Messing with Hogarth

The Royal Society for Public Health has commissioned an update of Hogarth’s famous cartoon ‘Gin Lane’ to publicise the problems of public health. This is from the I paper:

Hogarth’s satirical cartoon, published in 1751, blamed excessive consumption of gin for child neglect, disease, prostitution and debauchery.

Thomas Moore’s Gin Lane 2016, commissioned by the RSPB for its 160th anniversary and on show at its London Headquarters, depicts a junk-food eating mother, a suicidal man, a payday lender and lonely commuters.

Shirley Cramer, of he RSPH, said: “The original Gin Lane depicts concern with some of the leading challenges to the public’s health in the 18th century. The leading threats to the public’s health have changed over time with infectious diseases now supplanted by the growth in non-communicable diseases such as those caused by obesity.”


Unfortunately we seem to have 3 groups of people – the i paper, the artist and the RSPH who have no idea what Hogarth’s cartoon depicted. It was one of a pair, the other being Beer street, which showed people happily and healthily drinking English beer. They were produced in support of the Gin Act of 1751. Gin production had been encouraged in the late 17th century as England produced an excess of grain, so converting it to spirits was a profitable way to use it, but by Mid 18th century, population had recovered from the civil war, the population was increasing and there were increasing food shortages, so Gin became a threat to food supplies. Henry Fielding among others blamed the rise in crime to the rise in gin consumption, so there was some truth in this, but it is ultimately a piece of propaganda, not necessarily a statement of fact. How many people became drunk on beer? The cartoons will not tell us, but it may have been as bad or even worse than the gin problem. 

Does it matter that the image has been misread? Perhaps not, but it does show how few people understand one of the most well known images of 18th century England, so makes the dropping of A level art even more appalling.

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