A Gin-Shop. (wood-engraving). 1876. 10.6 cm high x 13.7 cm wide, framed. Fred Barnard's realistic response to George Cruikshank's detailed description of a Drury Lane gin-palace in the Second Series' copper-engraving for "Gin-Shops," the twenty-second chapter in "Scenes" in Sketches by Boz, The Gin-Shop, in which the working poor of all ages, including a child and an elderly paraplegic (right of centre), are dwarfed by the gigantic barrels of spirits above them Barnard, as we shall see, emphasizes the presence of a mere child in such a disreputable place.

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Passage Illustrated

The two old washerwomen, who are seated on the little bench to the left of the bar, are rather overcome by the head-dresses and haughty demeanour of the young ladies who officiate. They receive their half-quartern of gin and peppermint, with considerable deference, prefacing a request for "one of them soft biscuits," with a "Jist be good enough, ma'am." They are quite astonished at the impudent air of the young fellow in a brown coat and bright buttons, who, ushering in his two companions, and walking up to the bar in as careless a manner as if he had been used to green and gold ornaments all his life, winks at one of the young ladies with singular coolness, and calls for a "kervorten and a three-out-glass," just as if the place were his own. "Gin for you, sir?" says the young lady when she has drawn it: carefully looking every way but the right one, to show that the wink had no effect upon her. "For me, Mary, my dear," replies the gentleman in brown. "My name an't Mary as it happens," says the young girl, rather relaxing as she delivers the change. "Well, if it an't, it ought to be," responds the irresistible one; "all the Marys as ever I see, was handsome gals." Here the young lady, not precisely remembering how blushes are managed in such cases, abruptly ends the flirtation by addressing the female in the faded feathers who has just entered, and who, after stating explicitly, to prevent any subsequent misunderstanding, that "this gentleman pays," calls for "a glass of port wine and a bit of sugar."

Those two old men who came in "just to have a drain," finished their third quartern a few seconds ago; they have made themselves crying drunk; and the fat comfortable-looking elderly women, who had "a glass of rum-srub" each, having chimed in with their complaints on the hardness of the times, one of the women has agreed to stand a glass round, jocularly observing that "grief never mended no broken bones, and as good people's wery scarce, what I says is, make the most on 'em, and that's all about it!" a sentiment which appears to afford unlimited satisfaction to those who have nothing to pay. — p. 87.


Barnard's thirteenth illustration for Sketches by Boz, "Scenes," concerns the early nineteenth-century institution known as the gin-palace, as distinct from the more benign "public house" — it is also Barnard's closeup of the situation in George Cruikshank's equivalent plate, The Gin-Shop. The illustration is so positioned that one has already read most of the description of the sordid emporium before one encounters the illustration, whereas Cruikshank's plate faced the opening of the chapter. Whereas the original illustration offers a muted criticism of alcoholism (although a reformed Cruikshank was later to inveigh against the evils of drink in the heavily moralistic The Drunkard's Children in 1849), Barnard as an artist with a strong social conscience emphasizes how the poor (typified by the shabby figure down right) use cheap gin as a temporary escape from their miseries, while all transactions are scrutinized by the proprietor in the fur hat (centre rear) and a ragged child (lower left) looks knowingly at the reader, gesturing towards the debauched crowd and perhaps even inviting the reader to participate vicariously. Barnard shows only the lower portions of the enormous barrels in order to focus the reader's attention on the celebrants, four of whom are female.


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Last modified 12 May 2017