"The fangs of the serpent are hid in the bowl": The Temperance Movement

  • Details
  • Transcript
  • Audio
  • Downloads
  • Extra Reading

How did what started as a temperance movement become a campaign for total abstinence? Who were the real originators of temperance societies and what were the factors making for their growth? What led to the demonisation of drink? To modern eyes the temperance movement seems old-fashioned but its original promoters were among the most progressive minds of their day. It became associated with the churches but was resisted by them in the beginning. Why did the temperance movement fade away in the twentieth century? This lecture aims to raise important questions about the rise and fall of the movement and suggest some of the answers.

This is the fourth in a series of four 'Mondays at One' lectures, From Gin Lane to the Band of Hope.  Other lectures in the series are as follows:
    An Infernal Spark: Drink, Addiction and Disease
    The Gordon Riots of 1780: London in flames and a nation in ruins
    Cannabis Britannica: The rise and demise of a Victorian wonder-drug

Download Transcript

25 March 2013

“The Fangs of The Serpent are Hid in the Bowl”:
The Temperance Movement

The Revd Professor Stephen Orchard

The title which Gresham College set for this lecture is a quotation from a temperance hymn which has its origins in the United States. It is to be found in various temperance song books from the 1840s onwards and is often attributed to John Benjamin Gough, a celebrated temperance lecturer, who was given to singing the whole hymn, which begins 'Touch not the cup, it is death to thy soul', in the course of his performances.[1] Strictly speaking it is not a hymn, since it is not addressed to any deity, but an exhortation to moral improvement. However, it does address its appeal in religious terms. Our quotation comes from the conclusion of the second verse, which reads:

The fangs of the serpent are hid in the bowl,
Deeply the poison will enter thy soul,
Soon will it plunge thee beyond thy control;
Touch not the cup, touch it not.

This invocation of the original tempter in the Garden of Eden was not unusual in temperance literature of the time. The inspiration for it lies in the Hebrew wisdom literature, which itself draws upon ancient sources. Proverbs 23, verse 31 following, reads in the Authorized Version familiar at the time:

Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright. At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder. Thine eyes shall behold strange women, and thine heart shall utter perverse things. Yea, thou shalt be as he that lieth down in the midst of the sea, or as he that lieth on the top of a mast.

This text provided the temperance advocate with a hint of sexual immorality as well as drunken helplessness to emphasise the danger of drink, although the reference to strange women is now reckoned a misreading of the Hebrew. The image of the serpent provides an echo of the scene in the Garden of Eden, where the human fall is ascribed to the subtlety of the serpent. Our questions today must therefore be, what led to the demonisation of drink in this fashion? What role did organised religion play? Where did the  temperance and teetotal movements come from and why was alcohol policy one of the touchstones of nineteenth century politics in the United States and Britain?  We are now accustomed to seeing the debate being led by the public health lobby and those who disapprove of drunken disorder in our urban centres. The churches have a very low profile in the matter, as if ashamed of a puritanical past, and the religious opposition to alcohol consumption of any kind is led by the Muslim community. However, the language of temptation is still a part of drinking culture.

Modern historians of the temperance movement tend to approach their subject in a sociological fashion. A previous generation wrote their accounts from within and took, if not a religious, then certainly a crusading attitude. All observe a change in the drinking habits of the British from the 1830s onwards whose effects were felt well into the 1950s, when a large proportion of the population still claimed to be teetotallers. The prosperity of the post-war period, together with the relaxation of licensing laws, has increased the per capita consumption of alcohol in Britain, and boosted wine consumption in particular, since that time. There is not yet a panic, but the warnings of those engaged in public health have led to serious consideration of using price to control the mass consumption of cheap liquor. The emergence of the temperance movement in the early nineteenth century was part of a similar public concern about the effects of strong spirits on individuals. The stark difference is the nineteenth century emphasis on individual action to curb the effects of drink, indeed, temperance reformers were often sceptical of government intervention.

Alcohol has had a semi-mystical role in European culture. It has been part of sealing the bargain, toasting the bride and groom, seeing in the New Year and wetting the baby's head. The inn has been a convenient place for all kinds of public meetings, including those of religious organisations. It suited the first factory owners to use it as a pay office. Throughout history various forms of alcohol have been recommended for medicinal purposes, including strengthening the blood,or even combating gout. The warnings of its harmful effects are older than the book of Proverbs and continued through the centuries. Vows to abstain from alcohol can also be found throughout human history, usually in association with particular sects. Although public concern about excessive gin-drinking had emerged in the early nineteenth century,[Stephen O1]  the remedy was to make beer more readily available by widening the licensing system in the Beer Act of 1830. This was a classic use of a market remedy; make beer more accessible and people will shift from spirits, or 'ardent spirits' as they were known at the time, and there will be less drunkenness. This was not a propitious time for teetotalism to become popular. Today a person can avoid social awkwardness when refusing proffered alcohol by saying that they are driving or on a diet. In the 1830s this was not an option. Moreover, to refuse to seal a bargain with a drink, to demand to be paid at some place other than a public house, and to decline the friendship offered in a glass was to fly in the face of convention. You were marked out as eccentric at best and antisocial at worst; it took a particular kind of determination to drop out of the drinking culture. The natural thing to do in the nineteenth century when you wished to bring about social change was to form a society; in the case of changing public attitudes to drink forming a society had the added advantage of providing the company of like-minded people for social interaction.

