Alan Crosby's blog: A corker of a discovery

By Jon Bauckham, 28 April 2016 - 10:26am

The Victorian upper classes certainly had a taste for alcohol, as Alan Crosby recently discovered when leafing through a sales brochure from the 19th century

Dr Alan Crosby is the editor of the Local Historian and a columnist for WDYTYA? MagazineThursday 28 April 2016
Alan Crosby
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Kent wine sales brochure

The auction was to be held on 28 February 1874 at Pall Mall, London (Photo: Alan Crosby)

I was looking through a collection of archives from a small country house in Kent and came across a sales brochure dating from 1874.

It sheds an interesting light on the lifestyle of the upper classes in Victorian England. Advertised for sale are 450 dozen bottles of fine wines (5,400 bottles in total!), including many delights – 39 cases of brandy (468 bottles), two dozen bottles of Curaçao and 828 bottles of Champagne. There are also 49 gallons of port, still in casks shipped directly from Oporto, and two dozen bottles of Imperial Burgundy described as “very old”.

Interestingly, a number of Australian wines are mentioned in the brochure. I had no idea that even in the 1870s, wine from Down Under was being shipped to England, but a quick internet check revealed that, for example ‘Irrawang Wine’ (represented by 120 bottles of red and 132 bottles of ‘pale’, which meant rosé) was from the place of that name in New South Wales, where vineyards were planted in 1836.

Many of the wines came from the cellars of a recently deceased minor member of the nobility, and someone (probably his executors, as he was a childless widower and therefore had no family to inherit the estate) had annotated part of the list with the prices fetched: 1,198 bottles of various splendid wines brought in the grand sum of £76 11s 3d.

This works out at an average of approximately 15 pence per bottle, or about 7p each in today’s currency. Unbelievable, and surely the bargain of a lifetime even then!

Alan Crosby lives in Lancashire and is editor of The Local Historian. He is an honorary research fellow at Lancashire and Liverpool universities.

 

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