Arguing their case
campaigned for social purity, were also staunch supporters of temperance.
It took brave people to question the drinking culture and to attack the vested interests of the publicans, brewers and businessmen who had bought debentures in the industry. But the Victorian temperance movement produced many such brave men and women. Their campaigning encouraged a significant percentage of the population (10 per cent by 1900 according to many estimates) to sign the pledge, renouncing alcoholic beverages. By the turn of the century, the number of pubs in England had decreased and alternatives such as temperance hotels and coffee shops had sprung up.
Yet the work of these social reformers, especially the women, has been largely forgotten about today – perhaps because many of us enjoy the occasional drink and don’t want to be made to feel guilty about doing so.
To some campaigners, temperance meant moderation in drinking habits. Others advocated total abstinence and some, like the UK Alliance, pushed for prohibition. The movement was particularly strong in Scotland and the north of England.
The ‘father of teetotalism’
Joseph Livesey, a cheesemonger from Preston, Lancashire, is widely regarded as the ‘ father of teetotalism’. In 1832 he, along with six others, set up the first Teetotal Society. He argued that people could better themselves by not drinking; they would have more money and gain more respect in society. His dramatic ‘malt lecture’ where he set fire to his samples, was devised to demonstrate that beer did contain alcohol (a fact disputed by many) and provided little bodily sustenance. This talk and demonstration became a staple fare at temperance rallies, and not just in the north. A transcript of the diary of Thomas Cramp, a temperance campaigner from East Grinstead, Sussex, is held at East Grinstead Museum. In an entry for November 1889, Cramp records how, at a Band of Hope meeting, “I had my apparatus, and a Bottle of Stout, and extracted the spirit.”
The Band of Hope was a children’s temperance organisation. It started in Leeds in 1847 when a temperance worker from Ireland, Mrs Anne Jane Carlile, was invited by the Reverend Jabez Tunnicliff, of the Leeds Temperance Society, to address a group of children. Mrs Carlile, aged 70 at the time, had a gift for engaging young people and her well-received meeting led to the formation of the Leeds Band of Hope, specifically for children. Soon there was a national Band of Hope Union and branches throughout the country. Its motto, “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart”, was taken from the Book of Proverbs. It spawned a huge industry of books, blackboard addresses, music and magic lantern shows. There were also journals such as Onward and The Band of Hope Review.
By 1891, more than two million children were enrolled in Band of Hope groups. By 1897, 50 years on from its humble beginnings in Leeds, there were over three million members. So you may well uncover a Band of Hope membership certificate in your own family papers. The popularity of the organisation might have been partly due to the fact that it provided free entertainment for children, with outings, choirs and bands. But its influence was immense. It produced a generation which was more aware of the perils of alcohol abuse. The plaintive voices of children could strike at the hearts of hardened drinkers especially through songs such as Come Home Father. The work with children also provided an acceptable occupation for women and helped bridge the rigid class structure of the era.
There were other children’s temperance organisations such as The Sons (or Daughters) of Temperance and The Rechabites, a friendly society which promoted abstinence. Many Quakers, including women, were prominent in the movement.
Salvation through sobriety
There was often an evangelical element to the work. Salvation through sobriety was a common theme. Missionaries came over from America and addressed great rallies. The British Women’s Temperance Association was founded in 1876 when Eliza Stewart, a prominent American, visited England. By the 1890s, the Association’s third president, Lady Henry Somerset frequently travelled to America and became hugely popular on both sides of the Atlantic.
Novels and cartoons lampooned the drinking habits of the clergy and, whilst this may have been exaggerated a little, the established church was slow to embrace the call for temperance. Reverends also had another problem with female temperance campaigners, for these women dared to
By 1891, more than two milion children were enrolled in Band of Hope groups
speak to their audiences about God and that, in their opinion, was their own role – no one else’s.
Sarah Robinson faced major opposition from Archdeacon Wright, the military chaplain in Portsmouth when she was trying to set up her Soldiers’ Institute.
But Sarah had the last laugh. The archdeacon’s opposition brought a lot of publicity for her work and she declared she was almost sad to see him leave the town when he was passed over for promotion.
The Church of England Temperance Society was established in 1862 and became a powerful force for good. It initiated the role of Police Court Missionaries, the forerunners of our probation service. Through its auxiliary branch, The Woman’s Union, it employed females to work with women and children and even set up some small homes for female drunkards.
