Hill of Beath Tavern

Gothenburg Experiments in Scotland (Joseph Rowntree)

Since 1895, suggestions for the public management of the liquor traffic have received increasing support in Scotland, where several important experiments are already in active operation. The earliest of these owed its inception to Mr. Charles Carlow, the managing director of the Fife Coal Company, Limited, but it was left to Mr. John Ross, a well-known educationist in Dunfermline, who is solicitor to the Fife Coal Company, to develop and extend a tentative experiment by organising the present public-house societies in Fifeshire.

Hill of Beath Tavern

Date established. June, 1896
Estimated Population of Village 1,300.

The first of the experiments referred to above was that established in 1896 at the Hill of Beath, a small colliery village in Fifeshire. The village was built and is owned by the Fife Coal Company, Limited, who rent the cottages to the miners in their employ. The miner's tenancy of a cottage ceases with his employment.

The present public-house is situate just outside the village proper (i.e. outside the property of the Coal Company), and was erected by its original owner for the express business of a public-house, and he evidently chose the site in order to escape the control of the Fife Coal Company. He appears to have made unsuccessful application for a licence on two occasions, and the Fife Coal Company, believing that a licence was inevitable, decided to transform certain of their cottages into a small public-house, and themselves to apply for a licence. The first application (made in 1895), although supported by the Chief Constable, was refused by eleven votes to nine, and the matter remained in abeyance until the following year, when the Fife Coal Company again made application for a licence, a similar application being made by the owner of the private premises. Mr. Carlow, in support of the Fife Coal Company's application, stated that, in the event of the licence being granted, the Company would restrict themselves to a dividend of 4 per cent, on their outlay, the balance of profit being spent for the benefit of the village. In the result a licence was granted to the Company by eleven votes to eight. The owner of the rival house, evidently feeling that he no longer possessed any chance of obtaining a licence, subsequently sold his premises and all fittings to the Fife Coal Company for £1,500, and the Company at once transferred the business from their own house in the centre of the village to the present premises. Until the end of last year (1900) the public-house was managed by a committee of five, three of whom were representatives of the Company, and the remaining two were elected by the miners them-selves. This committee seems to have been somewhat careless in its appointments and arrangements, and two successive managers proved unsatisfactory. In December, 1900, however, the Hill of Beath Tavern Society, Limited, was formed, part of the capital of which was subscribed by the miners themselves, and the Fife Coal Company sold the public-house to this Society for £1,200. This sum included not only premises, fittings, stock, furniture, but also a balance of nearly £300 in the bank.

The objects which the Society sets before itself in its printed rules are "to carry on, in or near the village of Hill of Beath, in the county of Fife, the businesses of innkeepers, publicans, alehouse-keepers, cafe, and restaurant-keepers, manufacturers of aerated waters and such other commodities as may be agreed upon by the members from time to time, and purveyors and caterers for public entertainments and amusements." The capital of the Society is raised in shares of £1 each. No member other than a registered society may hold more than £200 worth of shares. Each shareholder is allowed one vote in respect of his holding and irrespective of the total amount of his shares. Shares are entitled to a dividend not exceeding 5 per cent, per annum. The surplus profits, after making provision for (1) depreciation of assets, (2) a reserve fund for the redemption of capital, or other purposes, if the committee of management resolve to establish such, and (3) share dividends, are to be applied " to such purposes of public or quasi-public utility in the village of Hill of Beath or neighbourhood as the Society in general meeting may from time to time determine."

The management of the Society is vested in a local committee composed of six members and the Secretary. The chairman of the present committee is the manager of the Fife Coal Company's works, and the rest of the committee are working men. The executive work is in the hands of the Secretary, who receives a small salary, and who, subject to the committee, orders and pays for all liquors. The promoters seem to have been somewhat unfortunate in the appointment of their first Secretary, but the present Secretary (Mr. W. Keir, who is an employee in the office of the Fife Coal Company) appears to be thoroughly in sympathy with temperance ideas and work, and although he only entered upon his duties in March of this year, he has already accomplished several valuable improvements. One of his earliest acts was to induce the committee to close the house at 9 p.m. instead of 10 p.m. as formerly.

