Britain in the 1860s and the 1880s, the bombing campaign in 1939–1940 and the attacks mounted by the Provisional IRA from the 1970s to the 1990s, the IRA’s activities there during the Revolutionary period, 1916–1923, are relatively unknown. Perhaps this was because they were overshadowed by events in Ireland itself.


For more information on The IRA in Britain 1919-1923 and further Irish Studies titles please visit our website.


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Author Insights - Tara Martin López

Posted on October 05, 2016 by Heather Gallagher

This month, The Winter of Discontent by Tara Martin López is our chosen #FreeReadFriday title. Learn more about the book below through our chat with the author, before it's available to download free this Friday (7th of October).


Tara Martin López

 Tara Martin López is Professor of Sociology at Peninsula College.*


1. What prompted you to write this book?

I first heard of the Winter of Discontent when discussing politics with a British friend who continually referred to how bad things were in 1979 when trade unions were supposedly “out of control.” According to him Margaret Thatcher intervened and brought Britain out of a socialist mire. I was amazed not only that a person born in 1980 would have such a potent memory of the event, but also that it was a touchstone of his conversations decades later. He also used this series of events as a political cudgel against the Labour movement and social democracy. My interest was immediately piqued, and I sought to work under historian Sheila Rowbotham at the University of Manchester to write my Ph.D. thesis on the topic. After finishing my Ph.D., I was awarded fellowships from both the Barry Amiel and Norman Melburn Trust and the Lipman-Miliband Trust, which allowed me to expand my research.

As I was completing this work, a series called “Studies in Labour History” appeared at Liverpool University Press. I thought my work would be a perfect match for that series. I was elated when LUP accepted my proposal because it gave me the opportunity to share research on an extremely important topic with a broader audience.

2. What is the main argument of the book?

I argue that Conservative and Labour Party politics were primarily responsible for the particular contours of the myth of the Winter of Discontent. Many politicians like Margaret Thatcher effectively used the Winter of Discontent as a symbol of the “bad old days of socialism” to warn British voters away from electing Labour for more than a decade. However, while this dominant image of the Winter of Discontent arose out of a very real sense of chaos and crisis in the late 1970s, I demonstrate that the mythical resonance of these experiences only developed after the series of strikes had been resolved. Furthermore, I assert that instead of a fratricidal act, rank-and-file activists and local trade union leaders were engaged in activism that was hoping to address declining real wages and shifts in the ideological, gender, and racial composition of the trade union movement and the Labour Party. This series of strikes must also be seen in the context of evolving social movements such as the New Left and the Women’s Movement. I contend that the memories of local trade union leaders and grassroots activists involved in the strikes challenge the grim implications of the myth of the Winter of Discontent. More specifically, among some of the female trade unionists, the strikes of 1978-79 provided a transformative inroad into broader activism in the Labour movement for years to come. Finally, I assert that the different rememberings of the Winter of Discontent have distinctly shaped participants’ political identities, which, in turn, helped to reconfigure the political landscape of the Left decades later.

3. Why do you think the roles of female and black activists during the strikes have been largely ignored in the past?

I think the primary reasons lie in traditions of historical scholarship, limitations in archival material, and the gendered nature of the myth of the Winter of Discontent.

Unfortunately, the absence of these women and black activists has been part of the long tradition of erasing the contributions of women, people of color, and especially women of color, from the historical narrative. Labour historians’ emphasis on social class, in particular, tended to sideline equally important issues of gender, race, ethnicity, and sexuality. However, I had the privilege of researching at a time where the works of people like Sheila Rowbotham, Ava Baron, and Paul Gilroy had begun to open new lines of inquiry into these areas.

Previous accounts of the time period also privileged the perspectives of politicians and male trade unionists. By relying heavily on the biographies of Conservative and Labour politicians as primary sources, for example, by and large, perspectives were limited to those of white, middle to upper class, men. Newspapers, on the other hand, provided a broader spectrum of perspectives, including those of black activists and women, but still the coverage did not explore how and why these individuals became politically active. That is why it was so important for me to conduct oral histories with both women and men involved in these strikes. These oral histories, therefore, provided essential insight into the perspectives of women and black activists that were ignored for so long.

