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Copyright:Reading Borough Council 2013
You are here: Home > This Month's Highlight > 2012 Archive > May 2012: Portrait of a Habitual Drunkard
This month’s highlight gives you an insight into the Edwardian approach to alcoholism and addiction.
When Jimmy Taylor – Jimmy the Nib – was found drunk in the street in December 1906, the Abingdon magistrates gave him one day’s imprisonment and ordered him declared as a ‘habitual drunkard’. Under the terms of the Licensing Act 1902, the Berkshire Police were informed of his new status and to better protect the public they had this poster created.
A street seller when not destitute, Jimmy’s nickname was ironic, ‘Nib’ meaning a gentleman. After the magistrates’ order, if Gentleman Jim tried to buy alcohol he would be fined: 20 shillings for the first offence and 40 shillings for each occasion thereafter. If any licensee was found serving him, they could be fined up to £20 themselves. It was an economic incentive to mend his ways, coupled with a public condemnation.
The naming and shaming of habitual drunkards was the latest tactic in the long-running political war against excessive drinking. At the time, it was seen as a cheap option to try and influence behaviour. The previous big idea had been to give grants to set up ‘Inebriate Reformatories’, where addicts would be effectively imprisoned for up to three years while they were forced to go sober. Unsurprisingly, the expense of that plan had meant that few reformatories were ever built.
However, it was not long before naming and shaming was also considered as flat as a dodgy pint. Few orders were made, and the effect of them was minimal. Alcoholics began to be seen more as sufferers from mental illness than as criminals, and by the time of the First World War there was a movement away from punishment towards treatment.
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