This was an idea which Lady Henry Somerset would take much further, with Duxhurst, her “farm colony for inebriate women”, as it was described in Whitaker’s
Almanac. This village, just south of Reigate, Surrey, became a model for the cure of women with alcohol problems from all classes of society. Lady Henry had personal experience of the devastation that alcoholism could cause; one of her own friends had committed suicide because of a drink problem. So at Duxhurst, she created a microcosm of society. The existing manor house was used for the rich and famous, who could afford to pay their way. Hope Cottage housed middle class women who could pay a little. For the working class women, a group of thatched cottages was built around a village green, with a community hall for meals and meetings – a huge contrast to the slums from which they had come!
Duxhurst had a church, a hospital, laundries, workshops, greenhouses, orchards, lavender fields, even a pottery. Lady Henry was a great believer in occupational therapy and the goods produced were sold to help fund the enterprise. The gardens, the presence of children in their own home on site and the quiet religious atmosphere of the place, all helped heal troubled minds and broke down class barriers. In her book Beauty for Ashes, Lady Henry claimed a 73 per cent success rate over a seven-year period, although she was adept at excluding some categories of women, such as the ‘insane’ who did not respond to the Duxhurst regime.
Duxhurst has long disappeared but other temperance villages like Saltaire, in Yorkshire (built by Titus Salt for his employees) remain. For as Britain became more industrialised, some factory owners realised the benefits of a sober workforce.
Some records of temperance societies do still exist but they are scattered thinly and often lie in dusty boxes, neither catalogued nor prioritised, in local museums or archives.
The Livesey Collection at UCLAN in Preston has a wealth of material but there is little focus on the role women played in the movement. The Institute of Alcohol Studies in London also holds records of various temperance organisations such as The National Temperance League (NTL) and the British Women’s Temperance Association.
Parish magazines from the late-19th century can provide an interesting glimpse into temperance activities. They often included temperance tracts or poems or notices of forthcoming missions, with visiting speakers.
In local newspaper archives (e.g. The Hastings & St Leonard’s Observer), you might be surprised to read of disorder, even rioting, when temperance advocates clashed with drunken youths. The Salvation Army promoted total abstinence, attracting some colourful advocates, reformed drinkers themselves, such as ‘Happy Eliza’, a Hallelujah Lass who marched around singing and playing the violin.
But local brewers and publicans, fearing the Salvationists’ influence, would fuel
‘Skeleton Armies’ with free beer to mock their parades. Violence often followed.
Middle and upper class women would set up cottage meetings, inviting other women to come along for prayer and support. They instigated house calls where drunkards were known to reside and they would try to persuade the errant husband not to return to the pub. The gentle persuasion of a softlyspoken female often found its target.
Signing the pledge offered some hope and encouragement to all the family. Of course, the pledge could always be broken but in a surprising number of cases it seemed to focus the mind and lead to more responsible behaviour. Women became adept at campaigning at local brewsters sessions when licences came up for renewal. They would arrive en masse wearing the white ribbon brooch of the British Women’s Temperance Association. They behaved in a very civil manner and often one of the women would be allowed to address the bench. They would argue strongly as to why a licence should not be granted or renewed, perhaps because it was close to a local school or in an area that was already flooded with public houses. The women always went prepared with facts and statistics and they often won the day.
In battling to promote temperance and to provide practical assistance to those brought low by alcohol abuse, many women discovered their voice and organisational skills. It is no surprise that most wanted greater equality with men, including the right to vote. In fact, this issue split the ranks of the British Women’s Temperance Association (BWTA) in 1894.
The Association’s president, Lady Henry Somerset produced a Progressive Policy, incorporating many feminist ideals. Some of the executive committee flounced off, to set up a separate organisation to deal solely with the temperance issue. But Lady Henry and the majority of the members realised women’s suffrage was intrinsically linked to their work. They needed the vote to persuade politicians to enact appropriate legislation.
Yet most temperance feminists, including Rosalind Howard, Countess of Carlisle – Lady Henry’s successor at the BWTA – were suffragists rather than suffragettes, preferring reasoned argument to violent demonstration. Perhaps this is another reason that their work has been so neglected by history. The temperance women struggle to compete with graphic images of their sisters chained to railings but they deserve to be remembered for their achievements and their fascinating personal stories.
A gathering of The Band of Hope at Exeter Cathedral during the Edwardian era
A Temperance Society coffee stall
A man takes the temperance pledge, c1850
Members of the Evangelical Church Army profess their love for God and temperance, c1900