The gradual increase in gin consumption in the early 19th century lead to a pressure for reform. The 1820s were a decade of falling beer consumption and increasing gin consumption and the time of the emergence of the 'gin palace'. This was the result of a reduction in spirit duties and also of the cost of spirit licenses. Why were these duties reduced? Because the Whigs were in favour of Free Trade and the Tories had anticipated increased agricultural incomes. In 1825 there were 8,500 more spirit licenses than in 1800 in England. There was a concerned reaction to this. At this time temperance agitation was anti-spirit agitation. Temperance meant moderation, not abstinence and it was not thought incompatible to rail against spirits whilst maintaining that beer was a wholesome and nutritional beverage. Conditions were ripe for measures to be taken. There was an attempt at legislation in 1828 which failed. In 1830 the Duke of Wellington pushed through the Beer Act, which abolished all duty on beer and established the right of any householder to sell beer upon the purchase of a 2 guinea license from the Excise. The beerhouses so established were subject to a ?20 fine for selling wines or spirits. The result was that all the illicit alehouses came out of hiding and traded legally, whilst every craftsman's shop obtained a license to sell beer as a refreshment for waiting customers. Many established premises became beerhouses because of its convenience. In the first year 24,000 licenses were granted; by the end of 1831 it was 31,000; 1832, 36,000; and by 1836, 46,000. This is at a time when there were only 56,000 fully licensed public houses in the country.
The figures for Coventry were: 1835 - 117 pubs and 77 beerhouses 1841 - 151 pubs and 70 beerhouses 1874 - 243 pubs and 9 beerhouses
The effect of the Act was to encourage beer and gin drinking to the detriment of tea. It also did not weaken the power of the common brewer, as they continued to tie fully licensed public houses, whilst the quantities sold in beerhouses were relatively insignificant and it was probably brought from a common brewer in any way. Bass production rose six fold from 1830 to 1840. There were acts in 1834, 1839, 1840, 1848, 1850 and 1856, which attempted to reverse the situation brought about in 1830. In 1869 the Wine and Beerhouse Act reversed the 1830 Act by bringing beerhouses under the purview of the magistrates to enforce a clean-up operation against the beerhouses. Existing beerhouses had some protection, but very few were licensed after 1869. The last beerhouse in Coventry, probably the Nugget in Coundon, became a fully licensed public house in the 1930s.
Coventry city centre as it looked in 1937. (Drawn by Rob Orland.)