Taverns, locals and street corners: cross-chronological studies in community drinking, regulation and public space

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bath
Department Name: Architecture and Civil Engineering


The image of communities of binge drinkers in city centres is a familiar one, portrayed in the media as a crisis of our culture and of our time. With this project we ask: was it ever thus? Are patterns of drinking with people congregating in public spaces late at night, sold alcohol by commercial enterprises and revelling new or are these familiar and recurring practices and representations of drinking and of competing communities. Can we investigate past times and places to discover whether these spatial, cultural and economic patterns have their distinct roots in individual localities and communities or are there are resonating themes and behaviours across communities? In particular, is the performance of drinking, notions of community spectacle and carnival still part of modern drinking culture? Conversely are the practical and 'every day' questions for community policy and practice on drinking and anti-social behaviour in public spaces today also resonant for the past?

To answer these questions, this research project will investigate three different places, three different periods, three different pursuits. Place and period are united through three case studies, while pursuits offer a unifying set of themes through each case study: profit (sellers of food and drink), pleasure (consumers) and policing (social controls). The first two case studies are historical. Case 1 considers 16-17th century Florence; using primarily administrative sources it will map the city's most prominent taverns and the streetscapes around them to understand their crucial place in the community. Case 2 looks at 18th Century London where the widespread outcry around public drinking was matched by the public championing of the value of commerce and sociability that public drinking also implies. We will ask the sources: how important were drinking places in attempts to define communities and class behaviours? To what extent was this effective, resisted, and how it did change the actual sociability of the tavern and its place in neighbourhood/community life?

The third study is contemporary; a questionnaire will be used to collect research data and will form the basis of semi-structured interviews with policy makers and practitioners in Bristol today. While Bristol's city centre was made a 'no street drinking zone' in 2004, alcohol is routinely served in large-scale, commercial drinking establishments. This has implications both for how and where drinkers congregate and affects our understandings of conviviality and connectedness and what constitutes 'anti-social' behaviour in the community.

In formulating our research questions for past and present we will work closely with our collaborators - the Centre for Cities - and other policy-makers and practitioner networks in our advisory group, scoping the research, reviewing the historical data, developing the questionnaire and disseminating results. Our final dissemination event will bring in participants from PI and CI Connected Community projects: urban designers, planners, the police, private security guards, public health officials, community stakeholder groups (see Impact). In so doing it will develop further the 'cross-historical' method developed by the PI, Fabrizio Nevola, in earlier AHRC funded research on 'Street Life and Street Culture'. In these ways, the project aims to advance a distinctive 'Connected Communities' approach, building interdisciplinarity and connections with 'the real world' from the ground up, rather than including these retrospectively.

This pilot demonstrator aims to produce an innovative, comparative, trans-historical understanding of competing communities (commercial, local authorities, residential, drinkers) in civic public spaces. Our research findings, which will also be presented in the form of GIS-based map visualisations, will be made available through a project website, a dissemination event, policy briefing paper, and two co-authored academic papers.

Planned Impact

Policy makers and community stakeholders will benefit from a richer cultural understanding of what is considered an intractable problem. The project will give an historical context for understanding and locating contemporary concerns; offer examples of regulatory practices and rhetoric - and their intended and unintended consequences - in past contexts; bring fresh insight into the formation of competing community demands in public space from the past; provide visual data around different communities' use of public spaces. The dissemination event and the ongoing content of the website will provide both primary evidence and methodological examples.

Policy makers will benefit from this research - a core collaborator is Tom Bolton from Centre for Cities, who will contribute to the design of the project from the outset to ensure relevance to policy concerns, specifically questions that concern Centre for Cities, those of economic growth and change. These will also be of interest to think tanks such as New Economics Foundation and Respublica, with whom thee Pi has a an established relationship. The final workshop will open the research to a wide range of policy groups with a concern for the understanding, care, and management of public urban space including the Association of Town Centre Managers, Prince's Trust for Architecture, Royal Institute of British Architects, and Royal Town Planning Institute.

The outcomes of the research are intended to assist reflection on policing and regulation of public space and will be disseminated through the final workshop to policing groups with established relationships through the Street Life network - ACPO and National Policing Improvement Agency.

Special interest groups with a concern with alcohol issues will benefit from this research, drawing on the expertise of advisory board members to guide policy relevance through the project, specifically Professor Virginia Berridge, Centre for History in Public Health and Alcohol Research UK Advisor and Dr Ravi Maheswaran, Public Health GIS Unit, School of Health and Related Research, University of Sheffield, to ensure that the report and dissemination event chimes with the needs of Alcohol Research UK, Alcohol Concern and public health officials.

The final workshop and dissemination event will also draw on community stakeholder groups etc., including Philip Loring of the Community Alcohol Partnerships, Neighbourhood and Home Watch Network, and Chris Chalkey of the People's Republic of Stokes Croft.


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Clarke G (2013) Introduction: The Experience of the Street in Early Modern Italy in I Tatti Studies in the Italian Renaissance

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Nevola F (2013) Surveillance and Control of the Street in Renaissance Italy in I Tatti Studies in the Italian Renaissance

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Nevola F (2018) Review Essay: Street Life in Early Modern Europe * in Renaissance Quarterly

Description This cross-chronological study looked at the physical places of drinking in cities, based on case studies of three periods and three different locations: Florence in the sixteenth century, London in the early eighteenth century, and Bristol today. Each period is characterised by sporadic panics over public drinking, and attempts to challenge what was seen as anti-familial, anti-social or anti-community behaviours. In each case we explored the tavern, alehouse or pub as a charged site of community, and examined the regulation of drinking and drinking spaces in what, in effect, was the name of community. The studies addressed these thematic concerns to explore how studies of drinking places and practices in past can bring fresh perspectives to contemporary debates, and vice versa.
Further details of activity, a full report/transcript of the final event (June 2013) and a slide-show interview with the researchers can be consulted at:
Exploitation Route We have had some discussion with Steve Connelly (PI) and Dave Vanderhoven with regard to speaking to public policy groups about the research (continuing email through autumn 2015), supported through Connected Communities initiative.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Communities and Social Services/Policy

URL http://www.tavernsproject.com
Description Research form this project fed into a further funded piece of work (AH/K005138/1) which created a public-facing smartphone app.
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Creative Economy,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural

Description AHRC Follow-on-funding scheme
Amount £100,000 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/R008086/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2018 
End 03/2019
Description Follow on funding
Amount £30,000 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/J006610/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2013 
End 07/2013
Title Hidden Florence 
Description App for geolocated tour of Florence in the Renaissance period - contains content written by the PI and developed with Calvium Ltd. Update of the app was published in December 2016. Please note that as a result of the AHRC 2018 award this app has been entirely rebuilt with much new content. Relaunches Spring 2019 
Type Of Technology Webtool/Application 
Year Produced 2014 
Impact Published in 'Sole24Ore' and 'The Florentine' in Italy. Available for use on iTunes and GooglePlay. Promoted on all digital and analogue platforms of the Comune di Firenze (including digital signage). Reports on AHRC and U of Exeter websites. 
URL http://www.hiddenflorence.org