Not a drop to drink: raising an empty glass to Britain's least boozy towns

Katie Russell
We're all drinking less these days... - E+

We picture the ‘roaring Twenties’ as a period of excess – and yet for many it was a time of restriction. Namely, in the United States, the restriction of alcohol. 

Today marks the centenary of the beginning of Prohibition, the day when the Volstead Act came into effect in America, banning the sale, manufacture and consumption of alcohol. 

While the law never made its way across the pond, there are nevertheless many corners of Britain where alcohol has been severely limited in (surprisingly) recent history, and in places banned altogether, often for religious reasons. 

In 1920, Scotland's Temperance Act came into effect, allowing local areas to vote for or against the prohibition of the selling of alcohol. Around 40 districts initially voted in favour of the alcohol ban, including Kilsyth, Kirkintilloch and Wick, although there were ‘veto votes’ held every few years, where 'dry' towns could become 'wet' once more.  

Some parts of the country remain considerably drier than the rest, while others have a tradition of outlawing booze completely. Below we've compiled the spots that have either banned alcohol at one time or another, or where it might still be a struggle to find someone to pour you a pint. 

Bournville

Bournville had a 120-year ban on the sale of alcohol Credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Best known for being the home of Cadbury’s chocolate, Bournville, just south of Birmingham, was nicknamed the 'Dry Village' due to its 120-year ban on the sale of alcohol — which only came to an end in 2015.

The alcohol ban dates back to the village’s origins, as it was founded by the Cadbury family, who were all Quakers and thus teetotallers. 

In 2007, an attempt to sell alcohol at a Tesco Express store in Bournville was met by hundreds of campaigners, who successfully blocked the move. However, just a few years later, in 2015, the newsagents Mary Vale News was given a license to sell alcohol, with 400 residents voting in favour of the decision, and 230 objections. 

Barking and Dagenham 

This London borough contains the fewest pubs per capita in the United Kingdom, according to data from the ONS, analysed by The Telegraph. In Barking and Dagenham there are just nine pubs per 100,000 people. 

The number of pubs in the area has more than halved since 2001, and now just 20 remain. This coincides with other parts of London, and the capital has the smallest proportion of pubs per capita in the country — 40 per 100,000, compared to the national average of 59 pubs.

This scarcity of pubs could be linked to Londoners’ drinking habits. People in the capital drink the least, compared to the rest of the country, according to a 2015 NHS study

Time, ladies and gentlemen, please...

Antrim and Newtonabbey 

County Antrim has one of the lowest numbers of pubs per capita in the UK Credit: Ben Selway

The 140,000-strong population of this district in Northern Ireland have 30 pubs available to them, down from 55 in 2001. 

This loss of pubs and bars is a trend in Northern Ireland. Regionally, the number of pubs has fallen by 35 per cent from 2001 to 2018, a significantly bigger drop than the national average. There are now just 42 pubs per 100,000 in Northern Ireland, compared to the UK average of 59 pubs. 

As well as Antrim and Newtonabbey, the district of Lisburn and Castlereagh has a shortage of local watering holes, and there are just 22 pubs per 100,000. 

The Republic of Ireland could be set to go the same way, despite being the home of Guinness. About a quarter of Irish adults do not drink alcohol, according to The Guardian, and there has been a 17 percent drop in the number of pubs since 2005. 

Clarkston

Clarkston, a suburban town in East Renfrewshire, was one of Scotland’s temperance towns, where the sale of alcohol was banned from 1920 until the 21st century. 

As part of an old Presbyterian practice, where suburbs in Scotland were encouraged to ban alcohol, the suburb remained alcohol-free until the arrival of a cafe-bar, Rascasse, in May 2006.  

Elsewhere in East Renfrewshire, liquor is similarly sparse. There are just 16 pubs per 100,000 people — one of the lowest numbers of pubs per capita in the United Kingdom. 

Isle of Lewis

The Isle of Lewis: come for the scenery... Credit: Getty Images

Even Scottish towns that did not vote for blanket bans on alcohol often prohibited the sale of booze on a Sunday. 

The debate surrounding Sabbath bar licenses in Scotland continued until the 21st century. The Isle of Lewis was one of the last places to be granted its Sunday licence, in 2003, when the licensing authority gave three pubs in Stornoway the right to serve alcohol on Sunday. 

Even after this ruling, it has been contentious, and disputes continued until 2011, when Stornoway council refused to give the golf club a Sunday licence (although it was later forced to do so). 

The neighbouring Isle of Harris was similarly slow to allow the sale of alcohol on a Sunday. As recently as 2015, it was the only place in the UK where you couldn’t get alcohol on this day, according to the book An Introduction to Sociology and the Real World. Even now this ban is no longer in place, there are apparently no pubs or bars in the town — you have to go to a licenced hotel if you want a drink. 

Kilmacolm

This Scottish village in Inverclyde did not have a pub until 1998, when an old waiting room at the train station was converted into The Pullman Arms. This establishment is currently closed for refurbishment, so there are currently no operating pubs to serve the 4,000-strong population. 

Like other Scottish towns in this list, it voted to ban alcohol in 1920. Alongside Kilmacolm, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch were two of the first ‘dry’ towns in Scotland, banning the sale of alcohol from 1923. Kilsyth remained alcohol-free until 1967, when locals repealed the decision. Kirkintilloch followed suit the following year. 

In more recent history, the town of Raasay in Scotland was forced to become dry in 2009 because the owner of the local shop could no longer afford to stock alcohol. This was due to the tenfold increase in licensing fees, from £80 to £800, introduced by the Scottish justice minister of the time. As such, the island of 150 residents had to go to Skye or the mainland if they wanted an alcoholic drink. 

Basildon

Surprisingly, Essex ranks fairly low on the ranking of pubs per capita. There are just 22 pubs per 100,000 people in Basildon and Castlepoint, and 23 in Brent.

This corresponds with data that suggests those in the South East of the country are less prone to heavy drinking. Only 18.6 per cent of those from South East exceed six or eight units on their heaviest drinking day, according to the ONS

This is significantly lower than England’s average of 26.2 per cent, as well as the Scottish estimate of 37.3 per cent and Wales at 30.4 per cent. 

Slough

As Sir John Betjeman observed in 1937, the people of Slough "talk of sport and makes of cars / In various bogus-Tudor bars". These days, however, the Berkshire town boasts just 17 pubs per 100,000 people. The number of pubs has halved since 2001, and there are now just 25 pubs and bars to serve the local community of approximately 150,000 people. 

It seems, however, alcohol is consumed in moderation in Slough, relative to the rest of the country. Alcohol-specific hospital stays for under-18s were just 18.3 per 100,000 from 2011 to 2014 — significantly lower than the national rate of 40.1 per 100,000 in England over the same period. 

Dwyfor 

Pubs in Dwyfor did not allow Sunday drinking until 1996 Credit: Getty Images

In 1881, Wales introduced the Sunday Closing Act, which prohibited the sale of alcohol in Welsh pubs on a Sunday. This act was not repealed until 1961, when each county held a referendum to decide if they wanted to continue with the policy.

The cities unsurprisingly ditched the scheme at the earliest possible opportunity, with Swansea and Cardiff, amongst others, opening their doors to punters on a Sunday. In more rural areas, however, the habit was harder to shake. 

One such area was Dwyfor, now part of Gwynedd, which kept its ban on Sabbath drinking right up until 1996. There had been a rule that Welsh towns would hold a poll on whether they should ban Sunday drinking every seven years, but the government voted to stop this costly 122-year-old tradition in 2003. Now, if you want a Sunday pint, the door is open.