Gin, Cricket & England’s Victorian Society

Eton V Harrow c.1880 - 'Coaching' at the cricket was all the rage, as was taking on a sufficient quantity of booze of the field...

This featured in the December issue of Bartender magazine
Concocted and written by Edward Washington

Did the Victorian social habits of botanically infused spirits and a penchant for the game of cricket ever mix?

Gin is famed for the 18th century craze that showcased London as a bit of a mad-pot town, filled with damned souls sodden on Old Tom from the bathtub. True as it might be, the late Victorian era (1850s onwards) also had a bit of a penchant for gin and the period was marked by the rise of the ‘Gin Palace’ throughout London.

These new haunts were where, “respectable men who meet each other by chance, after a long absence, must drop in [and] although they have scarcely a minute to spare, to drink a glass together at the bar,” according to one social commentator reporting on the subject in 1853.

Gin palaces, [stood] in conspicuous positions, at the corners and crossings of the various intersecting streets – the “palace” is always crowded with guests, who, standing, staggering, crouching, or lying down, groaning, and cursing, drink and forget.” Nice picture.


Now, gin aside for a minute, let us take a moment to consider the other main preoccupation of the Victorian era society – cricket.

To this generation of English the sport of cricket was far more than a game – it was “prized as a national symbol,” according to social historian Peter Steams. “[Cricket] embodied all that was noble, it was exclusively English, proof of their cultural supremacy and was indeed a perfect example of their ethics and morals.”

But did these two passions; one of botanically infused spirits, the other of leather and wood, ever mix?

Blue Moon

  • 60ml Blue Ribbon Gin
  • 3 chunks slow cooked cinnamon rhubarb**
  • 15ml fresh lemon juice
  • 10ml Crème Yvette
  • 10ml spice syrup*

Muddle, shake and double strain lemon twist garnish. Served in coupette glass.

**slow cooked cinnamon rhubarb – peel some rhubarb, place in vac bag with cinnamon quills and castor sugar, sous vide, then place in water bath for 2 hours.

*spice syrup made of star anise, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, black pepper, mace, vanilla, lemon and sugar syrup.

David Nguyen-Luu, Rockpool Bar & Grill, Perth

It’s nigh impossible these days (members excluded) to attend the cricket and enjoy a full strength beer, let alone a gin and olive, while sitting in the grandstand – so what on earth did the Victorians do?

The ease with which one could take a mid-over trip to the local gin palace ‘to drink a glass’ would have been relative to just how far it was from the cricket ground. Perhaps also proportional to the speed of the run rate.

The Victorians are said to have watched more cricket than any previous generation because of their shorter working hours, and according to Keith Sandiford (who wrote a thesis on this very topic…) cricket crowds during the latter part of the 19th century were incredibly well behaved – which is rather disappointing really.

“Owing to the fact that the crowds sat down for extended periods and did not come into much physical contact with one another other”, says Sandiford and those that did attend the matches barely rated a mention for disruptive behaviour – a far cry from today.

This doesn’t mean that they didn’t take on sufficient quantities of gin, Champagne or ale during the afternoon’s play however and there are glimpses of misbehaviour. It’s just that they didn’t flaunt it all over Facebook – or whatever the 19th century equivalent was. The Illustrated London News often ran large sketches of the popular games, Eaton V Harrow being among them (pictured above) and ‘coaching’ was a popular jaunt for the affluent – until admission prices went up.

On many of the Illustrated‘s pages you can see a coach laden with onlookers, dressed to the ‘nines’, flirting incorrigibly, plates of ham and stuffs being shared; obligatory bottles of wine spilling around.

Alas however, not a G&T in sight. Not a swizzle, a stirrer or a shaker heaped with ice. Not even in the illustration of a game being played in Istanbul where it was sure to be fiercely hot.

It seems that these Victorian crowds were too well behaved for my mind. All middle class laughs (the way Dylan Moran does it) and etiquette when in public, then straight on the opium and gin, and into bed with a cousin behind closed doors.

Oh well. I’ll enjoy my gins from the Sydney Cricket Ground Members Stand this summer, even if they didn’t – here’s cheers to that, and let’s give it to India!

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