The manager of the public-house receives a fixed salary (£2 per week), with free house, coal, and light. He is allowed the assistance of two helpers, a lad and a woman, both of whom are paid by the committee. The woman helper is not allowed to serve in the bar. By way of security for fidelity, the manager is required to take shares in the Society to the amount of £50, the share certificate, together with a signed transfer of the shares, being deposited with the Secretary. In his agreement with the Society the manager binds himself "to carry out all the instructions of the committee of management, to secure the good conduct of the business and the diminution of excessive drinking, and he binds himself strictly to conform to all the conditions on which the licence is held, and not to contravene these in any respect. He binds himself particularly not to supply liquors to intoxicated persons or to suffer persons in a state of intoxication to remain on the premises." He further binds himself " to refuse all perquisites whatsoever, and to report to the committee the names of any merchants who may offer perquisites to him or inducements to deal with them." He has nothing to do with the ordering of the liquors; they are ordered by the Secretary, who invoices the liquors to him at selling prices. The present manager appears to be a thoroughly respectable man, and fully capable of carrying out any policy that the committee may decide upon.

The public-house itself is a good building and superior to the ordinary public-houses in the district. It contains five or six plainly furnished rooms downstairs, all of them provided with seats, and a better furnished room upstairs for the accommodation of travellers, cyclists, etc. As already pointed out, it was originally erected as a private public-house, and was only sold to the Fife Coal Company when the man who built it failed to obtain a licence. The house is the only licensed house in the village; but there are several public-houses in Crossgates, which is less than half a mile away, and it would seem to a stranger that they are sufficiently near to have rendered the house at the Hill of Beath unnecessary. There can be no doubt that the experiment is prejudiced in the eyes of temperance people in the district from the fact that its establishment meant an additional public-house; but the responsibility for this is perhaps not strictly to be laid upon the Fife Coal Company, since there appears to be a general opinion that, if they had not taken action, a licence would have been granted to a private publican sooner or later.

No games or other amusements are allowed in the house, nor is any credit given. There is no explicit rule in respect of sales to children, but the manager stated that he refuses to serve very young children, and suggested thirteen as the age below which he would not serve. No attempt is made at a "Black List," but it is said that such a list is unnecessary, owing to the fact that all the regular customers are in the employ of the Fife Coal Company, and a man could at once be dismissed if he were guilty of disorder. No provision is made for clubs, nor is there any stable accommodation for carts, etc. The hours of sale are from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.; the house is thus closed an hour earlier than the public-houses in Crossgates, the change dating from the appointment of the new Secretary in March last. This reform is said to be possible because the house is the only one in the Hill of Beath. Owing to the Forbes-Mackenzie Act, there is no sale on Sunday.

A general public-house trade is done, spirits being sold as well as beer. The purchases of liquor show that about one gallon of spirits is sold to six gallons of beer. There is a fair "off" trade, the same prices being charged as for " on " sales. The trade in mineral waters is relatively small, and there is little demand for food.


These consist of (a) a reading-room and institute, and (6) a bowling-green, both of them separate from the public-house. The institute has 110 members, which, considering that the total population of the Hill of Beath is not more than, 1,200 or 1,300, is a fair proportion. A yearly subscription of sixpence per member is charged. The Public-House Society has, however, in the course of erection a much larger and better building, which it proposes to open as a new institute to take the place of the present inferior building. The new building, which will be ready by the autumn, will cost fully £1,000, a sum which seems small considering the character and quality of the building. The institute will consist of four good rooms, one of which will be devoted to the loan library, another will be fitted as a good reading-room, and a third will be supplied with two billiard-tables and also furnished with side-tables for other games, such as dominoes, draughts, etc. There will also be a temperance bar in the building. The building is certainly a good one, and, so far as it goes, will well carry out the idea of a counter-attraction to the public-house.

The bowling-green is also to be strongly commended. It is situated in a central part of the village, and covers a moderately large piece of ground given by the Fife Coal Company. The sides and one end are stocked with shrubs and plants, and give a pleasing effect, while the green itself is about as perfect as a bowling-green can be. There is a well-built pavilion, where the bowls, etc., are kept.

It is important to note that the counter-attractions are entirely separate from the public-house, where no games of any sort are carried on. In each case the counter-attraction is a good distance from the public-house. In this connection we may note a statement made by Mr. John Ross, the chief promoter of the Fifeshire Public-House Societies, when discussing the subject with one of the present writers. Mr. Ross stated that he had originally proposed to associate the games and recreative features of the experiment with the public-house on the lines originally proposed by the Bishop of Chester, and now by Lord Grey, but that the miners themselves had represented to him that such an arrangement would not do, and that the recreation must be entirely separate from the sale of liquor.

