Drink Maps in Victorian Britain by Kris Butler - review by Edward Brooke-Hitching

Edward Brooke-Hitching

From Beer Street to Gin Lane

Drink Maps in Victorian Britain

By

Bodleian Library 208pp £25
 

The first question one usually thinks to ask an author is what drew them to their subject. But what book other than Drink Maps in Victorian Britain would we expect from a home-brewing, exam-certified beer judge and past president of the Boston Map Society? Kris Butler’s CV combines adjudicating ale competitions in the USA and Italy with lecturing at the Harvard Map Collection, the Boston Public Library and the International Conference on the History of Cartography in Amsterdam. Her two passions are perfectly integrated in this intriguing and intoxicating exploration of what could not be a more niche subject.

If you haven’t heard of the drink map, you’re not alone. As the author reveals, from print batches of thousands, only around twenty-five are known to survive today (a helpful list at the end of the book identifies each extant example, as well as referencing now-lost maps that she found evidence for during her research in both the UK and the USA). They are magnificent examples of propaganda backfiring. By marking every existing drinking establishment with a furious red X on city maps, the Victorian temperance societies that produced these scolding cartographs were, in effect, printing extremely handy guides for the thirsty scapegrace looking to find the nearest drinking hole (an irony celebrated to this day by a London pub I visited recently, which has a reproduction proudly hanging on its wall).

This kind of persuasive mapping was not an invention of the temperance movement. The author explores earlier efforts at visualising data in public-health mapping, from a 1796 chart tracking the spread of yellow fever across New York to an 1831 map tracing the rampage of cholera across Asia, Africa and

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