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temperance


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A powerful social and political force in Victorian Britain. Though it did not succeed in eradicating drink, it helped to control it. Between 1831 and 1931, spirit consumption per head p.a. fell from 1.11 gallons to 0.22, and beer from 21.6 gallons to 13.3. Direct propaganda was not the only factor in this change: others included growing respectability, improved amenities, more comfortable homes, and a decline in occupations of heavy labour where drink was a necessity. The chief support of the temperance movement was the dissenting bodies, who carried it as an issue into the Liberal Party, which adopted local option on the sale of drink as part of its Newcastle Programme in 1891.

The leading organizations were the British and Temperance Society (1831), the British Association for the Promotion of Temperance (1835), the National Temperance Society (1842), and the United Kingdom Alliance (1853). One of the best publicized groups was the Band of Hope, founded in Leeds in 1847 to appeal to children. A trusted technique was to persuade men to ‘take the pledge’—an action first agreed in 1832 by seven workmen in Preston. The movement often took the form of a religious revival and was referred to as a crusade. Drink was ‘the demon’, the pledge echoed baptism, and the solemn reading of the names of backsliders was a form of excommunication.

Subjects: Regional and National History.


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