The historians are agreed that a renewed call for temperance, not abstinence, surfaced in Britain and Ireland in the 1830s, boosted by a similar movement in the United States. In Ireland and Scotland and then in the North of England a Protestant minister or leading layman, either a professional or business man, would invite people to join in a society of those renouncing strong spirits in the interests of a temperate life-style. The aim was to reduce public drunkenness and other forms of alcohol abuse. This movement spread more widely when the Glasgow Temperance Society of 1830 attracted the support of the publisher William Collins,[Stephen O2]  who began to issue 'The Temperance Record', the first of a series of journals and tracts which promoted the cause.[2] Another person influenced by the Glasgow Temperance Society was Henry Forbes of Bradford, who promptly formed a society there.[3] Collins visited the Bradford Society and went on to Liverpool and Manchester, giving public lectures and encouraging the formation of local societies. He also travelled to London and it is probable that the British and Foreign Temperance Society there was formed after his 1830 visit.[4] These were all temperance societies, calling for abstention from strong spirits. 'British and Foreign' was, as it were, the brand name for a clutch of societies sponsored by Low Church Evangelicals, Dissenters and Quakers, to do good by distributing Bibles and tracts, providing schools and generally setting a good example to the poor. Some of these people deserved the strictures of Charles Dickens, who mocked their moralising, because it lacked any empathy with the poor they were supposed to be assisting. Commending an abstemious middle-class life-style to people on the breadline lacked credibility.

At this point all the historians, whether sympathetic to teetotalism or not, direct us to Joseph Livesey of Preston.[Stephen O3]  Livesey's is a classic tale of the autodidact, rising from obscurity. Orphaned at an early age he lived with his grandfather and worked as a weaver. As such people will, he propped his book up on his loom and followed a path of self-improvement. As an adolescent he came into contact with the Scotch Baptists, a small Protestant group with a Calvinist theology. They were totally opposed to church establishment. This marched with Livesey's political commitment to the Anti-Corn Law League, fighting the landed interests. In later life he took pride in having stood on platforms with Richard Cobden and John Bright. Here you have a man unlikely to accept the patronage of his so-called betters, striving to improve himself. Livesey began to trade in cheese and made enough money to set up as a printer in Preston in 1832. By 1834 he had become a publisher in his own right, circulating pamphlets and periodicals in support of his radical views, including temperance.

From 1831 to 1833 Livesey wrote and published a monthly magazine called The Moral Reformer. Here he developed his radical voice, castigating parliament for failing the poor and the churches for neglecting the Gospel. There were frequent references to intemperance and the need to change drinking habits. In 1833 Livesey wrote an article called 'The Great Delusion' which developed into a famous lecture on malt liquor, designed to show that beer was not as nourishing as people believed, an idea he derived from Benjamin Franklin. This was the first of many nineteenth century attempts to use science and statistics to bolster the temperance cause. In preparing this lecture Livesey talked to malsters, then collected the ingredients of beer together and paid a chemist to distil a pint of ale in order to establish what nourishment remained once the water was removed.[5] This was a head-on challenge to the popular belief that beer was essential for proper nourishment, especially for those whose work was physically taxing. Livesey's broad proposition was that alcohol was an enemy of national prosperity and that people drank it because they laboured under the delusion that it did them good. It took 6lb of barley to make a gallon of ale, Livesey maintained, and 5 ¼ lb was lost in the brewing process. In some early versions of his lecture Livesey would evaporate a quart of ale to make his point more vivid, contrasting what remained with a loaf of bread. He would also distribute barley gruel to show how much more nutritious the grain could be. Livesey's science does not bear modern scrutiny, principally because he did not allow for the sugars retained in brewing and the high calorific value of beer.[6] In his day he persuaded a great many people that he was right.

Livesey had a further motive in developing his lecture on malt liquor. He and his friends had realised that a pledge against the use of spirits was useless in reclaiming alcoholics and binge drinkers. They substituted with strong ale what they gave up in spirits. In the summer of 1832 one of the Preston group, James Teare, called for total abstinence from beer, wine and spirits, a proposition which split opinion. As a few members began to opt for this course of action Livesey drew up a formal pledge for people to sign. Seven men did so on 28 August 1832, though Livesey never claimed that they were the only people involved, or the first, and two of the seven later broke the pledge. However, it has enormous symbolic importance in the history of teetotalism. The form of words was as follows:[Stephen O4]

I do voluntarily agree to abstain from Ardent Spirits, Wines, Ales, Porter, Cider, and all other Intoxicating Liquors, (a) and not to give nor offer them to others (b) except as medicine (c) or in a religious ordinance (d).

Notice what was to become known as the 'long pledge' in clause (b), refusing to offer alcohol hospitably, and the other two clauses allowing people to make exceptions for medical or religious reasons. Signing this pledge admitted the applicant to the Total Abstinence Society of Preston. The pledge card which was issued was surrounded by religious texts, all warning against strong drink. Even at this early stage the card also claims that the 'fruit of the vine' which Jesus shared with his disciples at the Last Supper was 'essentially different from the intoxicating liquors found at the table of the Lord', thus anticipating struggles to come. The seven signatories were all from the artisan or labouring classes. It was a Preston convert of 1834, Richard, or 'Dicky', Turner,[Stephen O5]  encouraged by Livesey, who gave currency to the term teetotal to distinguish between complete abstinence from alcohol and temperance.[7]

