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Duration 00:34:04

What’s Online: Stinking fish, beer and brewing controversies around 1800

In 1809 a London brewery was prosecuted for the unusual offence of trying to remove cloudiness from its beer by dosing it with an extract of fish-skins. ‘Keep your stinking fish to yourselves,’ thundered the Solicitor General – and yet the brewers won the case.

Key to their victory was the star witness, Humphry Davy, famous for his chemical discoveries and the most successful public communicator of science of his generation. Davy’s evidence was technical – the substance, he said, sank to the bottom of the vessel and did not make its way into the drinker’s pot – but it was his authoritative status that won the day.

Drawing on trial records and Excise correspondence held in our collection, this talk discusses the challenges brewers faced in promoting new innovations to an often justifiably suspicious public, and how they enlisted scientific reputations in support of their cause.

The talk was presented on Friday 14 August 2020 by Dr James Sumner, Senior Lecturer in the History of Technology at the University of Manchester. James has a strong interest in public engagement, and has delivered more than 50 public and general audience events including talks, discussion sessions and guided tours.


Transcription to follow.