Friday, November 25, 2011

Getting the party started!

1912 William Hooper photograph of United Gathering of Band of Hope at GWR Park
With the party season getting into gear, no doubt few people will be paying much heed to their recommended units of alcohol consumption, despite the continued warnings of health experts.

Mid 19th century social reformers also attempted to tackle the problem as concern grew over alcohol and its effects upon the working class.While the drinking habits of the middle class were largely a private affair, those of the working class tended to be more public.

With the cost of picking up the financial pieces falling upon rate paying businessmen and traders, it is hardly surprising that the temperance movement was initially led by middle class social reformers and philanthropists.

The original tenet of the movement was that alcohol in moderation was acceptable and members continued to imbibe wine and beer, abstaining only from spirits. Out of the early temperance movement evolved the hard line teetotalism where members pledged to abstain from all alcohol for life.

The Band of Hope was a temperance organisation for working class children. Children over the age of six could join and meetings consisted of music, slide shows, competitions and lectures on the importance of total abstinence.

The non-conformist churches were particularly active in the temperance movement, most notably the Salvation Army founded in the East End of London in 1865. Surveys taken during the 1880s revealed that 1,000 of the 1,900 Baptist ministers were total abstainers as were 2,500 out of 3,000 Congregationalist ministers and by 1900 approximately one tenth of the total adult population of Britain were non drinkers.

Late 19th century industrial Swindon numbered some 18 temperance organisations, among them the GWR Temperance Union with around 3,000 members.

The Swindon Temperance Cavaliers met weekly at the Central Dining Rooms in Regent Street while the more sombre sounding Sons of Temperance, "The True Friendship" division held their meetings at the Liberal Rooms in Commercial Road on alternate Thursdays at 8 pm.

One family particularly active in Swindon's temperance movement was the Pressey family. Born in Hungerford, George was master at Westcott School and Vice President of the Swindon and District United Temperance Council. His Swindon born wife Sarah, daughter of John Bell, a wheel fitter at the GWR Works, was treasurer of the Swindon branch of the British Women's Temperance Association.

In the 1890s Swindon membership of the women's association numbered 250 with Miss Ellis President in 1899. The women held a monthly public meeting at the Liberal Hall while members met more frequently.

Temperance hotels and public houses also became popular and a local trade directory dated 1895 lists Mrs Annie Thomas as proprietor of the Temperance Hotel in Bath Road while Ernest Chappell Richards ran the Wellington Temperance & Commercial Hotel at 13 Gloucester Street. According tot he advertisement the Wellington was 'close to station' with 'commercial, smoking and writing rooms, ladies coffee room, boots meets all trains.'

The temperance movement continued to be active into the 20th century while legislation was introduced during the First World War to restrict drinking.

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