Dr Brian Harrison, in the most widely-read of modern studies of the temperance movement, Drink and the Victorians, (Faber & Faber, 1971 and subsequent editions), contrasts the radicalism of Livesey and his teetotal friends with the more conventional Whig politics of the temperance advocates. This can be tested against examples other than Preston. In Derby the Temperance Society was first formed in 1833 by civic leaders on the Whig side. The local society was designated an auxiliary of the British and Foreign Temperance Society and was to consist of 'such persons as shall subscribe to the following Declaration:- “We agree to abstain from distilled spirits, except for medicinal purposes, and to discountenance the causes and practice of intemperance.”' The motive for forming the society was to combat 'the tendency of the use of ardent spirits to induce pauperism, disease, crime and immorality,' presumably among the lower orders of Derby. The meeting was held in the Lancastrian Schoolroom, associated with the British and Foreign School Society, and designed to offer education to those unable to afford it. The initiative had been taken by Revd W Fisher of St Peter's Parish Church in the town.[8] A local doctor, Douglas Fox, gave a lecture on the deleterious effects of too much alcohol, much of which might be repeated by a modern physician, especially the reference to over-eating as well as excessive drinking. He concluded with quotations from Erasmus Darwin, a late local celebrity, on the subject of drink.  A local grandee, William Leaper Newton, took on the treasurership, beginning with a collection of £4. 10s. 6d.[9]  It was the British and Foreign Temperance Society which invited Joseph Livesey to speak in London and then distanced themselves from him because of his teetotalism. Instead of delivering his Malt Liquor lecture to an audience of the great and the good, Livesey found himself literally drumming up an audience of thirty people who met in a room on Providence Row, Finsbury, at the poorer end of the City. The British and Foreign Temperance Society believed in setting a good example of moderation; Livesey believed in reclaiming drunkards.

The earliest surviving records of the Derby Temperance Society record eight members signing a teetotal pledge on 7 Dec 1836.[Stephen O6]  These were of quite a different class to those who met in 1833. Their occupations are given as a currier, a framework knitter, a silk throwster, a joiner, a brick layer, and three women described as wives. This change into something more like the Preston teetotal society is borne out by a newspaper account of a meeting on 4 December 1838, marking the second anniversary of the Derby Tee Total Society, which evidently took over the Temperance Society title at a later date. A procession walked from the Temperance Hotel to the Swedenborgian Chapel[Stephen O7]  for a sermon and then on via the Market Place to the Mechanics Institute, where 200 people sat down to tea. According to the organisers 'many reform'd drunkards, with their wives and smiling children, heightened the happiness of the scene.' The main speaker was not a local doctor but William Akers, a silk twister and a reformed drunkard, who had taken the pledge in June 1837. In the chair was John Shepherd, one of the original eight signers of the pledge, and a currier. This was an altogether more plebeian affair, as is testified by the collection of £2 8s 9d from a large audience, just over half the sum raised by the select middle-class meeting 5 years before. Harrison's point is well made. In the early twentieth century the historians of the movement wished to emphasise its respectability. This, and the modern view of temperance as a quaint habit in the past, has obscured its radical origins. In its teetotal form it was part of a lower class movement whose expression in Chartism and early trades unions is more familiar to the historian. The organisers of the Derby teetotal anniversary were under no illusions about their constituency when they reported that: 'The meeting closed amidst the warm feelings of a crowded assembly of about 1500 persons, mostly well dressed and respectably behaved.' [10]

The story of the two temperance societies in the one town cautions us against treating the temperance movement as monolithic. Take the example of one of the great ethical issues of our own day – world development. It is an area of competing organisations, even competing ideologies. The desired good of preventing people around the world dying of starvation is acknowledged by all but, human nature being what it is, there is no unanimity about how it may be tackled. As a great moral cause of the nineteenth century, the reduction of alcohol-related illness and poverty was seen as generally desirable, but the means to achieve it were hotly contested, a dimension to which we will return later. Religion played a large part in supporting the temperance movement, but the divisions within the religious world were replicated in that of temperance.[Stephen O8]  The Roman Catholic temperance movement, beginning in Ireland and spreading to Britain, is largely forgotten. In the middle of the century Father Mathew of Cork[Stephen O9]  called thousands of Catholics in Britain and Ireland to take abstinence pledges, drawing on the traditions of virtuous fasting. Cardinal Manning was a strong supporter of temperance among Roman Catholics.  In the Church of England the Evangelical party were the main allies of teetotalism, the rest opting for temperance if they took a position at all. The Evangelical party were also, of course, those most opposed to what they would have termed 'popery'. Any welcome they gave to Roman Catholic temperance was highly qualified. Furthermore, amongst the Evangelicals themselves there was a continuing controversy over millennialism. The millennium was reckoned to be the thousand year reign of Christ and his saints on earth before the end of all things. Pre-millennialists reckoned that Christ would come and initiate this blessed time, so individuals should reform their own lives in readiness. This marched well with Livesey's views and the promotion of the pledge. Post-millennialist believed that until the saints brought in their thousand year reign by the reformation of the world, Christ would not come. They were therefore more inclined to look for government action to support  individual effort. Legislation was what was needed to stop the slave trade, shorten factory hours, restrict public activities on the Sabbath and prevent prostitution. Drink was no exception, and as a social ill could not be left to individual response alone. These doctrinal fault-lines also ran through the Protestant Dissenters, such as Congregationalists and Baptists.