Finally, the absence of female activists, in particular, served a political agenda. A key element of this myth was that Margaret Thatcher was the one leader tough enough to stand up to the “trade union bully boys” who had crippled Britain during the 1970s. Politically, the potency of that dichotomous image would have been undermined if the historical reality of working class women as striking trade unionists had been brought to the fore.

4. Why do you think the myths surrounding the ‘greedy’ workers during the Winter of Discontent became so embedded?

The particular nature of the strikes, and, again, politics, played a key role in perpetuating this myth of “greedy” workers during the Winter of Discontent.

With the rise of the service sector in the UK during the 1970s, which coincided with the growth of female employment in these jobs, strikes were no longer just factory stoppages. For instance, care assistants for the elderly and the disabled were tasked with taking strike action during the Winter of Discontent without hurting the people they served. The oral histories reveal the creative ways people took action, like not doing a patient’s hair one day, but still providing essential care. Nonetheless, such strikes, especially in the NHS, provoked particular ire in the media. Headlines in The Daily Mail read “Target for Today - Sick Children” or “Patients Sent Home - Some Will Die.” I think the strikes of junior doctors in the NHS this year demonstrate the continued struggle such workers have in regards to addressing issues of workplace justice while providing essential care.

I further demonstrate that both Conservative and Labour Party politicians were instrumental in embedding the negative image of workers in popular memory. The Conservative Party, along with major media outlets like The Sun, not only evoked images of the Winter of Discontent and conniving workers in the 1979 General Election, but in subsequent General Elections, as symbols of Labour incompetence. Ironically, New Labour leaders subsequently used the same images to reinvent the party by telling voters that it was no longer the “party of the Winter of Discontent” that had been besieged by so called “greedy workers” in the late 1970s and early 1980s.


You can download The Winter of Discontent ebook free on Friday 7th of October using code FreeReadFriday at the checkout. See our blog for more instructions. 


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*Photo by Emma Jones

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Author Insights - Jonathan Jeffrey Wright

Posted on May 06, 2016 by Heather Gallagher

To coincide with May's Free Read Friday - here are some author insights from Jonathan Jeffrey Wright on his book The ‘Natural Leaders’ and their World: Politics, Culture and Society in Belfast, c. 1801–1832.  


1. What prompted you to write this book?

The ‘Natural Leaders’ and their World is based on my doctoral research, which focused on the Presbyterian community of Belfast in the early nineteenth century. I was prompted to research this area because it had, to some extent, been overlooked. It is well known that some Presbyterians were active in the United Irish movement and that, during the 1790s, Belfast was a dynamic urban centre with a reputation for political radicalism. I wanted to explore the aftermath of this period. In the past, it was thought that after the 1790s Presbyterian radicalism declined, and the early nineteenth-century tended to be viewed, in a negative sense, as a period in which the opportunities of the 1790s were shut down. I wanted to reframe the period and look at it on its own terms.

2. What is the main argument of the book?

Essentially, the main argument of this book is that the early-nineteenth century was, for the Presbyterians of Belfast, an altogether more complex period than has previously been understood. In simple terms, there was a lot more going on, whether in terms of politics, cultural life or religious life, than is often appreciated. Related to this, the book argues that what was happening in Belfast cannot be understood in isolation, but must be viewed against a broader British and, indeed, European backdrop. The early-nineteenth century was a period of transition throughout Britain – it was arguably a period in which a shift from early modernity to modernity took place – and Belfast’s experience has to be viewed in this context.

3. How does your approach differ from other research in this area?

My work differs from other research in terms of its focus. Rather than focusing simply on politics or religion (or the interaction of the two), it focuses on politics, religion, culture and also family life. Central to The ‘Natural Leaders’ is the story of the Tennents, a prominent family of Belfast Presbyterians. While not a straightforward group biography, the The ‘Natural Leaders’ combines elements of biography, using the Tennents and their experiences as a means of illustrating the broader social, political and cultural changes of the period.

