The Licensed City

BookThe Licensed City

The Licensed City

Regulating drink in Liverpool, 1830-1920


June 6th, 2017

Access Token


Other Formats



In nineteenth-century Britain few cities could rival Liverpool for recorded drunkenness. Civic pride at Liverpool’s imperial influence was undercut by anxieties about social problems that could all be connected to alcohol, from sectarian unrest and prostitution in the city’s streets to child neglect and excess mortality in its slums. These dangers, heightened in Liverpool by the apparent connections between the drink trade and the city’s civic elite, marked urban living and made alcohol a pressing political issue. As a temperance movement emerged to tackle the dangers of drink, campaigners challenged policy makers to re-imagine the acceptable reach of government. While national leaders often failed to agree on what was practically and philosophically palatable, social reformers in Liverpool focused on the system that licensed the sale of drink in the city’s pubs and beerhouses. By reforming licensing, they would later boast, Liverpool had tackled its reputation as the drunkenness capital of England. The Licensed City reveals just how battles over booze have made the modern city. As such, it confronts whether licensing is equipped to regulate today’s problem drinking.


'A scholarly and well-argued book based upon a wealth of excellent research'
John Greenaway, University of East Anglia

'Although focused on one city the book provides a firm basis for understanding the improved public house movement and Gothenburg system of disinterested management. Both of which were to have national significance, with the former in particular being driven by the growth of the larger breweries, especially in the midlands...The depth of analysis sets a much appreciated higher bar for future work in the field. For anyone wishing to study the issues raised it is a most welcome addition to the literature.'
Brewery History Society Journal

'A ground-breaking study of how alcohol-licensing practices have shaped (and continue to shape) our urban communities.'
Edward Wilson-Lee, Sidney Sussex College, Times Higher Education

'The Licensed City makes a significant contribution to the historical study of alcohol and social control. By focusing on Liverpool, the author allows for a considerable in-depth analysis into how perceptions of alcohol consumption have impacted the socio-political landscape of this city. These findings would be pertinent for future research into the history of social control and alcohol licensing in other towns and cities.'
Law, Crime, and History

'The questions with which Beckingham engages, such as that of the tension between individual freedom on the one hand and the perceived need for restriction on the other, or of the response which civic authorities made to the problems thrown up by the growth of cities, are challenging ones. Nonetheless, they are subjects with which he deals in a readable way and a non-specialist reader is guided through developments clearly. This book is warmly recommended.'
Paul Jennings, The Local Historian

'This massively documented book is more than a local history of drink ... Beckingham disposes of several myths (for instance, that the impoverished Irish were responsible for most of the drinking) and explains the limitations of the police statistics that shape elite opinion ... Recommended.'
D. M. Fahey, CHOICE

'In The Licensed City, David Beckingham explores the municipal licensing of drinking establishments in the 19th Century British city of Liverpool to bring a fascinating, nuanced perspective on urban historical and political geography… the book is meticulously researched and referenced. An impressive range of local and national archives is used. The amount of material synthesized for this historiography is truly impressive. Footnotes appear at the bottom of the page to make more lateral and non-linear reading of the text easy. This research is the culmination of many years of meticulous, thoughtful and intrepid scholarship. ... an excellent book.'
Michael Brown, Social and Cultural Geography

Author Information

David Beckingham is Associate Professor in Cultural and Historical Geography, University of Nottingham.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
List of Figures7
1. Liverpool: The making of a licensed city13
2. Liberty on licence39
3. Between teetotalism and free trade: The rise of temperance politics in Liverpool61
4. Mapping drink: The spatial logic of social reform97
5. Attacking the licensing system: The ‘twin evils’ of drunkenness and prostitution137
6. Women and the public house173
7. The reformed licensing system: Slum clearance and social reform195
8. ‘Liverpool’s temperance lesson to the nation’? The challenge of compensation215
9. The licensed city at war241
10. Conclusions: Liberalism’s local logic259