Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Licensing Laws for the Lower Sort of People

Where do the licensing laws that control where and when people can drink, dance or listen to music come from? The principle behind them is quite extraordinary - that people need permission from the state to exercise these basic human functions.

In his book 'Leisure in the Industrial Revolution, c 1780 -c.1880' (London: Croom Helm, 1980), Hugh Cunningham notes that during this period many capitalists were concerned that workers 'had a high leisure preference' (i.e. that they would prefer to play rather than to work - who wouldn't?). One response to this was that authority "sought to control the actual leisure pursuits of the poor, in particular the alehouse. The records of central government and of quarter sessions in the eighteenth century abound with attempts to extend the licensing laws, to put down fairs and wakes, and to prevent horse-racing, prize­fighting and other sports. Typical is the preamble to the Act of 1752 for licensing places of public entertainment:

'And whereas the Multitude of Places of Entertainment for the lower Sort of People is another great Cause of Thefts and Robberies, as they are thereby tempted to spend their small Substance in riotous Pleasures, and in consequence are put on unlawful Methods of supplying their Wants, and renewing their Pleasures: In order there­fore to prevent the said Temptation to Thefts and Robberies, and to correct as far as may be the Habit of Idleness, which Is become too general over the whole Kingdom, and is productive of much Mischief and Inconvenience'.

See also: Disorderly Houses legislation, 1757

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