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Last Updated: Monday, 21 November 2005, 09:58 GMT
Binge-drinking an age-old problem
Image of 12th century Toby jug
Artefacts show drinkers with 'inflated' beer bellies
A culture of 24-hour drinking and bingeing on alcohol may not be unique to modern society, say historians.

Experts have uncovered evidence that 12th century Londoners drank ale by the gallon, starting at breakfast time, due to poor quality drinking water.

Exhibits at the Museum of London, including a selection of old Toby jugs, depict tubby men with beer bellies.

London's many drinking dens entertained 'immoderate quaffing by fools', according to a writer of the time.

The even drank ale for breakfast, and got through up to a gallon, or four-and-a-half litres, a day each
John Clark, curator of the Medieval London gallery

Looking back only 700 years, London had over 1,300 alehouses - one for every 50 people living in the city.

John Clark, curator of the Medieval London gallery, said: "Most people, including children, drank ale made from malted barley without hops.

"The even drank ale for breakfast, and got through up to a gallon, or four-and-a-half litres, a day each.

"At a price of a penny per gallon, only the poorest had to make do with water."

However, he pointed out that this ale was much weaker than the beers people drink today.

Tom Knox, head brewer at Nethergate Brewery which produces real ale - the modern version of medieval beers - said: "Ale was the preferred drink at a time when water and milk were often contaminated and tea and coffee were unknown in England.

"The boiling of the beer in the process and the production of alcohol during fermentation destroyed most of the bacteria," he explained.

During the 1400s beer, brewed with hops, became increasingly popular in London, replacing traditional ale.

According to the views of one commentator in 1542, beer drinking was "to the detryment" of many Englishmen since it "doth make a man fatte, and doth inflate the belly".

Imported wine was also popular at the time with those who could afford it, according to experts.

But Mr Clark said drinkers in medieval London would not have gone on pub crawls for their ale because there were strict curfews to stop people wandering the streets of the city at night.

"Instead, the regulars would stay in one pub drinking in the back room - a bit like a lock-in."

Drinking vessels from the time, including everyday pottery mugs and rare enamelled wine goblets, will form part of the display in the new gallery, which opens on November 25 at the museum in the Barbican.

Over the weekend there will also be entertainers, such as jesters, and people demonstrating some of the common medieval crafts.

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