Nostalgia: How tide turned from brown ale to fine wine

In a nation known for its brown ale, the consumption of fine wine was until recent times the province of the upper middle classes. These pictures from the archive recall a time before supermarkets, when a connoisseur had to have a nose for not only the right claret but also the best vintner.

3rd December 1934:  Hundreds of barrels of wine laid out for inspection before being transferred to vaults and warehouses at the Wine Crescent, London Docks.  (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)
3rd December 1934: Hundreds of barrels of wine laid out for inspection before being transferred to vaults and warehouses at the Wine Crescent, London Docks. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

The system of licenced wine selling was established by William Gladstone in 1860, and the future Prime Minister hoped it might become a “rich man’s luxury” no longer.

But it took the post-war democratisation of grocery shopping wrought by the supermarkets to turn the tide away from beer. Today, more alcohol is consumed at home than in pubs, and the import of cheap plonk from Europe has fuelled a new appreciation of the grape. As of two years ago, the average Briton consumed the equivalent of 108 bottles a year – more than almost anywhere else in the western world, except France.

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circa 1940: A man purchasing a bottle of wine in a wine merchants. (Photo by Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
1955: The ma+tre d'h+tel of Londonderry House, London, checks bottles of fine wines chosen for the 'Golden Banquet' taking place. 88 wealthy businessmen paid ?250 a head for the privilege of eating shrimp soup, pate de foie gras and chicken breasts in aspic. Among the wines on offer were an 1898 champagne, a 1923 Claret and a 1792 sherry. ?20,000 was raised for charity. (Photo by Harry Kerr/BIPs/Getty Images)
20th December 1939: The stevedores unloading barrels of wine in time for Christmas. The cargo arrived safely in spite of the German mines affecting shipping. (Photo by A. J. O'Brien/Fox Photos/Getty Images)
11th July 1936: Mr W G Hearn, a lodge keeper at Windsor Castle, pours a glass of his own rose wine at the banquet of the Windsor, Eton and District Horticultural Societies Flower Show. Mr Hearn himself is teetotal, but his 64 varieties of wine are held in high regard. (Photo by J. A. Hampton/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
1st December 1936: A bond cooper checks the casks of wine being stored by the Port of London Authority in the great vaults at London Docks. Around 1,180,000 gallons of wine are already being kept in the vaults, to cater for the double celebration of Christmas and the upcoming coronation year. (Photo by Norman Smith/Fox Photos/Getty Images)
Tasting German wines are (from left to right) Jean Walker, Francis Willinger and Andrea Freemantle. (Photo by Evening Standard/Getty Images)
Wine tasters sampling the bottles in the cellars of Messrs Lebegne & Co Ltd, London. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)