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The Pure Beer Campaign and Arsenic Poisoning, 1896–1903

  • Jim Phillips (a1) and Michael French (a1)
Extract

In the 1880s English farmers and their political representatives began a long campaign for tighter control of beer ingredients. The chief aim of the campaign, which continued intermittently until the 1920s, was to increase demand for English barley and hops. The proposed measures were variously introduced in Parliament by farming MPs as ‘Beer’, ‘Pure Beer’, and even ‘British Beer’ Bills; each sought to limit, or in some cases prohibit, the use of sugar, rice and all other ‘substitutes’ for barley and hops. These proposals were given a serious hearing only twice, in 1896 and 1901, the latter following an epidemic of arsenic poisoning, traced to contaminated brewing sugar, which had killed at least seventy beer drinkers in northern and central England. Farmers exploited this crisis by introducing a Pure Beer Bill that was only withdrawn after the government had appointed a Royal Commission, chaired by Lord Kelvin, to study beer materials and the wider question of arsenical contamination of foods. To the relief of the brewers' national organisation, the Country Brewers' Society, Kelvin exonerated the trade generally and did not recommend statutory control of brewing ingredients.

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References
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2.Murray Keith A. H., Agriculture (HMSO, 1955), p. 371.
3.Mathias Peter, The First Industrial Nation. An Economic History of Britain, 1700–1914 (London, 1983), p. 419.
4.Gourvish T. R. and Wilson R. G., The British Brewing Industry 1830–1980 (Cambridge, 1994), pp. 221, 251–2.
5.Parliamentary Debates, 3rd Series, Vols. 260, 1306 and 265, 608, 27th April and 22nd 08 1881.
6. Sale of Food and Drugs Act, 1875, Public General Acts, 1875, Chapter 63.
7.Parliamentary Debates, 4th Series, Vol. 39, 89, 25th 03 1896.
8.Patton Jeffrey, Additives, Adulterants and Contaminants in Beer (1989), p. 194.
9.The Brewers' Guardian, 24th 03 1896.
10.Braudel Fernand, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II (London, 1992).
11.Perry , British Agriculture, pp. xxvi, xxxvii–xl.
12. Local Government Board, Annual Reports, 18901891, C. 6460, p. cli, and 18941895, C. 7867, p. cl.
13.Parliamentary Debates, 4th Series, Vol. 39, 117–19, 126–32, 25th 03 1896.
14.The Brewers' Almanack, 1897, p. 84.
15. ‘MPs Known or Believed to be Connected with the Trade’, The Brewers' Almanack, 1898, p. 51; Stenton and Lees, Who's Who of British Members of Parliament, Volumes II–III.
16.Parliamentary Debates, 4th Series, Vol. 39, 86–137, 25th 03 1896.
17.Report of the Departmental Committee on Beer Materials conducted by the Board of the Inland Revenue (HMSO, 1899), C. 9171, p. 2.
18.Report from the Select Committee on Adulteration of Food Act (1872). Proceedings and Minutes of Evidence, Parliamentary Papers, 1874 (262), VI, 243.
19.The Times, 23rd 08 1905.
20. C. 9171, pp. 914.
21.Vernon Keith, ‘Pus, Sewage, Beer and Milk: Microbiology in Britain, 1870–1940’, History of Science, 28, 1990, 308.
22.Minutes of Evidence taken before the Departmental Committee on Beer Materials (HMSO, 1899), C. 9172, pp. 1025, 8995.
23. The Analyst, XXI, 02 1896, p. 34.
24. C. 9172, pp. 168181, 274–92.
25. C. 9172, pp. 3843.
26. C. 9171, pp. 28.
27.Parliamentary Debates, 4th Series, Volume 66, 469, 10th 02 1899.