A further religious complication lay within Methodism, which tends to be pre-eminently associated with teetotalism. The Wesleyan Methodist hierarchy, led by the Secretary of Conference, Jabez Bunting,[Stephen O10]  were horrified when their members began to promote it. Politically conservative, the Wesleyans were already under attack from a radical wing and had begun to spawn splinter movements, such as the Primitive Methodists, starting in Staffordshire, and the Bible Christians in Cornwall. Wesleyan Methodism did not align itself with Dissenters, certainly not with the notion of congregationalism in church order, with members' meetings determining policy. Precisely because teetotalism was identified with trade unionism, Chartism and the Anti-Corn Law League, and had been taken up by breakaway Methodist groups, it needed to be resisted. The Wesleyan Methodist Conference of 1841 resolved to ban unfermented communion wine and not to admit teetotal speakers to its premises.[11] Breakaway groups were also suspect because they took people away from Christian orthodoxy. Beyond the Primitive Methodists or the Scotch Baptists lay the Christadelphians, the Seventh Day Adventists and the Mormons, each claiming to have recovered original Christianity. These groups embraced pre-millennialism and renounced alcohol as a worldly indulgence, leading people into sin. It is at this end of the theological spectrum that the ideas of the evils of drink are most pronounced, typically in the Holiness Movement.

Religious motivation for temperance was only part of the story. Joseph Livesey held anti-establishment views while remaining within a Christian denomination. In any case, he believed that a temperance campaign needed to build alliances with other progressive movements rather than rely on the churches. Other radical thinkers,  followers of Robert Owen, were developing his ideas of socialism, and rejecting religion altogether. Religion, like drink, was part of the chain which tethered the working man and prevented his advancement. The Owenite George Holyoake,[Stephen O11]  [1817-1906], who coined the term 'secularism' to describe a non-religious ideology, promoted temperance alongside socialism and co-operation, but was an opponent of teetotalism. So while it is true that the original energy and leadership of the teetotal movement lay among the working classes, with some religious support, it is not a simple picture. On the one hand we have the rational autodidact looking for self-improvement by disciplining life in new ways, even to the point of teetotalism; on the other hand we have the religious enthusiast, possessed of a new ideology with its own internal logic, which demands a life uncontaminated by alcohol.

There is a further cultural factor which plays into the portrayal of alcohol itself as sinful. The Romantic movement brought ideas of medieval chivalry into public consciousness. Popular culture embraced ideas of dragons to be slain and maidens to be rescued. In 1851 Longfellow published his version of The Golden Legend,[Stephen O12]  a popular tale of chivalry and love. The hero, Prince Henry, is tempted by Lucifer, who offers him a wonderful elixir to relieve his pains 'The Elixir of perpetual youth, called Alcohol in the Arab speech'.
            Behold it here! this little flask
            Contains the wonderful quintessence,
            The perfect flower and efflorescence,
            Of all the knowledge man can ask!

The angels weep as Prince Henry falls victim to the wine and tell him 'Its perfume is the breath
Of the Angel of Death.' This is the high cultural version of the fangs of the serpent. The religious impact of the Romantic movement has largely been seen in terms of the Tractarian recovery of medieval tradition and the triumph of the Gothic style in church architecture. In Evangelical theology it was mostly found by casting the life of faith in the heroic mould. There were heathen lands to be explored and redeemed; there were social evils to be combated; there were individual struggles with sin to be endured. The temperance hymnals in which we find that 'the fangs of the serpent are hid in the bowl' also challenged the heroic Christian to make a fighting stand for faith. 'Yield not to temptation, for yielding is sin; each victory will help you some other to win.' 'Dare to be a Daniel, dare to stand alone. Dare to have a purpose true, dare to make it known'. The religious convert, especially the teetotal religious convert, is encouraged to believe that they stand on the spiritual and moral high ground above the sinful world around them. In Longfellow's poem the moral dedication of Prince Henry ultimately succeeds in freeing his beloved one, Elsie, from the power of Lucifer. As the century progressed and the temperance movement grew, it became possible to believe that the power of individual commitment could lead to the elimination of beverage alcohol from society completely. The new heaven and the new earth for which Christians worked would be a teetotal one.

William Copeland Astbury, whose diary is set in this early period of temperance history, was one of those gentlemanly Evangelicals who commended temperance to others while continuing to drink moderately himself, convinced it was necessary for his health. Even he saw the necessity of teetotalism for those who were addicted to drink.[Stephen O13]  In his walks he came across a man called Harris, a former London City Missioner, nephew of a respected Worcester Congregational minister, Dr Redford, but separated from his wife and in spiritual turmoil. Astbury concluded that Harris needed to sign the pledge and made enquiries in Spa Fields, where Harris lived, to find where he could do so. This led them to Mrs Hopkinson's coffee shop on Little Saffron Hill where, on 28th August 1844, Harris duly signed up. We do not know if this was a successful resolution and if his life changed as a result.[12] What is clear is that while more radical people were adopting teetotalism as a way of life for many others, even among the Evangelicals, it was a course of action for the alcoholic or problem drinker. The lens of respectability through which we see historic teetotalism, even if we regard it as puritanical, had not yet been applied. Teetotalism was the refuge of the desperate or the ideology of the outsider. The sources of temperance history are largely the accounts prepared towards the end of the nineteenth century, when teetotalism had become virtually synonymous with temperance. Writing from that perspective the historians of the movement tended to under emphasise the continuing debate within the temperance movement between minimal drinkers and teetotallers throughout the middle of the nineteenth century.

