Waves of Excess: Drinking Cultures in Brighton, 1880-1939
Author: Robinson, Richard
Contributor: University of Helsinki, Faculty of Arts, Department of Philosophy, History, Culture and Art Studies, History
Thesis level: Doctoral dissertation (monograph)
Abstract: This thesis is a social and cultural history of the drinking cultures that co-existed in Brighton, the biggest seaside resort in England, between 1880 and 1939. Its case study approach uses a distinct spatial setting to examine a plethora of perspectives on alcohol consumption, ones which extend well beyond the traditional foci of the public house and the temperance movement. Indeed, rather than seeing the licensed house as exclusively representative of the town s public drinking, it takes it as merely the most obvious form, before going on to consider tourist consumption, drunkenness, advertising and licensed clubs. These analyses are based on a close reading of both regulatory sources like licensing registers, police records and magistrates minutes and an array of regional publications, including newspapers, tourist guides and entertainment weeklies.
Aside from expanding the scope of drink history, this study also offers an alternative history of the seaside resort, situating alcohol s paradoxical roles at the heart of its identity. Since Brighton attracted both high society and lowly day-trippers, it demonstrates this paradox well: it accepted alcohol s role in refined leisure experiences while simultaneously trying to quell the intoxicated excesses of the excursionist mass. However, one of the main findings of this thesis is that Brighton s eclectic mix of classes and relatively condensed tourist landscape ultimately resulted in more homogeneous drinking cultures than in other types of towns, particularly in the interwar period.
The other significant finding of this study concerns drink history more directly. The period from 1880 to the end of the First World War is commonly seen as the most turbulent in the history of alcohol in England, and has been set in stark contrast to the more sober and more middle-class drinking climate of the interwar years. However, this study challenges the extent to which this mollified atmosphere was founded on more refined conduct, showing that transgressive drinking activities did not entirely die away. On the contrary, because drink was now an acceptable leisure option rather than a potential threat to the very fabric of society, disreputable drinking cultures whether those of working-class tourists or middle-class women were viewed in a more permissive light.