TAK­ING THE PLEDGE

Thou­sands of Bri­tons shunned ‘de­mon drink’ and went on to sign a tem­per­ance pledge in the 19th cen­tury. But it wasn’t just men who led the way, says Ros Black

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - CONTENTS -

Women played a big part in fight­ing the de­mon drink. We look at the tem­per­ance move­ment’s fe­male cam­paign­ers

Sol­diers were drink­ing spir­its out of pewter pots, and al­most forc­ing passers-by to par­take; cabs were driv­ing from one pub­lic house to an­other loaded in­side and out with drunken, shout­ing men and women.”

No, this is not a con­tem­po­rary re­port of your lo­cal town on a Satur­day night. It is how Sarah Robin­son, who be­came known as ‘The Sol­diers’ Friend’, de­scribed Portsmouth in the early-1870s.

It wasn’t just sol­diers and sailors who had a rep­u­ta­tion for hard drink­ing. Beer was part of the sta­ple diet of many fam­i­lies in the 19th cen­tury, be­ing more read­ily avail­able than clean drink­ing wa­ter. Pubs lined ev­ery street and, thanks to The Beer Act of 1830 and the in­tro­duc­tion of gro­cers’ li­cences in 1861, beer could be pur­chased along with food at the lo­cal shop. It was also thought to be nour­ish­ing and good for one’s health.

Women were some­times ex­ces­sive con­sumers them­selves, as al­co­hol pro­vided a tem­po­rary re­lief from the grind of daily life. More of­ten they were the vic­tims of their hus­band’s heavy drink­ing, try­ing to shel­ter them­selves and their chil­dren from drunken rages. Strug­gling to keep enough of the wages back to feed the fam­ily be­fore it was squan­dered in the pub was a con­stant bat­tle.

Brave cam­paign­ers

Gin palaces in the larger towns and cities at­tracted women of the middle and up­per­classes but also be­came a haunt for pros­ti­tutes. It is not sur­pris­ing that many re­form­ers such as Josephine But­ler, who

Women set fire to beer as part of the tem­per­ance move­ment to

prove that it con­tains al­co­hol

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