This is the first book about women’s advance into the man’s world of pub, club and beerhouse that examines drinking habits covering a century and more. Currently, historians view enduring changes in women’s drinking habits as a product of the last half of the twentieth century. Our present understanding of women’s drinking in the first half of the century is based on uncertain assumptions and limited statistical evidence. Scholars have ignored critical differences between pubs and beerhouses which shaped drinking habits. In estimating the proportion of women frequenting interwar licensed premises, scholars rely heavily on statistics from York, Bolton and London without scrutinizing their validity. Overlooking the lounge, a gender-neutral room introduced into interwar improved pubs, likewise creates misunderstanding. Women first began entering drink premises during World War I, and Progressive brewers protected and enlarged their numbers building or rebuilding reformed pubs with wider amenities, interiors without partitions and the lounge as a separate room. New drinking norms reinforced the image of middle-class restraint and respectability. Wine bars targeting professional women appeared from the mid-1970s, but women remained uninterested in drinking beer or frequenting pubs save for the decade from the mid-1980s to mid-1990s. Domestic drinking, already popular, soared from 1990 and reached nearly half of total sales. Women’s public drinking habits were revolutionized in the last quarter of the twentieth century. Female-friendly chains, style bars, clubs and wine bars gave women greater choices than traditional masculine boozers, which steadily contracted in numbers. Wine selections widened, notably from the New World, food became common and gay bars multiplied.

Women and youth across a century of censure

Stanley Cohen established the concept of moral panic in 1972 (Folk Devils and Moral Panics: The Creation of the Mods and Rockers), and subsequently diverse scholars have explored its relevance for different periods. Seven traits characterized moral panics: public concern; hostility; public consensus; exaggerated response; volatility; introspective soul-searching; and perception of the deviant behaviour as symptomatic of a broader malaise. Further research emphasized that moral panics were not monolithic, but comprised different types: grassroots; elite; and enforcement of existing laws. Throughout the twentieth century, women and youth became the focus of moral panics in the Boer War, World Wars I and II, the early 1950s and binge drinking several decades later. Review of these moral panics show how women who moved beyond existing gender spatial boundaries provoked criticism and escalating anxiety, culminating in the demonizing of offenders as “folk devils.”

in Women drinking out in Britain since the early twentieth century
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In over a century of drinking out, women’s consumption habits varied considerably. It was in the last quarter of the twentieth century, however, that they were revolutionized, creating an entirely new subculture of drinking. Economic, demographic and marketing developments all contributed to changing how women drank. Legislation outlawing men-only bars in 1976 facilitated the emergence of women’s drinking habits. So did Thatcher’s Beer Orders. Advertising, wine bars, pubcos, and entrepreneurs outside the brewing industry (notably Tim Martin and Crispin Tweddle) who espoused corporate social responsibility and embraced feminine-friendly drinking venues, all contributed to a new culture of drinking.

in Women drinking out in Britain since the early twentieth century

Male subcultures of drinking began slowing changing in the 1980s, with women increasingly not only patronizing pubs and clubs but doing so without male escorts. Geographic differences persisted. Northern working-class clubs remained bastions of male sexism and racism notwithstanding government attacks on sexual and racial discrimination. For brewers, working-class drinkers remained the mainstay of customers. Advertising became even raunchier, reflecting society’s more accommodating attitudes. With this advertising culture, beer marketers continued to insinuate into the female mind an unmistakably negative view of beer drinking. Six distinct drink venues existed, dependent more on function than class: youth bars, fun pubs, lounge bars, family pubs, repositioned traditional ale bars, and gentlemen’s (sex) clubs. Both sexes began ranking toilet cleanliness as a priority in market surveys.

in Women drinking out in Britain since the early twentieth century

Soaring wine consumption (1960-75) preceded establishment of wine bars, underlining changing socializing patterns. Longer life expectancy and smaller families acted as key demographic catalysts to wine bars’ rapid expansion. So did globalization and legislation guaranteeing women equal pay and motherhood legal protection. Targeting a professional, upwardly mobile, female clientele, wine bars experienced explosive growth from the mid-1970s. Names of wine bars, bar staff, feminized environments, absence of beer, wide selection of quality wines, attractive food, live music, waitress service, high toilet hygiene, and a more select clientele all attracted women. Publicans, however, responded with little insight into how to lure women into pubs. What neither publicans nor brewers could grasp was how the culture of wine bars clashed sharply with traditional masculine boozers, literally driving women to drinking venues of their own.

