Gin in Clerkenwell and Chelsea

Events for Clerkenwell Design Week 2013 and Chelsea Fringe have found boz metaphorically and literally immersed in Gin over recent weeks ….. in the interests of research naturally …

Beginning in Clerkenwell for Clerkenwell Design Week 2013 in conjunction with Creative Clerkenwell was a short taster walk around the area finding the illicit gin shops and nineteenth century distilleries which are an integral part of the history in that district of London.

During the Gin Craze 1721-1851 it was estimated that in the area of St. Giles, William Hogarth’s chosen location for Gin Lane in 1851 one in four houses were premises for the sale of gin. Nearby in the slums of Clerkenwell and particularly the notorious quarters around the Fleet ditch and Red Lion and Cowcross streets a similar proliferation for gin prevailed.

A far cry from the sweet viscous spirit originating with Dutch Geneva, every slum back kitchen that could find a pot to distill in would be producing base and frequently toxic spirits sold loosely under the guise of excise free ‘gin’ much of which had never seen a juniper berry. Frequently sold on the streets as well as licensed premises with added turpentine to improve the ‘flavour’.

This was the stuff that gave rise to the term ‘Mother’s Ruin’ and which fuelled the campaign to staunch the craze for unregulated gin distilling. Additional taxes and licensing laws did little to prevent the sale of the roughest gin, although restricting the distillers of good gin, whilst the consumption of bad spirits continued to rise. Finally culminating in the 1751 Act the campaign for which included two prints from the hand of William Hogarth ‘Gin Lane’ and ‘Beer Street’ commissioned …. not unsurprisingly …. by the brewing industry. Hogarth’s beautifully depicted pieces of propaganda are such well known widely available images that boz finds nothing to be gained from reproducing them here …. although the original copper plates for the engravings can not be viewed in London being part of the collection of the Metropolitan Museum, New York.

Following the 1751 Act, regulation of the industry saw the establishment of the large distilleries and in the nineteenth century the development of a superior refined clear spirit London Dry Gin. The distilleries that were to become the household names of Booth, Nicholson, Tanqueray and Gordon all established in Clerkenwell by the mid-nineteenth century and continued there until after the Second World War. Magnificent and rapidly expanding buildings as the industry grew and those still standing are notable for their contribution to architectural merit in Clerkenwell.

Nicholsons 1953

Nicholsons Distillery 1953

For Clerkenwell Design Week The Gin Garden arrived to demonstrate contemporary and innovative alchemy with gin. Located in communications agency Lansons pretty courtyard in St. John Street for the three days of Clerkenwell Design Week creating beautiful gin cocktails with a new twist using plant based serves developed by The Herball, this provided the perfect setting for boz to commence a short stroll around the history of gin in Clerkenwell culminating in much sampling of said spirit.

Nettle Gimlet

Nettle Gimlet

Following this it was necessary to attend a further day of research into the new way of Gin in London  with The Gin Garden. This time situated in the very lovely surroundings of Chelsea Physic Garden for a day which included a fascinating and entertaining introduction into botanicals from the very expert herbalist Christopher Hedley and later a visit to the Sipsmith distillery in Hammersmith.




There is still just time to book a day with The Gin Garden as the event will be repeated tomorrow Friday 7th June and also the Gin Garden bar will be open from 4pm – 8pm for visitors to Chelsea Physic Garden

Sipsmith Still

Sipsmith Still

Mixing serves from The Herball

Mixing The Herball serves










This weekend for Open Squares The Gin Garden can also be found at Arlington Square on in Islington on Sunday 9 June from 2pm to 5pm

For World Gin Day Saturday 15th June boz will be returning to Clerkenwell to walk through three centuries of Gin so do join us in  ‘Gin Lanes’ should you be so inclined

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