The early years of the temperance movement were innovative. The promoters of the cause used two popular methods to good effect. Although printing had been invented centuries before it was not until the early nineteenth century that new printing technology and the industrial production of paper made books and tracts freely available. Livesey and Collins were only the first of many publishers of temperance periodicals and tracts. In a world without radio or television, let alone the internet, the cheap tract and the handbill was a way of promoting your interest. In the twenty-first century we call it leaflet distribution. It is still regarded as effective or we would not have so much paper to recycle. In the nineteenth century it was essential for publicising any new idea. The other essential was the public meeting. This we find less easy to understand today, when only the most controversial topics will draw a crowd. The nineteenth century world of public meetings, with set piece oratory and vigorous debates, is lost to our experience. This report of one of the most effective temperance speakers of the nineteenth century at a public meeting in Derby gives us a glimpse of a different world.

Mr Gough[Stephen O14]  is most happy in his illustrations, most forcible and witty in his reasoning, and most truthful in his assumptions and deductions. If he makes a digression, it is always to gain a definite object, which gained, he infallibly returns to the point whence he digressed, however long and absorbing the digression may have been. A condensed report of his “lecture” would not read very differently from that of any temperance orator of respectable talent, and even if reported fully – which it is, of course, out of the question for us to do – would convey but a very faint notion of the oration itself. Let it suffice to say, that for more than two hours, between 800 and 900 persons – often with scarcely a tearless eye among them – listened with the most absolute attention, and with the intensest interest, only broken at intervals by bursts of enthusiastic applause, while the orator depicted the horrors and ruinous effects, moral as well as physical, of the vice he had devoted his life to abolish, or, at least, lessen.[13]

John B Gough, an American who made two lecture tours around the United Kingdom in the 1850s, was a performer, widely admired for his ability to move an audience. He travelled over 60,000 miles and delivered over 1,000 lectures. These schedules had become possible by the growth of the railway system, which made journeying on such a scale feasible if daunting. It was possible to make a reasonable career as a free-lance lecturer, even when your motive was as much to persuade as to inform and entertain, just as it was possible for religious orators to open their own chapel and create a living for themselves. People paid to go to lectures, with a premium on the best seats, as in the theatre. The lecturing circuit was also open to women. The most celebrated woman temperance lecturer and writer was Mrs Clara Lucas Balfour[Stephen O15]  [1809-1878]. Part of her writing was sentimental, such as Morning Dewdrops, (1853) with a preface by Harriet Beecher Stowe, but she was also a proto-feminist, writing on the lives of famous women in history and the Bible. It is her misfortune to be overshadowed historically by her son, the Liberal MP and fraudster, James Balfour, who served fourteen years penal servitude for what would now be called 'financial irregularities', which deprived thousands of people of their savings. Her daughter, Cecile, married Dawson Burns, an early historian of temperance as well as a strong advocate. Clara Balfour and her husband were among the early converts to teetotalism in Chelsea, where they joined a Baptist church. An even more radical woman lecturer was Mrs John Stamp. She and her husband were cast out of Wesleyan Methodism because of their radical views. She was a confident speaker for teetotalism and took the opportunity to preach at Methodist chapels in Norfolk in 1845 whenever she could evade the superintendent ministers' banning of her. In Northwold, near Thetford, the society stewards asked Mrs Stamp to preach in the schoolroom, having been forbidden to allow her in the chapel, which they then locked against the circuit appointed preacher.[14] In Fakenham she preached for the Sunday School Anniversary in the chapel itself, the stewards having seen their way to a good collection.[15]

The venue for a lecture was critical. In Derby Gough's lecture was held in the newly opened Temperance Hall.[Stephen O16]  There were churches and church halls available to the newly emerging movement, but denominational competition made that a difficult option. Most public meetings were held in halls associated with hotels and taverns, clearly unsuited to temperance purposes. Theatres were even more questionable venues. The earlier Derby meeting of 1838 was held in the Mechanics Institute, which would have been run by people sympathetic to temperance organisations. To have one's own hall was not only to reduce one's dependency on others, it was to have a public facility where alcohol would not be served. The Temperance Hall was to become a place not only for direct advocacy of teetotalism but an alternative venue for concerts and lectures, free from the evils of drink and all the moral ambiguity which accompanied it. It is well known that Thomas Cook began his travel business by organising a railway excursion from Leicester to a temperance meeting at Loughborough in 1841. The same Midland Railway[Stephen O17]  played a part in the history of the Derby Temperance Society, who organised an excursion to Lincoln on August 29th, 1848, to raise funds for building a Temperance Hall. This was a sightseeing excursion, mainly to visit the cathedral, though the curious were assured there were many other places worthy of a visit, including the asylum and the penitent females' home.[Stephen O18]  For 5s 6d passengers might travel First Class; for 4s 0d one would still be under cover in Second Class, but the bulk of the excursionists probably travelled for 2s 6d in the open carriages. Assuming the weather was fine, and they were still in the party spirit, two temperance hotels in Lincoln were commended to them for refreshments. This was a long day, leaving Derby at 8.00 am and returning from Lincoln at 7.00 pm.