5. Did anything within your research surprise you?

During my research a lot of things surprised me. Not the least of these was the private life of William Tennent, a well-known and, seemingly, well-respected member of Belfast’s Presbyterian middle classes, who had as many as thirteen illegitimate children. I was also surprised to discover just how deeply involved Tennent had been in the United Irish movement and by the way in which he was able to re-establish himself in Belfast society despite his associations with radicalism. Beyond this, I was particularly struck by the engagement of Belfast’s Presbyterians with broader cultural trends, such as romanticism. Romantic literature appears to have been as popular in Belfast as it was elsewhere in Britain, and particularly among the young men educated in the Belfast Academical Institution. Their literary preferences, and also their pretensions and their numerous flirtations with the young ladies of the town, are revealed vividly in the papers of Robert James Tennent (William Tennent’s nephew); I was frequently amused as I worked on those papers.

Dr Jonathan Jeffrey Wright holds an IRCHSS-funded postdoctoral fellowship at Trinity College, Dublin and is a research fellow on the AHRC-funded Scientific Metropolis project at Queen's University Belfast.

You can download Jonathan's book free on the 6th of May here or purchase from our website.


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Iain Whyte - Author Insights

Posted on December 04, 2015 by Heather Gallagher

Here are the author insights behind our current #FreeReadFriday title, Zachary Macaulay 1768-1838 The Steadfast Scot in the British Anti-Slavery Movement straight from author, Rev Dr Iain Whyte. 

1. What prompted you to write this book?

During my research for my earlier book Scotland and the Abolition of Black Slavery 1756-1838  I came across Zachary Macaulay, who rates a mention in few accounts of abolition, despite his bust in Westminster Abbey. Through a friend I was introduced to the late Sir Lance Errington and Lady Reine Errington ( Zachary Macaulay's great great grandaughter) who gave me access to some of his diaries that were in their small home in Argyll. In 2006 I researched the Macaulay papers in the Huntington Library in California with a Fellowship from the British Academy and, having checked that there was no biography of him apart from two books by the family in 1900 and 1934, I decided to attempt to fill the gap.

2. Why do you think Zachary Macauley is such a neglected figure?

Undoubtedly because he was a shy and unassuming man who allowed himself to be dwarfed by his friends William Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson, and other giants of the British abolition movement. Uniquely amongst the 'Clapham Saints' and other leaders in the anti-slavery campaign, Zachary Macaulay never made a public speech. His son Thomas (Lord Macaulay the historian,  administrator, and politician) became far better known) Some modern historians have written him off with the sterotype of a 'narrow Presbyterian Scot' and apart from a shallow judgement based on  his shy reticence and rather fierce demeanour, have portrayed him as uncaring - one even accused him of not being interested in freedom.

3. Did anything in your research surprise you?

I think above all his contradictions and his single mindedness. In company with many evangelical Protestants in his time he deplored Roman Catholicism and in company with political  Conservatives of the time he had a horror of even the mildest hint of revolution or even legislation to permit Trades Unions.  Yet he hailed slave revolutions in Demerara, Jamaica and Haiti as liberation movements. On a trip to France he wrote to his wife that the Abbe Gregoire, former bishop and member of the French revolutionary assembly, was one of the most 'spiritual' men he knew - Gregoire had a substantial record of opposing slavery, and that was the litmus test for him. 

4. What, in your opinion, is Macauley’s legacy?

His most significant work was undoubtedly to edit The Anti-Slavery Monthly Reporter which had the dual role of providing factual information on slavery for the Parliamentary campaign and news of anti-slavery activity throughout Britain (a modern parallel would be the Anti-Apartheid News) These were the silent weapons against slavery. Macaulay's research was meticulous, culled from numerous government reports, documents and Caribbean newspapers. His encyclopedic knowledge was acknowledged by Wilberforce who said to his colleagues 'let us look it up in Macaulay.' This made him hated by the defenders of slavery both in Britain and the West Indies. THey could not contradict his evidence. His silent background work provided a vital platform for those who were more visible in the cause.


You can download Zachary Macaulay 1768-1838 free on 4th of December here.

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