A guide to the Victorian drinkers paradise that was Oxford

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A new book is set to become a bible for drink connoisseurs in the fair city of Oxford  and it’s called ‘Drink Map of Oxford’.

Introduced by Stuart Ackland the book will be released in paperback at £10 a copy.

At first sight, this intriguing map appears to offer a guide to the pubs of Victorian Oxford, designed in a similar way to tourist maps today. Beer houses (in people’s front rooms), breweries and other licensed premises are all shown, clustered around a specific part of the city centre. But an explanation on the reverse of the map shows that all is not quite what it seems.

Published in 1883 by the Temperance Union of Oxfordshire, the Drink Map of Oxford was in fact designed to show how the poorer areas of Oxford were heavily populated with drinking establishments and the text explains the detrimental effect of alcohol on local inhabitants: ‘the result is idleness and ill-health, and very frequently poverty and crime.’  The map also reveals how few ‘drink-shops’ appear in North Oxford, where, perhaps unsurprisingly, the magistrates who granted the licences were most likely to live. This unique map was therefore intended to prevent alcohol consumption, with an evangelical condemnation of the evils of alcohol, while at the same time demonstrating how easy it was to find somewhere to drink. Today, it offers a fascinating insight into the drinking habits of the former citizens of this world-renowned city.

Stuart Ackland has worked in the Map Room at the Bodleian Library since 1990. He looks after the storage of the collection and helps run a blog dedicated to the maps held in the Bodleian.

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