Having a Dry January? Chris Nickson tells us about the Temperance Movement in Leeds and their efforts to create a teetotal society.
The festive season is over, and after the excesses a few people might be attempting Dry January. We hear so much about the amount of drinking these days and the effect it has, but it’s nothing new in Britain. The concern dates back centuries, especially for the working man.
But in Leeds during the 19th century, there were attempts to counter the amount of alcohol consumed, particularly the problems of the working class, where men would drink up their pay, leaving nothing for food, clothing, or even rent.
The Temperance Movement took hold in the 1820s around England, and the Leeds Temperance Society was formed in 1830, wanting “the entire suppressing of the use of distilled spirits, except where recommended medically and to check the immoderate use of all other kinds of liquor.” But it proved to be a stuttering beginning, not really taking hold for another seven years, when the Society began publishing the Leeds Temperance Herald.
Even then, it wasn’t a success. Drinking was too much a part of the national culture. But the second attempt, in 1847, aimed to stop the drinking before it began, by targeting children. The Band of Hope had its beginning at a meeting just south of Leeds Bridge. This sign, commemorating it, stands next to the blue plaque that marks where Louis Le Prince took the first moving pictures 40 years later. Founded by the splendidly-named Reverend Jabez Tunnicliffe (who was also the Recorder at Beckett Street Cemetery), it wanted to “prevent the youth of our land from becoming victims to the drinking vices of the age.” His inspiration was an alcoholic who died before his eyes, telling him to warn children away from strong drink, and he was urged along by Ann Carlyle, then 72 years old, who gave the group its name. Children took the pledge never to drink alcohol.
This idea spread; by 1855 it was a national movement, and in just over 20 years there were 38 Bands of Hope all around the country, and more would form in other parts of the Commonwealth, with a total of five million members worldwide by 1935 (it’s now known as Hope UK).
It was joined in the 1860s by the British Workman, which opened alcohol-free public houses where men could go. The first in Leeds was on Fountain Street, soon joined by another in Hunslet, with an eventual reputed total of 15 pubs here. The British Workman expanded to include coffee houses and even hotels. Leeds had several Temperance Hotels, including premises on Boar Lane and Briggate.
By the Second World War, though, the Temperance Movement had largely faded into memory as any kind of force, and the social changes since then have greatly altered the drinking patterns. Still, it’s something to contemplate as you look at that bottle, isn’t it?
Chris Nickson is the author of several historical crime novels set in Leeds. His latest, On Copper Street, the fifth in his Inspector Tom Harper series, takes place in 1895. It will be published in February. You can pre-order it here.
The day after his release from prison, petty criminal Henry White is found stabbed to death at his terraced home on Copper Street. Pursuing enquiries in a neighbourhood where people are suspicious of strangers and hostile to the police, DI Tom Harper and his men find the investigation hard going. If anyone knows anything about Henry White’s murder or the robbery that landed him in gaol in the first place they are unable or unwilling to say.
At the same time, acid is thrown over a young boy in a local bakery in a seemingly unprovoked attack.
Praying for a breakthrough, Harper knows that he must uncover the motive in each case if he is to have any chance of catching the culprits. One thing he is certain: if he doesn’t find answers soon, more deaths will follow.