In 1736 the Gin Act was introduced in an attempt to close down small producers and sellers of gin. The tax on gin was increased to a rate of 20 shillings per gallon and the smallest amount that retailers could sell was 2 gallons. An annual licence fee of £50 was introduced for all gin sellers and the authorities relied on informers to uncover the non-compliant street vendors, offering monetary rewards.
Captain Dudley Bradstreet, an Irish soldier, spy for the English and an all-round chancer, had several careers in his life from playwright to brewer. In his autobiography, The Life and Uncommon Adventures of Captain Dudley Bradstreet, he writes about how he arrived in London in 1736, down on his luck, and saw an opportunity. He persuaded a friend to take a house in Blue Anchor Alley and purchased a wooden sign of a cat. Under it's paw, he fitted a leaden pipe for him to funnel gin from inside the house when the paw was lifted from outside. Bradstreet spent his last £13 on gin from Langdale's distillery in Holborn.
Each customer placed a coin in the cat's mouth, they would then whisper 'Puss' and a 'Mew' came in reply. They would then ask the puss for "twopennyworth of gin". Bradstreet was never arrested, but came close a few times. The cat became so popular, that it became a symbol for gin and was affectionally referred to as Old Tom which is a story for another day!