Temperance advocacy was not left entirely to lecturing. Public debate and drama were part of the programme. In the 1850s a mock trial of Dr Abstinence[Stephen O19]  was widely performed around the country. In the script Dr Abstinence was prosecuted by the Licensed Victuallers' Association and defended by the United Kingdom Alliance. Needless to say, the defendant was acquitted. In 1855 a widely reported public debate on teetotalism and prohibition was held in Derby between George Holyoake and Frederick Lees[Stephen O20] , which rehearsed the arguments in full. We shall return to Lees later. The public debate was a widely used method of advocacy for many topics, including religion. Even the plain lecture might be illustrated. The wonderfully named Dr R B Grindrod of Manchester lectured in Derby on four consecutive evenings in 1845 on 'The physiological effects of alcohol on the human system, particularly in reference to digestion and diet'. These were not simply talks. 'The Lectures were illustrated by upwards of one hundred large and splendid paintings, exhibiting the pernicious effects of alcoholic liquors on various parts of the human system' we are told.[16] By 'paintings' is meant a large sheet of canvas such as a scenic backdrop used in theatres. The magic lantern was also used, often with 'dissolving views' where slides merged with one another. Temperance organisations also took their part in the public festivities of the period, holding picnics and concerts during the summer months, with bands and tableaux and banners flying. On Whit Monday 1860 the Derby Temperance Society marched to the Arboretum, Derby's public park, a gift of the Strutt family, with bands from Nottingham and Ossett, as well as Derby.[Stephen O21]  The tableaux, designed to illustrate the moral improvement resulting from sobriety, included a printing press, a drinking fountain and the Good Samaritan. The local paper, unsympathetic to temperance, felt the Good Samaritan might be mistaken for a relentless Turk. The weather was cold and 'severely rough', which perhaps took the edge off the balloon ascents which were on offer.[17] Temperance societies had to show they could enjoy themselves as much as other people, whatever the weather.

A flier survives, giving the programme of lectures in the Temperance Hall, Derby, for the spring of 1855, in conjunction with the Working Men's Institute, supported by the Society of Arts in London. The Revd Thomas Hincks of Sheffield lectured on 'Microscopic Life in the Ocean', 'elaborately illustrated by specimens and drawings.' Llewellyn Jewit, FSA, spoke on 'Derbyshire Customs'. The Revd Rees Lloyd of Belper gave a talk on 'A Pilgrimage in Palestine', 'profusely and beautifully illustrated by dissolving views of the places rendered most interesting from their connections with the Life and Teachings of our Saviour.' Richard Keene, who became Derby's first photographer, gave an illustrated lecture on the 'History and Practice of the Art of Printing.' The Revd J Whewell of Belper offered only a plain lecture on 'Books and Reading', but the series was concluded by Mrs Clara Balfour herself, speaking on 'The Moral and Intellectual Influence of Woman on Society'. Here was a programme for aspirational members of the lower classes. In the early 1850s this is where temperance and teetotalism belonged.[18]What happened in Derby exemplifies the programme of temperance halls all over Britain.

The variety of temperance organisations is bewildering to modern eyes. Setting aside the hundreds of local and regional societies a trawl through the nineteenth century gives us the following: the Band of Hope, the Baptist Total Abstinence Society, the Blue Ribbon Army, the British and Foreign Temperance Society, the British League of Juvenile Abstainers, the British Medical Temperance Association, the British Temperance League, the British Women’s Temperance Association, the Catholic Total Abstinence League, the Central Temperance Association, the Church of England Temperance Society, the Church of Ireland Temperance Society, the Congregational Temperance Society, the Garibaldean Lifeboat Crews, the Independent Order of Good Templars, the Independent Order of Rechabites, the Sons of Temperance Friendly Society, the United Kingdom Alliance and many more. To these may be added temperance building societies, with temperance hotels and coffee houses[Stephen O22] , designed to provide an alternative to licensed premises. Not all these organisations had quite the same objectives, particularly when it came to political lobbying. Human nature being what it is there were differences of opinion, strongly expressed by powerful ideologues, and personal dislike leading to public quarrels.

One of Joseph Livesey's early converts had been Dr Frederick Lees[Stephen O23]  of Leeds. Lees shared Livesey's Anti-Corn Law sentiments and became a Chartist. Although he had studied law he never practised it, since he had independent means. Instead he spoke and wrote in favour of teetotalism. He argued a thorough case for the prosecution and at great length. Lees was an early exponent of the biblical hermeneutic which shows that the texts against wine specify the alcoholic variety and the texts in favour are describing a non-potent vintage. He was the antithesis of John Benjamin Gough, prolix, analytical and in favour of legal measures to curb the trade in alcohol. Lees believed that the law introduced into the state of Maine in the United States, imposing prohibition, showed the way the British temperance movement should pursue. Returning from America, full of enthusiasm for the new law,  Lees encouraged the Quaker Nathaniel Card to form a new organisation in Manchester in 1852 called the United Kingdom Alliance.[Stephen O24]  Its object was stated as 'To call forth and direct an enlightened public opinion to procure the total and immediate legislative suppression of the traffic in all intoxicating liquors as beverages.'[19] This was a controversial departure from the policies so far pursued by temperance societies. The Alliance was formed by ardent teetotallers, such as Lees, but opened its membership 'all persons approving of its object', imposing no requirement to sign the pledge.[Stephen O25]  Additionally, it turned its back on the approach of proposing licensing law revision, which other societies adopted, and made a bold pitch for total suppression of the trade. In doing so it shifted the devil out of the bottle and into the alcohol industry.