28.Buchanan , ‘The “Beer Poisoning Epidemic”’, 29th 11 1900, MH 56/156, Public Record Office (PRO).
29.Lancet, 1st 12 1900, pp. 1590, 1600–3.
30.Parliamentary Debates, 4th Series, Vol. 88, 511–2, llth 12 1900, and 848–50, 14th 12 1900.
31.The Brewers' Almanack, 1902, p. 62.
32. Texts of reports issued by MCBA Expert Committee issued as Addendum in Report to the Local Government Board on Recent Epidemic. Arsenical Poisoning Attributed to Beer (HMSO, 01 1901), Cd. 459, pp. 21–3.
33. Buchanan to Medical Officer, LGB, 18th 12 1900, MH 56/156, PRO.
34. ‘The Arsenic Question’, The Brewers' Almanack, 1902, p. 328.
35.Lancet, 8th 12 1900, 1682.
36. Cd. 459, pp. 3, 1819.
37.Final Report of the Royal Commission to Inquire into Arsenical Poisoning from the Consumption of Beer and other Articles of Food and Drink (HMSO, November 1903), Cd. 1848, p. 5.
38.First Report of the Royal Commission to Inquire into Arsenical Poisoning from the Consumption of Beer and other Articles of Food and Drink (HMSO, 07, 1901), Cd. 692.
39. Chaplin's bankruptcy was also related to his apparent taste for high living and horse racing; see his entry in the Dictionary of National Biography, 1922–1930.
40.The Times, 10th 01 1901.
41. This paragraph is based on reports from The Times, llth–21st 01 1901.
42.Lancet, 8th 12 1900, p. 1662 and 19th 01 1901, p. 192.
43. The Bill's sponsors were Sir Robert Purvis (Liberal Unionist, Peterborough), Sir Cuthbert Quilter (Liberal Unionist, Suffolk Sudbury), Kenyon-Slaney (Conservative, Shropshire North), Sir James Fergusson (Conservative, Manchester North-East), Frederick Wilson (Liberal, Mid-Norfolk), James Round (Conservative, Harwich), Henry Broadhurst (Home Ruler Liberal, Leicester), Arthur Griffith Boscawen (Unionist, Tunbridge), Brookfield (Conservative, Sussex Rye), Sir Robert Price (Liberal, Norfolk East), William Younger (Unionist, Lincolnshire - not the brewing William Younger) and Joseph Walton (Liberal Home Ruler, Barnsley).
44.The Times, llth 01 1901.
45.The Times, 12th 01 1901.
46.The Times, 12th 01 1901.
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48.The Brewers' Almanack, 1902, pp. 91–3.
49. Cd. 692, p. 5; Royal Commission. Minutes of Evidence and Appendices. Vol. I. Evidence received in 1901 (HMSO, 1903), Cd. 1845, pp. 61–2, 299304.
50. Cd. 1845, pp. 304–7.
51. Cd. 692, paras. 4–7, 22.
52.Parliamentary Debates, 4th Series, Vol. 98, 245, 26th 07 1901.
53. Cd. 1848, pp. 810, 26–7.
54. Cd. 1848, pp. 21–2, 36.
55.Royal Commission. Minutes of Evidence and Appendices. Vol. II, 19021903 (HMSO, 1903), Cd. 1869, 7889.
56.The Brewers' Almanack, 1907, 65–7.
57.Weir Ronald, The History of the Distillers Company, 1877–1939 (Oxford, 1995), pp. 70, 133–5.
58.Gourvish and Wilson , British Brewing, pp. 317335.
59.Kirby M. W., The British Coalmining Industry, 1870–1946 (Basingstoke, 1977), pp. 53–4.
60.Moritz to Wightman C. M., 05 1920; Ministry of Food untitled note, 03 1921; MAF 101/315, PRO.
61.Murray , Agriculture, pp. 1718, 371.
62. Introduction of the Pure Beer Bill, Parliamentary Debates, 5th Series, Vol. 231, 479, 1st November 1929; Second Reading of the British BeerBill, Vol. 245, 819–36, 21st 11 1930.
63. C. 9172, pp. 274–92.
64.Gourvish and Wilson , British Brewing, pp. 288–95.
65. See the contributions of Stafford Cripps and Tom Williams to the Second Reading of the 1934 Milk Bill; Parliamentary Debates, 5th Series, Vol. 290, 1124–1224, 7th 06 1934.
66.Perry , British Agriculture, p. xxxvii.
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