On This Day: There's Poison In My Pint

Thousands of beer barrels were emptied into the streets across Lancashire on 1st December, 1900 - when it finally dawned on people that the cheap stout they’d been drinking was contaminated with arsenic. 


Over 6,000 members of the public were poisoned, mostly across Manchester and Salford, thanks to the practice of breweries padding out the barley with inexpensive glucose syrup. 


In this episode, Arion, Rebecca and Olly consider the role that the class system played in the initial diagnoses of mass ‘alcoholic multiple neuritis’; reveal the one company in the supply chain that eventually stumped up £136,000 compensation; and explain how general elections were believed to push the general public into the public houses…Further Reading:

• ‘The Lancet’ covers the news (1900): https://www.sciencedirect.com/sdfe/pdf/download/eid/1-s2.0-S014067360189036X/first-page-pdf

• ‘The 1900 arsenic poisoning epidemic’ (from the Journal of the Brewery History Society): 

http://www.breweryhistory.com/journal/archive/130/Arsenic.pdf

• ‘Arsenic: The Most Popular Poison In Victorian Britain’ (Victorian Pharmacy, 2018): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=93XYE56KwSk


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The Retrospectors are Olly Mann, Rebecca Messina & Arion McNicoll, with Matt Hill.

Theme Music: Pass The Peas. Announcer: Bob Ravelli. Graphic Design: Terry Saunders. Edit Producer: Emma Corsham.

Copyright: Rethink Audio / Olly Mann 2021.


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