This radical departure did not go uncriticised. The Maine law was controversial amongst American temperance societies, so the lines of argument were already anticipated there. Amongst the critics was Gough who, along with others, expressed reservations based on what were to become well-rehearsed arguments about underground drinking and crime. In 1856 Gough commenced his second tour of England at the invitation of the National Temperance League. Lees now turned against Gough, armed with suggestions from Gough's opponents in America that he was a secret drinker. In early 1858, in a letter to a friend, he wrote that Gough had been seen 'hopelessly intoxicated'. Lees was playing the old trick of going for the man if you are not sure of winning the argument on its merits. The letter naturally came to Gough's attention and he sued Lees for libel. Lees could produce no evidence; Gough declared he only wished to clear his name and, in an out of court settlement, was awarded costs with 5 guineas damages. The bigger prize at risk was his income of £2,000 per annum from lecturing, as he declared in his evidence. The case poisoned personal relations between the two but also drew in the National Temperance League on Gough's side and the United Kingdom Alliance for Lees, leaving the two organisations at loggerheads for years afterwards.[20] This division weakened the influence of the temperance lobby in parliament. The League pursued a gradualist approach pressing for the gradual tightening of the licensing laws and increases in excise duties. The Alliance believed that the bigger prize of prohibition could be achieved in time and regarded licensing law reform as a diversion. Its stance cost it the support of people like Joseph Livesey, who had originally welcomed its formation, as well as those like Holyoake, who was opposed to its policies from the start. This polarity meant that, when in the late nineteenth century, politicians wished to bait the electoral hook with measures to attract the temperance vote, they were not able to find a proposition that commanded the assent of all parties. Eventually it was the exigencies of the First World War which led to severe licensing restrictions and a marked effect on national sobriety. The history of that period is too large to encompass in this lecture. Suffice it to say that while in the 1830s and 40s temperance support in parliament was confined to political outsiders, such as John Silk Buckingham and William Brotherton, by 1900 all the political heavyweights took the temperance lobby into consideration in their calculations.

It is evident that the British and American temperance movements supported one another and shared each other's strengths and weaknesses. A prominent American promoter of temperance was Elizabeth Cady Stanton[Stephen O26]  [1815-1902], who was also a strong advocate of women's rights and the emancipation of slaves. She was so principled that she opposed the amendments of the American constitution after the Civil War on the grounds that they offered equal civil rights to men but excluded white and black women. Mrs Stanton came from Seneca Falls in New York State, an area where the Independent Order of Good Templars originated in the 1850s. The Order adopted rituals and regalia and spread rapidly through the North East of the United States and into Canada. The Good Templar principles were total abstinence, opposition to the licensed trade, prohibition, public education about alcohol, and, I quote, 'the election of good honest men to administer the laws and persistence in efforts to save individuals and communities from so dreadful a scourge, against all forms of opposition and difficulty until our success is complete and universal.'[21] This was indeed a teetotal crusade. The success of the Good Templars in America was not matched in Britain until a Birmingham teetotaller, Joseph Malins[Stephen O27] , emigrated to Philadelphia and set up business as a painter and decorator. He was enrolled in a Good Templar lodge there, but after two years returned to Birmingham, anxious about his wife's health. Here, in 1868 he organised the first lodge in England and successfully promoted others, first in Birmingham and then more widely. By 1872 there were over 1,000 lodges in England and the IOGT went on to become one of the most successful temperance organisations in Britain and internationally. The early success was followed by a crisis, when in 1876 the British Grand Lodges seceded from the parent organisation in the United States over the question of black rights. The IOGT had been founded in a northern state and had adopted the principle of equal rights for black and white members. Its expansion into southern states had begun before the Civil War and lodges there were exclusively white. Southern state representatives were prepared to compromise by encouraging the formation of separate lodges for black people, so long as they had different rituals and passwords to the white lodges. Malins and the other British representatives were prepared to concede separate lodges but only if the rituals and passwords were the same. The dispute continued for two years and eveantually led to a split in the English Good Templars. One party, loyal to the parent organisation, was led by Frederick Lees and the other by Joseph Malins, who was dissatisfied with the compromises made. Inevitably, as Lees was involved, the matter came into the courts, to determine who were the true Good Templars in Britain. It was 1887 before the two factions were reconciled.

Early in the development of the temperance movement the question of how best to work with children arose. Dr Grindrod in his travels often lectured to children and is credited with forming the first Juvenile Temperance Association in Manchester in 1834. Mrs Anne Carlile of Dublin carried out a speaking tour for women and children in 1845, promoting temperance and suggesting that children's temperance societies be formed under the title 'Bands of Hope'.[22] A Leeds Band of Hope was formed in 1847 and the promotion of Bands of Hope in London and across the nation formally instituted in 1855. The first offices were provided by Stephen Shirley, who kept a temperance hotel, but the success of the movement across the United Kingdom led to its securing independent premises in Red Lion Square. A feature of Band of Hope life was the holding of huge rallies at the Crystal Palace[Stephen O28] , where the drink outlets had to be closed for the day. In 1871 a vast choir of assembled children sang 'such charming, hopeful and encouraging temperance songs as the Rev Charles Garrett's “We shall do it , by and by,” “Ye friends of Temperance, self-denying” &c, to the tune of the Marseillaise Hymn,”' and 'that pathetically touching temperance song, “Who will go for Father now?” and others.'[23] By the end of the nineteenth century scarcely a Sunday School in the country did not have an associated Band of Hope. At the same time the work amongst women begun by Ann Carlile had blossomed into the British Women's Total Abstinence Union, in association with the world body of abstaining women. Mothers were invited to bring up their children as abstainers by enrolling them as Little White Ribboners, a reference to the badge worn by women who were members. By the end of the nineteenth century the women's movement had secured middle-class and aristocratic support. Lady Henry Somerset who, with the American, Frances Willard, was one of the founders of the international women's organisation, the World Women's Christian Temperance Union, was followed by Rosalind, Countess of Carlisle.[Stephen O29]  A movement which had begun in back street chapels now held committee meetings at Castle Howard.

