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Feeding a gin craze

And giving cricket a home

Between 1700 and 1750, London went mad for gin, to the extent that the period is called the ‘Gin Craze’ by historians today. At the time the sudden popularity of cheap distilled gin caused a panic in Government, and predictions that society might collapse under drunkenness. Gin earned its nickname ‘Mothers’ Ruin’ at this time.

J&W Nicholson & Co was founded at this time to meet the popular demand. They used the watermills at Three Mills to grind the grain for the distilleries. The company continued to make gin there until 1941.

The gifted cricketer William Nicholson was company chairman, and in the 1860s he lent the money to the Marylebone Cricket Club to purchase Lord’s Cricket Ground, and later to build the Lord’s Pavilion. In appreciation of his support, the MCC changed its colours to red and yellow, Nicholson’s corporate colours.

In the audio clip below, Barry remembers how busy the distillery was when his father worked there, and the barges moored up alongside Three Mills Island. This audio is provided courtesy of the London Canal Museum.

Make sure your volume is on: "Barry remembers the distillery in action"

Show transcript

What exactly was Three Mills?

Originally it was a monastery, but then it was taken over by Nicholson’s Gin. That’s who the owners was when I moved there. It was a distillery. I mean, there was packers, there was bottlers. Typical old school … cloth caps still, coopers running about…everyone was busy. Old trucks, there would be trucks coming and going all day long. It was not only a bonded warehouse, but they bottled there as well. They bottled scotch, gin.

All different sorts of barges, different sizes, some twenty foot, up to forty foots, some even bigger, it depends. Some dragged another one.

Typical barge people – I liked them, I got on with them. They was always friendly people, very friendly. You’d hear them singing in the evenings, they’d be moored up the side of the island. I suppose it was like someone having a caravanette, they’d have the whole family. Their kids would be with them, everyone would be with them. I used to think to myself, “Cor, when I was their age, I had to go to school!”