In 1901, the pioneering poverty researcher Benjamin Seerbohm Rowntree, a Quaker and a member of the temperance movement, and therefore opposed to the drinking of alcohol, toured the public houses of his native city York, as part of his research into poverty in the city. He was especially interested to find out why it was that people on low income would spend their money on alcohol when they had so many pressing needs. But it did not take him long to understand, writing:

The form of entertainment furnished in those public-houses where music (either professional or otherwise) is provided is one well suited to the tastes of those for whom the publicans cater. The rooms are, as a rule, brilliantly lit, and often gaudily, if cheaply, decorated. In winter they are always kept temptingly warm. The company is almost entirely composed of young persons, youths and girls, sitting round the room and at small tables. Often there is a considerable number of soldiers present. Every one is drinking, but not heavily, and most of the men are smoking. At intervals one of the company is called on for a song, and if there is a chorus, every one who can will join in it. Many of the songs are characterized by maudlin sentimentality; others again are unreservedly 215vulgar. Throughout the whole assembly there is an air of jollity and an absence of irksome restraint which must prove very attractive after a day’s confinement in factory or shop.

Rowntree concludes:

In a round of the public-houses which the writer made one Saturday evening in May 1901, the fact of their social attractiveness struck him very forcibly. It points to the need for the establishment on temperance lines of something equally attractive in this respect.

(Rowntree 1901, 311–312) Rowntree’s humanity, and compassion for people trying to get the most out of life in difficult circumstances, shines through his description, and contrasts with the moralism of those who would say that if people can manage to go to the pub, even once a week, then they can’t really be counted as poor. This is echoed by contemporary writers who sometimes suggest that much of poverty, or at least the adverse experience of poverty, is a result of bad choices (Anderson 1991; Field 2010, 6). The tone of Rowntree’s position, however, is that everyone is entitled to live a life with a normal range of enjoyments, but in the York of his day for a very large number of people this was a struggle.