Thus yesterday's radicalism tends to become today's establishment. The impact of the early temperance movement which I have described was at its greatest by the end of the nineteenth century. The infant Labour party was heavily influenced by teetotallers, including Keir Hardy himself. Lloyd George's first parliamentary speech was an attack on the licensed trade. Leading suffragettes had cut their teeth on temperance politics. Temperance was a dimension of the Liberal Party and the Nonconformist denominations. For a few politicians, such as Sir Wilfred Lawson, it was a major platform; for a great many others it was an issue they took as read.[Stephen O30]  Although the glass might still conceal the serpent, as time passed the temperance movement realised that it was in a political conflict with vested interests. The serpent was now seen in the distillery and the brewery boardroom. Some small breweries, especially those owned by nonconformists, cut their losses and switched to the production of soft drinks for the growing market. The producers then, as now, saw themselves as providing pleasurable refreshment rather than filling the glass with which Lucifer traps the unwary. Their battle in the twenty-first century, along with the major food producers, is with the public health lobbies. Producers have to think of the bottom line and share-holders; governments have considerations of individual freedom to take into account. The public health lobby has to balance individual freedom against the costs of welfare provision. The question remains of whether it is possible to isolate and remedy the abuse of alcohol by individuals without affecting its general availability.

There is another nineteenth century temperance song, by Revd R Lowry, which contains a wonderful ambiguity. 'There's a serpent in the glass, dash it down.' Lowry intended the glass to be dashed to the floor; it could also be an ironic drinking song, embracing the serpent and dashing it down the throat. It may be that the mythologising of alcohol-related harm worked for some people and helped to break addictive habits or prevent them beginning. On the other hand it raises the emotional stakes associated with drinking. The marketing of alcohol, as with many such products, is as much about image as actuality. It may be that demythologising drink is the way to handle it in modern society. The irony is that the strictures of health critics have largely dictated the way alcoholic drinks are advertised not for their taste or nutritional effects but as life-style products. If there are lessons to be learnt from history we perhaps need to look to Joseph Livesey[Stephen O31]  rather more than John Benjamin Gough and the serpent in the glass. Livesey's malt liquor lecture anticipated much of the public health approach adopted today; his adoption of the pledge underlines the importance of self-discipline in life; his concern for the victims of drink was compassionate rather than judgemental. He wanted people to prosper. His approach avoided the sanctimoniousness which so often accompanies the moral reformer. The serpent was as capable of hiding itself in the temperance movement as in the glass. Like all history, temperance history reveals human weakness as well as human strength. It deserves revisiting and reassessing if we are to learn from it.

© Professor Revd Professor Stephen Orchard 2013

[1]              Gough was notorious for using other people's material without acknowledgement. It is possible that the original was written by E Paxton Hood.
[2]              History of the Temperance Reform, P T Winskill, 1881, p20.
[3]              Winskill p22.
[4]              Winskill p24f
[5]              Winskill p58
[6]              Harrison p121f
[7]              Winskill p 54
[8]              Fisher had first proposed the formation of a temperance society in a letter to the Derby Mercury 30 Nov 1831.
[9]              Derby Mercury7 August 1833
[10]           Derby Mercury23 January 1839
[11]           Winskill p392
[12]           Diary of William Astbury, vol VI p186.
[13]           Derby Mercury
[14]           Early Victorian Methodism, W R Ward, (OUP) 1976 p313.
[15]           Diary of William Astbury,Vol VII p255. www.astburydiary.org.uk
[16]           Derby Mercury, 28 May 1845
[17]           DerbyMercury, 30 May 1860
[18]           Derby Local Studies Library collection.
[19]           Winskill p304
[20]           The Water Drinkers, Norman Longmate, Hamish Hamilton [1968] p153f; Winskill p137
[21]           Winskill p467
[22]           Winskill p255
[23]           Winskill pp256-257
[Stephen O1]Hogarth Gin St
[Stephen O2]William Collins
[Stephen O3]Joseph Livesey
[Stephen O4]Pledge Card
[Stephen O5]Richard Turner
[Stephen O6]Derby Temperance Society
[Stephen O7]New Jerusalem Temple
[Stephen O8]Father Mathew
[Stephen O9]Father Mathew statue
[Stephen O10]Jabez Bunting
[Stephen O11]George Holyoake
[Stephen O12]The Golden Legend or Longfellow
[Stephen O13]Drunkard
[Stephen O14]John B Gough
[Stephen O15]Clara Balfour
[Stephen O16]Derby Temperance Hall
[Stephen O17]Derby Midland Railway
[Stephen O18]Excursion poster
[Stephen O19]Dr Abstinence poster
[Stephen O20]Holyoake v Lees poster
[Stephen O21]Arboretum poster
[Stephen O22]Hotel
[Stephen O23]Frederick Lees
[Stephen O24]UKA meeting 1858
[Stephen O25]Walter Trevelyan
[Stephen O26]Cady Stanton
[Stephen O27]Joseph Malins
[Stephen O28]Crystal Palace
[Stephen O29]Rosalind Carlisle
[Stephen O30]Sir Wilfred Lawson
[Stephen O31]Joseph Livesey


This event was on Mon, 25 Mar 2013


The Revd Professor Stephen Orchard

Professor Orchard was Director of Christian Education Movement for fourteen years before becoming Principal of Westminster College, Cambridge from 2000. He retired in 2007 and...

Find out more

Support Gresham

Gresham College has offered an outstanding education to the public free of charge for over 400 years. Today, Gresham plays an important role in fostering a love of learning and a greater understanding of ourselves and the world around us. Your donation will help to widen our reach and to broaden our audience, allowing more people to benefit from a high-quality education from some of the brightest minds.