The popularity of cigars in the UK has risen and fallen repeatedly over the years. But when was smoking particularly popular in the United Kingdom? We take a look at the history of smoking cigars in Britain, and how views towards cigars have shifted over time.
Early Uses of Tobacco in the UK
Tobacco had been popular in the UK since the mid-1500s, when it was first introduced to Europe. The most popular way of consuming tobacco at this time was smoking it in a pipe. In the 16th-century, clay pipes were most commonly used, but by the mid-18th-century meerschaum was the preferred material.
While pipe smoking remained popular into the 20th century, cigars saw a boost in popularity following their introduction to the UK in the 1800s.
Peninsular War Introduced Cigars to the UK
In the early 1800s, the United Kingdom joined forces with Spain and Portugal against the French in the Peninsular War. When the Peninsular War ended in 1814, the Spanish officers gifted the British with cigars to take back with them.
Those that smoked them were quite taken with cigars, and soon gentlemen’s clubs and members of high society were trying to source the very best smokes for themselves.
Around 1825, special coffeehouses emerged in London, known as cigar divans, which offered a place for smokers to go and enjoy a cigar in the company of other cigar enthusiasts. These spots were quite fashionable, and would commonly also feature performers, such as musicians and poets, to keep the smokers entertained as they puffed.
Smoking cigars was seen as a refined activity, and cigar lounges were constructed for gentlemen to meet in. To protect clothing from ash and smoke, and to add an extra hint of luxury, smoking jackets were worn to cigar lounges and when smoking at home.
Edward VII commissioned a blue silk smoking jacket in 1865, which he wore to many functions, helping to further popularise the garment.
Attitudes towards cigars and their popularity can be seen in the writings of many notable figures at this time. For example, in 1886, Rudyard Kipling published a poem called ‘The Betrothed’, in which he writes “a woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke”.
Queen Victoria and Cigars
While the first half of the 1800s saw a big boom for the popularity of cigars and the cigar industry, things took a slight turn under Queen Victoria’s reign. Queen Victoria hated tobacco, to the point where she banned people from smoking in her presence and in royal premises.
At that time, royalty had a big sway on public opinion, and with her disapproval of tobacco came a slight shift in the popularity of tobacco products across the UK. While many continued to smoke, it was not seen as favourably as before by some and could contribute to a bad reputation as a woman.
Unlike his mother, King Edward VII was a fan of tobacco and broke the ban in 1901 at his coronation dinner by exclaiming ‘Gentlemen, you may smoke!’.
Rising Popularity of the Cigarette
While cigarettes were available in the UK since the 1840s, cigars were preferred by many until the 20th-century. During the First World War, cigarettes were included in Army ration packs, and the disruption to imports reduced the availability of cigars.
As such, cigarettes became the more popular smoke. Fuelled by advertising campaigns that glamorised smoking cigarettes, these thinner smokes became the preference over cigars and pipes for many throughout the 20th-century.
UK Smoking Ban
The UK smoking ban in 2007 has been both a blessing and a curse for fans of cigars. While the ban prevents cigar lovers from enjoying a smoke in public spaces, it has led to the growth of cigar stores and smoking lounges, where enthusiasts can gather and enjoy a cigar together.
This has, in a way, led to a revival of cigar smoking in the UK, with the process now seen as something of a hobby by many. As one of only a few places where people can smoke outside of the home, some have even switched from cigarettes to cigars, so that they can enjoy the tastes of tobacco!
Did you know that we have our own cigar lounge in Windsor? Here you can enjoy a smoke indoors or out in our courtyard with fellow cigar enthusiasts!