Temperance in Norfolk and Norwich

This week I’ve done a talk about Temperance, with a nod to the local societies in Norfolk and Norwich. Why temperance? Well, it’s Dry January and the library ties in with various public health campaigns all year round. The Heritage Centre tries to join in with a historical angle where possible, so I was asked if I could contribute something. 

The subject prepared for our consideration this evening I trust, will be found equally suited to the young and the aged. To people of all classes. To individuals, to families, to villages, towns, cities and nations – aye – and to the whole world.

That subject is my friends – the importance of sobriety illustrated by the evils resulting from Intemperance! Let us therefore attend to it – for it is a subject that anticipates the production of much good and not a particle of evil, having for its aim and end that of reclaiming the habitual drunkard, and rescuing his wife and family from poverty and wretchedness!

There is a principle in human action that delights in doing good, actuated by that principle I stand before you this evening as the humble advocate of Temperance, earnestly beseeching those who by habits of excess have reduced themselves and families to poverty, while utter ruin stares them in the face! And thoughtless men, whose prospects are marred and their characters impaired but who may, by a timely abstinence from intoxicating liquors, yet become tender husbands, affectionate fathers and valuable members of society!

— NRO; MC 500/72, 762X4 (J Dawson)

So opens ‘a member of Norwich Temperance Society’ in an undated speech (likely mid to late 19th century). The full text can be found at the Record Office under the above reference. We’ve all seen the popular Hogarth prints illustrating the evils of drink, but much of the formal ‘movement’ against intoxicating liquor originated during the Victorian period. The Heritage Centre has plenty of sermons, lectures and the like tackling the demon drink before that date, but organised societies appeared in 1829, swiftly followed by temperance hotels (1833) and magazines (1834).

The Band of Hope was first conceived in 1847 in Leeds. The idea was to teach children about the importance of teetotalism, saving lives in the process. Coverage grew quickly through the 1850s and meetings were still happening all over the country into the 20th century. We know that the Great Yarmouth Primitive Methodist circuit had Band of Hope groups in Yarmouth, Gorleston, Belton, Filby and many more villages. We also know how many pledges/members were active in each one at the time (in this case 1900-1). The Record Office has many examples of these free church records, and they often include the names of individuals contributing to the societies as well as the ‘Corresponding Secretaries’. 

NRO; FC 16/267

NRO; FC 16/267

Hot on the heels of the Band of Hope came the United Kingdom Alliance (1853). Unlike other groups, who preferred persuasion, the Alliance aimed to procure “the total and immediate suppression of the traffic in all intoxicating liquors or beverages”. Ultimately, they failed in this endeavour, but there is a Norwich link here to Edward Burgess, who ran the city’s Temperance Hotel, and published ‘Spotlight’, the local satirical radical press. One of the Burgesses, Edward’s brother William, can be found in the census in 1861 listed as their agent. Additionally, one of the hotelier’s children was names ‘Wilfrid Lawson Burgess’ – I suspect in honour of Sir Wilfrid Lawson, the Alliance’s chief spokesperson.

Over the next couple of decades along came the Sale of Beer Act (1854 – quickly repealed), the Church of England Temperance Society (1862), the Salvation Army (1864), The League of the Cross (1873) and the British Women’s Temperance Association (1876). Shortly thereafter a local lady, Elizabeth Lomas, was keeping a diary, now in the Record Office. This gives us an insight into the local temperance movement and just what she got up to throughout 1878. So what did a teetotal woman get up to in the 1870s? Well, according to her diary, Elizabeth, known as Bessie, drank a lot of tea and went on lots of walks. She attended temperance meetings and a lecture in St Andrew’s Hall to hear none other than Sir Wilfrid Lawson. Like so many others, she looked forward to Valentine’s Day (for which she received a beautiful white scarf from her sweetheart), and she had a go at rowing. For more from Bessie, find the diary at MC 230/2, 678X6.   

Interestingly, Bessie’s husband Alfred (they married in late 1878 and honeymooned in Lowestoft) worked at Colman’s. Jeremiah James Colman (1830-1898), Liberal MP and businessman, was himself interested in temperance. He not only talked the talk, but opened coffee houses in Corton and Trowse. Perhaps Bessie (or Alf at least) frequented one or two! The Colmans were not the only famous Norwich family with links to the movement. Samuel Jarrold was treasurer of the Norwich Temperance Society, find examples of his correspondence in NRO, JLD 1/4/1/1. Both families were well known for being nonconformist, and the Free Churches, as we have already seen, had particularly strong links to temperance. 

During the course of researching temperance I had a little look at registrations of the name ‘Temperance’ which at one time was a fairly common girls name (I used FreeBMD and tried not to count double keyed entries, first names only):

Birth Registrations for 'Temperance' 1837-1930

Birth Registrations for ‘Temperance’ 1837-1930

As you can see, the overall trend is one of decline. Possibly because as the name ‘Temperance’ took on more political significance, rather than the Victorian aspirations of moderate manners, only those committed to the ’cause’ would use the first name? Alternatively, perhaps it was just a casualty of changing naming trends.

You may know already that I wrote an MSc dissertation on anti-vaccination activity in Norwich. There are significant links between the two movements, not just locally but nationally. For example, many anti-vaccinators wanted to appear sober and religious – fitting perfectly with abstinence – eschewing booze and tobacco for education, reading and culture; just like Bessie, who spent evenings reading Ivanhoe with Alfred. Some even feared that the process of vaccination, especially before arm to arm fell out of favour, meant adding a drunkard’s blood to their child’s system, turning that into a being that would crave the demon drink, despite the abstinence of its parents.  

In Norwich, the Livingstone Hotel (the city’s temperance hotel, run by the Burgess family) was the venue of the preliminary meeting for the Norwich and Norfolk Anti-Compulsory Vaccination League. The building has disappeared from the city centre now but was probably a temperance hotel from the late 1870s until just before the First World War. The 1881 census showed just three guests lodging with head of family Edward Burgess, his wife, children and staff. The building had various uses before being demolished to make way for a new Littlewoods store in the mid 20th century (it’s now Primark). 

Should you not wish to stay in Norwich, there were temperance hotels and coffee houses all over Norfolk by 1888, including King’s Lynn and Great Yarmouth. Hawes’ Handbook to Temperance Hotels also notes places to stay in Dereham, Diss, Aylsham, Wells, Fakenham and Hunstanton.

The Carlton Temperance Hotel, Great Yarmouth, c 1907. With thanks to Norfolk Library and Information Service (click the image to be taken to www.picture.norfolk.gov.uk) 

There is so much more that can be found about the temperance movement in Norfolk – and many of the sources make great genealogical records – containing as they do, names, dates and addresses. Even the pamphlets at the Heritage Centre often include lists of subscribers which may be useful in finding your own campaigners and abstainers. I’d encourage you to have a look!

Thanks for reading.

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