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British Gothenburg Experiments



Date started
Population of Parish

ONE of the first persons in Great Britain to attempt an experiment upon " Gothenburg " lines was the Rev. Osbert Mordaunt, Rector of Hampton Lucy, Warwick. On his appointment to the parish a quarter of a century ago, Mr. Mordaunt found himself sole trustee of a village inn which had belonged to the former incumbent, but had been bequeathed by him to his successors in trust for the parish.(The rent of the inn is devoted to the payment of the organist's salary. ) The population of the parish was small and much scattered; but as the inn was the only licensed house in the parish—the nearest public-house being two miles away—Mr. Mordaunt determined upon an experiment upon the general lines of the Gothenburg system, the main principles of the experiment to be: (1) the purity of the liquor sold—a point upon which Mr. Mordaunt lays great emphasis; and (2) that "the person who sells the beer must have no interest in the profits. He must merely be a dispenser."

In practice, and as a matter of convenience, the rector has always appointed one of his own servants—a gardener or a coachman—as manager. He is allowed the house rent free and a small sum for management, and receives whatever profits he can make upon temperance drinks and food. He is also allowed to take " the profits upon the stablings, such as they are." The sale of food is small.

No spirits are sold, the spirit licence having been abolished when the experiment was begun. A certain quantity of spirits is, however, brought into the village by the grocers' carts. The abolition of the spirit licence was at first extremely unpopular, but complaints are not often made now. It should be added that to meet cases of emergency where the doctor orders spirits, the rector is always willing to supply them gratuitously from his own home. Mr. Mordaunt is clearly of opinion that the abolition of the spirit licence has lessened the consumption of spirits in the village. " People have no opportunity now," he says, " of going to the public-house and asking for threepenny-worth or sixpenny-worth of gin or brandy, or whatever they want. I am certain, for instance, amongst women that that kind of thing has ceased altogether."

The usual public-house hours are observed, and no limit as to the quantity supplied to sober people is ever attempted. No one, however, is allowed to be served who shows any sign of drunkenness. " If anyone is decidedly drunk," said the rector in his evidence before the Royal Commission on Liquor Licensing Laws, in June, 1898, "I expect to be informed. I am hardly ever told of a case now. I admit this may sometimes happen, that a man will come in the worse for liquor who has been, perhaps, to market or to town somewhere, and who comes in and possibly gets served with some beer before his condition is found out. We sometimes get the credit for having made such a person drunk, and even that seldom occurs."

Sales on credit are absolutely forbidden.

Nearly all the profits go back to the parish in some shape or other to assist the charities. For instance, a " harvest home" is given to the entire parish every year, chiefly out of the profits of the public-house. ("About two years' profits were once devoted to the sinking of wells and erection of pumps in various places, the water supply being improved at the expense of the beer.")

On being asked if he had ever felt any temptation to increase the profits for the sake of conferring a general benefit on the parish, the rector replied: " Oh, no! I never felt any inclination to do that at all." Asked, further, if he could conceive of such a temptation existing, he replied: " I can conceive it, but not in anyone's mind who was really interested in the sobriety of the people."


Speaking of the general results of the experiment, in a statement published a few years back, Mr. Mordaunt says : " I have reason to believe that on account of the liquor being pure and wholesome, and therefore satisfying, much less is consumed than formerly. Low wages may have had something to do with a decrease of consumption. But when wages were higher, some years ago, I noticed that less beer was purchased with a good quality of liquor, although the price remained the same. Before the 1 public' changed hands perhaps drunkenness was no worse here than in many places; but cases were common enough. I am thankful to say now they are comparatively rare, and seldom occur, except people have come in from other places the worse for liquor, and have been accidentally served with more."

In his evidence before the Royal Commission, in June, 1898, the rector said: " I cannot say that there is never any drunkenness, but I think I can safely say that drunkenness is reduced to a minimum. We very rarely have a case of drunkenness, and hardly ever in connection with the public-house."

In concluding his evidence before the Commission, Mr. Mordaunt was asked whether the improvement in the parish was not rather due to the elimination of spirits than to the special virtue of the management ? And he replied: " It may be partly due to that, no doubt. It is chiefly due to drinking not being encouraged." He added: " Perhaps there is more done parochially than there used to be. For instance, I established a reading-room some time ago for young men. They sit there and spend a good deal of their time in the winter evenings in these reading-rooms. That has a negative good influence, and I hope keeps them out of the public-house."

In summing up elsewhere (Popular Control of the Liquor Traffic: Two Successful English Experiments, p. 11.) the results of his experience, Mr. Mordaunt says: " My experience leads me to the following conclusions:

" 1. Temperance reformers do not agitate sufficiently against the evils of adulteration, or, to say the least, against the injury caused to the community by the sale of unwholesome liquor. . . . Certain I am that it is not pure beer, but the mixture sold under the name, which is a potent cause of drunkenness and of the craving for drink amongst thousands who scarcely ever touch spirits. . . .

" 2. There are many villages and country towns in which property is not divided, where the public-house or houses belong to one squire or landlord. Why should not such proprietors take the matter into their own hands—this could be done with very little trouble to themselves—and so promote health and sobriety amongst their people ? . . . . The enormous number of public-houses now in the hands of the brewers must, of course, make a change difficult or impossible for many landlords who might be willing to make it. I only plead in such cases for my system to be attempted as soon as the emancipation of the ' public' is possible. . . .

" 3. As regards profit and loss, the business which has paid the publican may be less profitable, but certainly no loss, to the landlord. I am told that it can hardly be made to answer if less business than to the amount of £300 per annum is done. My own figures seem to show that at £300 there is some profit, and that at a figure considerably below this there might be no loss."

Mr. Mordaunt adds: " I am not prepared to say anything very definite by way of advising an experiment of this kind being tried in the face of opposition from other ' publics,' over which a landlord may have no control. But I am very much inclined to think that it would answer, even under such circumstances, simply because the really moderate drinkers (who are still, let us hope, in a majority) would soon discover where they could get the most wholesome return for their money, besides knowing that the manager had no interest whatever in encouraging them to drink or in selling cheap stuff for the sake of extra profit."

In the same pamphlet, however, Mr. Mordaunt states that, as " the possessor of a monopoly undisturbed," he has " succeeded with the system pursued better than could have been expected were there other houses to contend with"; and this conclusion seems to be fully borne out by the history of similar experiments elsewhere. Experience in all such experiments points conclusively to the fact that only limited and imperfect results can be obtained when there is not a complete monopoly of the local traffic.


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