The Dark Side of Victorian Pubs

The Victorian pub was a place of joy, happiness and drunken festivities, but it’s not all it appears to be. It was a social area. A place of gossip, rivalry and friendships but there was a much darker and sinister side to the Victorian pub that isn’t often highlighted. Games have always been a center point in many pubs as it created a competitive atmosphere, which when mixed with alcohol and food created a heightened sense of enjoyment. Sometimes these games would take on a different turn that intended.

Gambling became banned across all public houses at one point. This due to extreme ad grotesque levels being reached by the gamblers. A pub in central London is known to have a picture of very stylish gentlemen standing with their groomed pooches. Don’t be fooled by the grandeur of their suits and the friendly looks of the dogs. This picture is a representation of some of the reasons why gambling was banned from public houses. Many pubs were engaged in savage gambling contests called ‘ratting’. Bets would be placed on how many rats a dog to rip to shreds every minute.

Around the mid-nineteenth century all social classes engaged in the ‘ratting’ games to watch the dogs fight it out in the pit in hopes of killing the rat before its opponents. A bull and terrier dog called Billy was known to have been able to kill 100 rats in 5:30 minutes.

Some Victorian pub names which we assume to be innocent a dark history attached to them. One Victorian pub named The Dog and Duck in Soho actively allowed duck baiting. The duck’s wings would either be cut off or tied back so that it won’t fly away. It would be released onto the miniature pond and left it sit happily until a dog would be let loose on it. Bets would be placed on how long it would take for the dog to catch the duck.

Human even entangled themselves into the trend of blood betting or blood gambling. Bare-knuckle fighting was by a firm favorite. Gambling on fist fights was dangerous as stakes were beyond extremely high. Honor, masculinity and reputation where prized but at the cost of violent deaths.

Other times it is told that the Victorian men would bet simply on absurd and random games to combat boredom. In 1819, one-man bets another that he will have a legitimate child before him. Another well-known story is that gentleman once gathered many others to bet on the basis that a man could stay under water for 12 hours. The stakes were high at 1500£ which is equivalent to 125,000£ today or 170,000$. The chief gentleman grabbed a random fellow from the street, submerged him into water beneath a boat and never heard from him again.

Gambling was a rich part of London’s cultural heritage, at the same time it was a horrific and ridiculous aspect of the Victorian pub. Such bloody history left a mark on both the society and the buildings themselves. Real or not, these happenings are still echoed nowadays, not quite laid to rest in the country’s memory.