< 1 of 1 > Back

Pathfinder Pack on The Gothenburg Public House System



This resource presents an overview of the way in which the drinking habits, of mainly mining communities, were used to benefit the community, and in some cases, still continue to do so. The Trust Public House movement originated in the early Nineteenth century in Gothenburg in Sweden, hence its name, as an attempt to control the consumption of alcohol. In Sweden, every householder once had the right to distil their own spirits and many took advantage of this right. In the early Nineteenth century the annual per capita consumption of distilled alcohol has been quoted as 7.5 gallons. In 1855 a law was passed making domestic distillation illegal. The local authorities now had the power to grant licences and the city of Gothenburg decided to award the retail spirits licences to only one company, which would be run as a trust. The trust aimed to control pubs, restaurants and off licences in a way which would not encourage excessive consumption of spirits. The system was adopted in Scotland, with some success. The records illustrate many aspects of 'the Goths' of the Lothians and Fife. Try searching for the subject of your choice. Premises were not to be attractive or welcoming in order to discourage drinking and the sales of spirits was not to be encouraged. The shareholders of the trust were to receive a maximum return of 5% annually and all other profits were to be used to benefit the local community. The town treasury was to control this income and use it to provide libraries, museums, parks and other community facilities. Although the sale of beer and wine were not included in these restrictions, the system proved extremely profitable, providing thousands of Kronor annually for Gothenburg. The system spread quickly in Sweden due to its success and knowledge of it became known in other countries. Temperance campaigners and public house reformers in Scotland promoted the idea (although not everyone approved of what they saw to be the promotion of public houses and argued that it would lead to increased drunkenness). The system was applied in various ways in Scotland, although the movement gained its firmest hold in mining communities. This is a photograph illustrating one of the ways in which the Gothenburg system was promoted in Scotland. Some coal company owners in central Scotland provided funds to establish the system in their local communities, for example, the mining communities of Kelty and Cowdenbeath in Fife, Newtongrange in Midlothian and East Whitburn in West Lothian. Societies were set up to run public houses according to the Gothenburg system. For example the Dunfermline Public House Society was established in 1901 and by 1946 owned five public houses in Dunfermline. This society gave grants to local charities and sponsored sports events. A system described as 'Disinterested Management' was used by a group of local miners to run a public house in Hill of Beath. The Dalkeith Public House and Improvement Company ran the Black Bull Inn in Dalkeith, Midlothian on the Gothenburg principles of paying a dividend of 5% to shareholders and using the rest of the profits for the welfare of the community. The East of Scotland Public House Trust Company Limited was established in Edinburgh in 1901. It intended to acquire and build public houses that would be owned and managed on Gothenburg principles. The company acquired public houses in various parts of the country, e.g. Edinburgh, Ballingry and Culross in Fife and Prestonpans. The property acquired in Prestonpans is probably the best known of these buildings. More details of the venture in Prestonpans are given in Fact sheet 1. The East of Scotland Public House Trust was taken over by the London-based Trust Houses Limited in 1919. In 1903 the 4th Earl Grey, who supported the use of the Gothenburg system, had established this trust. The temperance principles of this group remained in practice until it became part of the Trust House Forte Group in 1971. Another trust came from within the community itself. Armadale Public House Society in West Lothian was begun in 1901 by raising funds through the sale of shares to members of the community and was run by a committee of male members of the community. In Armadale it was felt by some that by providing the funding for the local public house, coal owners were exerting yet more control over their workers. There was a suspicion that intentions were not always purely altruistic, even although the profits were being used for their employees' benefit. Because of the investment and commitment made by members of the local community by purchasing shares, the Gothenburg pub in Armadale could claim to be truly owned and run by the community, although it was indeed a mining community. To assess the success or otherwise of the Gothenburg system there is good surviving evidence for at least two public houses. These are The Goth in Armadale, West Lothian and the Dean Tavern in Newtongrange, Midlothian. In 2003, The Goth in Armadale was still owned and run by a committee from the local community, although only male committee members are allowed. The Dean Tavern in Newtongrange was still open and was now run by a trust. At East Whitburn, West Lothian, their Goth no longer functions under the system. However, a trust fund was created when the system was discontinued and is used to benefit the elderly of the community. The Goth, Armadale and the Dean Tavern, Newtongrange both sold their beer cheaply. It could be argued that this encouraged the consumption of alcohol. Similarly, the fact that the profits were being used to benefit the local community could provide the ideal argument for increasing one's personal consumption of alcohol; the more that was drunk the greater the profits. Whether the amounts consumed by the customers of the Gothenburg public houses did increase or not has not been investigated. However, there is no doubt that both of these communities did benefit from the profits of their public houses and once they had become established no evidence was produced to argue for their closure. Often the first district nurse or ambulance was paid for from Goth profits; local clubs received donations or trophies; local gala days benefited and various buildings, e.g. picture houses, were erected. 'Bevvy for Benefit' had proved successful. Although funded in different ways, both public houses provided material benefits for their communities, proving that the Gothenburg system did, and continues to, work successfully.

The Gothenburg Public House System

Interior, Dean Tavern Promoting Gothenburg principles in Midlothian Dalkeith Gothenburg
Prestonpans 'Gothenburg' staff The Goth, Armadale Armadale Centenary
The original Dean Tavern

Related Records

Working Men's Institutes

Scran ID: 000-000-001-357-L
  © Scran 2016