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
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.
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