in Women drinking out in Britain since the early twentieth century
Understanding the psychology of selling alcohol in the 1980s–90s

Ben Davis, licensed design consultant with Allied Breweries for some thirty years from 1949 and author of the widely read book, The Traditional English Pub: A Way of Drinking (1981), played a pivotal role in perpetuating the industry’s conservative, masculine drinking culture which alienated numerous potential female patrons. Davis exemplified the reactionary attitudes of the brewing industry, unwilling to grasp want factors—beverages, decors, colours, drinking psychology and facades—generated female custom. Repudiating Davis’ philosophy, pioneering entrepreneurs establishing pubcos rejected standard masculine décor as well as brown colours, and instead introduced female-friendly colours, furniture and layouts. These outsiders, notably Tim Martin (JD Wetherspoon) and Crispin Tweddell (Pitcher & Piano), inaugurated a revolution in design that transformed drink venues in the 1980s-90s.

in Women drinking out in Britain since the early twentieth century

The prevailing masculine culture of drinking had consistently thwarted efforts to attract female custom. Brewing company executives blocked entry of women into pub tenancies, hired managers whose wives received no remuneration and employed estate managers who presided over many licensed premises as notable for their overwhelming masculinity as for their vile hygiene. Traditional pub culture had little to offer women. Critics of the Thatcher Government Beer Orders have exaggerated its impact. Before the government imposed restraints in 1989, pubcos had begun changing the retailing of alcohol. The beer orders accelerated emergence of a new culture in which women as consumers, tenants or managers now became conspicuous. New women’s drinking habits emerged, and females played a critical role as decision makers in determining what alcohol was purchased.

in Women drinking out in Britain since the early twentieth century

From the late 1970s a new youth drinking culture supplanted traditional northern pub customers. Sex and class had previously set perimeters for pub drinkers, whereas age and geography now became the chief delineators. Pub and club became the mainstay of youth culture, with the 18-24 years olds the chief imbibers of alcohol. Concern about youth drinking arose because of unhealthy drinking patterns in which prodigious amounts of potent alcoholic beverages were consumed during an evening. Large cities, especially in the north, had the largest numbers of licensed venues, and exhibited the most conspicuous problems. Commitment to getting drunk was one powerful youth motivation for drinking, though scholars have advanced other explanations.

in Women drinking out in Britain since the early twentieth century

Radically different responses to the drink problem among one key group, the drink sellers, most distinguishes the interwar years from the present. Interwar Progressive brewers accepted responsibility for serious drink problems, whereas most present-day drink sellers blame other factors. Modifying the drinking environment became critical to inculcating new drinking norms antithetical to drunkenness after World War I. Victorian assumptions that deficient characters fostered insobriety, rejected later by Progressive brewers, have been revived in the present debate on binge drinking. Modern-day politicians see excess drinking and drunkenness as the result of individual choice. From this perspective, drink sellers and the government are absolved of responsibility for any role in discouraging excessive drinking and insobriety. Thus, today as in the pre-1914 era, insobriety stemmed from character flaws for which the individual was solely responsible.

in Women drinking out in Britain since the early twentieth century
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Diverse forces shaped women’s drinking habits: wars; Progressivism; changes in demography, the economy and work; enduring sexism not just among pub and beerhouse patrons but throughout the industry; moral panics; pubcos; different generational attitudes; ambitious entrepreneurs unconnected with the brewing industry; and alterations in the drinking culture itself, from layouts and beverages to licensing hours and escalating numbers of youth drinkers. Women’s drinking habits changed most in the interwar era and the years 1975-2000. Scholars have overlooked distinctions between pubs and beerhouses, the introduction of the lounge and public opinion or marketing surveys, contributing to much misunderstanding of how, why and where women drank. I used wide-ranging sources: periodicals focusing on drinking, the national press, architectural journals, corporate archives, oral histories, parliamentary papers, advertisements, Mass-Observation reports and sociological studies. Throughout the book I engage with scholarly arguments of women’s drinking behaviour, and offer original interpretations.

in Women drinking out in Britain since the early twentieth century