The Temperance Movement

“Let the State once realise that the destructive influence which alcoholism exerts upon life and property is as curable as other diseases, and asylums will be established for the treatment of it, and laws enacted to protect society against a scourge which destroys more lives, ruins more souls, desolates more hearths, than cholera, small-pox, or typhus fever, for which such abundant provision is now made” (Dalrymple, 1872).

Image courtesy of the Lucerna Magic Lantern Web Resource,

Alcohol was blamed for poverty, crime, immorality and poor health. Motivated by both religion and social conscience, the Victorian temperance movement was borne. Its aim was to campaign against the consumption of alcohol, promote abstinence and educate the public on the perils of overindulgence. Temperance meant different things to different people – to some, moderation; to others (like the Salvation Army) total abstinence. The introduction of grocers’ licenses in 1861 made alcohol easily accessible and beer was stocked alongside food at the local shop. The Temperance Movement was a social movement formed of organisations included the Rechabites, UK Alliance, and Band of Hope (for children) amongst others. Pamphlets, slide lectures, drawing room meetings and conferences all promoted the temperance cause.

Charles Booth commented in the 1890s that most temperance societies were connected with some Christian church or mission, and that “there are few churches or missions which do not interest themselves in work of this kind” (Booth, 1902). Although temperance is often synonymous with non-conformism, in 1879 the Wesleyan Methodist Hugh Price Hughes urged non-conformists to “look to their laurels – the Church of England is taking the wind completely out of their sails” (Harrison,1971).

The Church of England Temperance Society (CETS)

The Church of England Temperance Society (CETS) was established in 1862 and provided a range of services for the reclamation of women who had succumbed to drink. It operated five inebriate homes, only one of which was for men. The Woman’s Union was a financially independent, self-funding branch of CETS, whose aim was “to organise bands of women who will work in some way for the temperance cause and assist and supplement the general work of…CETS” The Woman’s Union employed ‘mission ladies’ to undertake home visits to inebriate women, and set up homes for residential treatment (Black, 2011), which were all staffed by women. One of CETS most significant achievements was the Police Court Mission, set up in 1876, which was the forerunner of today’s probation service. The first missionary was in London, and was appointed to work exclusively with inebriate cases. CETS also set up a van mission, like a mobile library, to take the temperance message to isolated areas.

The Rechabites

The Rechabites were a friendly society founded in 1835, becoming a national organisation in 1855 and promoted total abstinence. They formed to provide places where men could pay their friendly society dues without having to go to the pub to do it. Branches were called tents, as the nomadic biblical Rechabites (who were abstainers) lived in tents. To join the Rechabites, a member had to sign “The Pledge” promising that neither they nor their family would drink alcohol.

The Salvation Army

The Salvation Army was also active in the temperance movement, promoting abstinence since it was founded in 1865. As time went on, they increasingly promoted total abstinence and by 1882 all members were required to sign a covenant committing to total abstinence. The Salvation Army set up several inebriates’ homes for women and also a home for men.

Band of Hope magic lantern slide, courtesy of Lucerna Magic Lantern Web Resource,

There were also a number of single-issue temperance groups: the Band of Hope (founded in 1847), the Blue Ribbon Army, the National British Women’s Temperance Association (NBWTA; later known as the White Ribbon Association); and the United Kingdom Alliance.

Temperance campaigns had encouraged 10% of the population to take the pledge by 1901, and the number of pubs was decreasing.


Black, Ros (2011) Duxhurst – Surrey’s Lost Village, Arbe Publications
Booth, Charles (1902) Life and Labour Inn London , Third Series, VII (1902 edition), p20, in Harrison B (1971) Drink and the Victorians, Faber & Faber, London
Harrison B (1971) Drink and the Victorians, Faber & Faber, London
Dalrymple, D (1872) Asylums for Drunkards. Macmillians Magazine (xxvi): 110-116