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Aug 12, 2005 6:28 pm

When Did the British Begin Drinking Heavily?

Even the Norman invaders writing in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle 1,000 years ago remarked on how drunk the English soldiers were, said Dr Angela McShane-Jones, a historian at Warwick University.

But she believes it became a defining part of the national identity after the Restoration, when gangs of Royalists would roam the streets in search of Puritans. Those who refused a drink in the local inn risked being beaten up.

"The willingness to get hammered has always been seen as a British thing," she said. "But in the 16th and 17th centuries drinking became a demonstration of loyalty to the Crown and the Church. It showed that you weren't a Puritan, but were a fine upstanding citizen.

"Even today if someone says that they don't drink it's treated as something slightly questionable."

The origins of the drinking culture have long been debated. In the wine-drinking, warmer, Mediterranean countries, alcohol tends to be regarded as part of the diet. It is usually consumed on a daily basis, as part of a family meal.

But in northern Europe, where beer and spirits are the tipples of choice, drinking tends to be more "explosive".

Drinking is more infrequent, but sessions are heavier and often take place away from the table at weekends. Often drinking is an end in itself....

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