Monday 17 January 2011

Drithel or Complete Dribble?

The "London Journal" is, I rather suspect, not the most reliable and weighty of nineteenth century periodicals: a very populist magazine with plenty jokes and 'fascinating facts' (the latter of which often look suspiciously like they were made up by a weary copy-editor). Having found this intriguing article on local drinks, I am left wondering if there really was a drink called "drithel" consumed by thousands of Manchester factory-hands, which happened to include hemlock as part of its ingredients. One brief mention of it on Google in an 1906 US paper, which doesn't really prove anything ... any Mancunian local history buffs out there?

Queer Drinks.

NEARLY every county in Britain has its own pet drink, and very queer beverages some of them are. Some are harmless, and some are deadly, but millions of gallons of unheard-of liquids are consumed every year.
    Devon and Somerset people go is largely for a drink called "slipper," made from stewed poplar-leaves and burdock-seed. It is really a sort of sleeping-draught, and over 30,000 West-county people indulge in it. There are dealers in Exeter and Plymouth whose sole business is "slipper" making, and a very fair business they make of it. The price is about threepence a pint, and there are very few villages in West Britain where you can't buy unlimited "slipper."
    It is calculated that over four million pints of the stuff are consumed every year. It is to be had in London, too, at many hotels. It has an acid taste, and it one of the sleepiest drinks in existence. However, it's absolutely harmless.
    A much more deadly beverage is the drink called "drithel," popular in the North. The cotton-hands of Manchester and the factory-workers of Yorkshire get through nearly ten million pints of this stuff every year. It is made of hops, hemlock-root, parsley, and clove, and is one of the most dangerous liquors ever brewed. The northern counties pay about £18,000 a year for the output of "drithel." Many of the factory bands drink it daily, and there are any number of brewers and sellers of "drithel" scattered about Yorkshire and Lancashire.
    The stuff leads to frantic excitement, followed by exhaustion, and a confirmed "drithel" maniac loses his eight sight and hearing after long excesses in the poisonous stuff. It turns the skin to a dull leaden line, and destroys the memory even more effectually than the worst kinds of alcohol.
    Drithel-drinking is an acquired taste, for the decoction is not pleasant to a novice ; but it is cheap—about threepence a pint—and some victims of the habit get through five or six pints a day. The hemlock, together with a faint sprinkling of a drug which gives the whole thing its piquancy, is the deadly element in "drithel."
    Warwick and the Midlands boast a much more innocent beverage. It is a concoction of ginger, buttercup-seed, cayenne, and beet-juice, and is calculated to scorch the lining from a traction-engine. Taken raw, it is probably the hottest drink in the country ; but it does no harm, and, if well watered, is pleasant enough. The natives of the Midlands, however, drink it raw.
    About 40000 people go in for this mixture, which is known as "poker," and one dealer alone sells 300,000 pints annually. Altogether the yearly disposal of "poker" in the Midlands rune to nearly 400,000 gallons.

The London Journal, 1898

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