In estimating the general results of the Hill of Beath experiment it is necessary to distinguish between its present management and its past. Like all similar experiments, it has met with much criticism, some of it undoubtedly just, but a part of it unquestionably hasty and ill-founded. In the latter category must certainly be placed the suggestion made by outsiders, but discredited by temperance workers in the village itself, that the establishment of the house has been responsible for a decline in the activity of certain temperance societies, etc., in the village. That the establishment of the house has not led to a diminution of drunkenness is perhaps true, as also the allegation that, by increasing the facilities for obtaining liquor, the establishment of the house has actually increased the amount of liquor consumed in the village; but the indisputable defects of the experiment as at present conducted appear to be of a negative rather than a positive character, and lie chiefly in the fact that there is little actual difference in methods of management between the Society's house and an ordinary well-conducted public-house. Certainly the restrictions aimed at and imposed do not appear to be as great as a somewhat exceptional opportunity would permit. Probably the objection which more than any other has influenced criticism against the experiment is the fact that it has introduced a public-house where no public-house previously existed, and where the neighbouring facilities appear to have been sufficient to meet any legitimate demand. Against this it is urged that in taking the action they did the Fife Coal Company did no more than anticipate events by keeping out a private licensee, and that from this point of view the question really resolves itself into one of choice between an ordinary public-house conducted for private gain and one from which the element of private profit has been eliminated. Without committing themselves to a definite pronouncement upon the question of fact here raised, but admitting its probability, the present writers feel compelled to acknowledge that a consideration of all the local circumstances (especially the close proximity of Crossgates, where licensed premises exist) induces in their minds a doubt of the wisdom and expediency of this particular experiment.

Royal Commission on Licensing – The Hill of Beath Experiment – Interesting Evidence

The Royal Commission on Licensing Laws resumed its sittings yesterday at Westminster in the Royal Robing Room, House of Lords - Viscount Peel Chairman.

Mr Charles Carlow, Managing Director of the Fifeshire Colliery Company, gave evidence on the public-house experiment of the Company at Hill of Beath. We have, he said, established a public-house at Hill of Beath for the benefit of our workpeople. The population of the village is about 1100 to 1200. Before our experiment there were no licensed houses nearer than Crossgates or Cowdenbeath, a mile or a mile and a half from our works. As the land belonged to the Company we had the power to prevent any licenses being granted in the village itself, and we were at first opposed to any license. We had experience in another colliery in the East of Fife of the abuses of drinking, where there was a grocers license. The abuses there were that the men sat out on the roadside and drank, and also took drink to their homes. We tried if possible to prevent the opening of a house in the village. We were asked repeatedly to allow a license to be established, and we refused. About 300 yards from our boundary there is a small property bought up by a trader, one Addison, and he built a large house there and applied for a license. He did not get it the first time he appeared before the Court. During this time there were grocers' vans coming to the village from Dunfermline and supplying liquor. At the next Licensing Court, when Addison applied for a license, I appealed to the justices that they might, if they thought it necessary a licensed house should be in the village itself or near it, allow me to provide the house, and that I would see that it was properly conducted. The result was that at the following Sessions we applied for a license in the name of a salesman or manager, and got it. We then entered into negotiations with representatives of the inhabitants as to the management of this house, and we laid it down as a condition of opening that the Coal Company should have nothing to do with the profits, and that whatever profits there were should be applied to such purposes as might be considered advisable for the benefit of the inhabitants. There, was no difficulty in getting the license when we undertook the management. We got the license in April 18%, and had it in the name of a salesman, Joseph Leslie. He was paid by salary. Later on Addison, who had the property outside the village, again applied for a license, notwithstanding that we had got a license in the village. He was refused. Then he approached us, and we bought out his property, and had the license transferred from the village place to his large property outside. The licensing Magistrates were rather inclined to give a license to this man at first. Witness read the agreement made as to the management of the premises, and laid emphasis on the fact that the manager had no interest in pushing the sale of liquors. The Committee had opened recreation rooms in the old premises inside the village. Here there was a billiard-room and also card-tables, a library with books, newspapers, and magazines. All the Committee were workmen of the Company but two, and they were chosen by the inhabitants at a meeting called for the purpose. The cost of the building was £1500. That is a good deal more than the place was worth. In respect of the purchase we deduct 4 per cent.

The business was started in June 1896, and the drawings of the first four months came to £516, and in the following six months, £745 3s. That was in the old house in the village. In the new premises for the six months ending 30th Sept. last the drawings were £865. After enumerating the consumption of liquors for a certain period - 4000 gallons beer, 242 gallons grain whisky four years old, 149 gallons old malt whisky, 20 gallons brandy, 15 gallons gin, 3 gallons of rum, and 90 doz. bottles of aerated waters - witness said there seemed to be a preference for grain whisky, as it had more " nip" about it. No malt was sold unless at least four years old. Grocers' carts still came to the village, but not nearly to the same extent as they used to do. The members of the Committee all live in the village, and they say there is less appearance of drink consumption than was the case formerly. As soon as we removed to the premises outside the village there was a diminished consumption of drink. The people, took to going to the recreation rooms as a centre of attraction, and preferred that to going outside the village 300 or 400 yards. He thought there was a vast improvement from what would have been the case- if an ordinary trader had had the house.

The Profits of the Trade
The Chairman - Do you consider that your experiment throws any light on the profits of the licencing trade? - l think the experiment shows that the profits are very high indeed. In Cowdenbeath, where a great many miners reside, a house was sold there recently for, I am told, £7000. The structural value would not be worth more than £1200. In another village where a large number of our miners are a license was sold after three years. An old miner built a house, for £350, including the interior, and sold it for £3500. There is another instance in the cast of Fife quite close to 174 of our workmen's houses. £1000 was the value of the house, and it sold for £3000.

As to licensing reform, witness went on to say that time were abuses which might he removed. Something should be done to mitigate the drinking habits of the country. He was not prepared to support total prohibition as a practical cure. That was wholly out of the question. The number of licensed premises might be reduced so as to lessen the number of centres of temptation. The police would then have fewer houses to visit for the enforcement of the law, and the smaller number of houses might have more stringent regulations as to the quality of liquor, hours of sale, and so forth. Then profits derived from the business might be applied in some way in the direction of the Hill of Beath experiment, or for the relief of the poor. That might be done by putting the licenses up to auction, or the license authorities of the place should fix the sum which they should be allowed by law to demand from the whole number of sellers. As to compensation, it is expedient that there should he some compensation given for houses that are bought by imposing a tax on those that remain. At present licenses are granted too much as a privilege obtained by personal influence, and by the canvassing of Justices. That should be made a penal offence. He should like to see the popular election of a controlling board specially chosen. As to the bona-fide travellers, there were hotels which are only hotels in name, and were really public houses, and anyone could obtain drink in them by walking three miles. He thought the distance should be extended to six miles, or if a traveller had journeyed three miles and was going another three, then he might be supplied.

Drunkenness In Fife
Speaking of your county, should you say that drunkenness has increased or diminished of late years? - l do not think it has decreased. But I would like to say this of Fife - and my experience extends to other counties - that the miners are altogether a superior class of men, and that there is not so much drunkenness among the Fife miners as among other miners, but still I should think there is no decrease as compared with what there was some years ago. I may say that the dwellings of the working classes are very much improved, especially in Fife; and I think that this has a good effect on the habits of the people. With more room in their houses, they have not the same inclination to go outside for entertainment. Out of our profits various advantages are accruing to the village. We now want a nursing establishment, and there is a demand for the electric light, and we want to make our village a model one. This can be done,! because the Committee, after paying all expenses every kind, have over £500 a year profit now. That includes the expenses of the building, foundation, &c. The total amount of trade done in sales from 1st January 1896 to September 30, 1897, was £2126. The gross profit varies from 40 to 85 per cent, on the cost price of liquor sold. The liquors are sold at the same price as by other license holders.

A Leith Witness - Mr J. Campbell Irons, J.P., Leith, was next called, and, examined by the Chairman, said - The granting of licenses should be a judicial matter, and should be in the hands of a Board composed of the Sheriff of the County, representative of the County Council, and two or three members nominated by the Justices of the Peace. The Board should be in office for five or seven years. The Commission adjourned until to-day. [Evening Telegraph 9 February 1898]