The beginnings of the temperance movement

Providence Chapel,Stockton Heath
Providence Chapel Stockton Heath

Organised opposition to the use of alcohol began in the second quartile of the nineteenth century and temperance movements started to emerge in the 1830s. At that time the temperance movement advocated moderation in the use of alcohol; it did not ban it completely. Total abstinence was born out of Methodism and was the brainchild of the Independent Methodist Church. Fast to spread throughout English-speaking nations, the teetotal or total abstinence movement had quite local origins. It began in 1830 at Providence Chapel, Stockton Heath, reaching Runcorn just as the town was beginning to expand (this claim being supported by Reverend Tom Kenny in his book Stockton Heath - Pictures from the Past).

On the 5th April 1832 W. Walker, a stationer, who had an office opposite to the then Runcorn Town Hall published a pamphlet entitled "The Revival or Good News to the Church but Wo! to the Publicans and Beershops". In the introduction, reference is made to a "sudden and wonderful REVIVAL of religion at RUNCORN, HALTON, FRODSHAM and several other wicked places and villages, from which effects the most glorious for some, and to others no doubt very serious, are confidently anticipated:

Such are the following:


GOODBYE to DRUNKARDS! It is expected that this ugly brood of wriggling serpents will very soon die a natural death - not by pestilence but by famine - a famine of that poisonous liquid which keeps their vile propensities all alive, whilst it kills their souls and sends them, like Judas 'to their own Place'. This is bad news for PUBLICANS but good news for the public. The former, it is believed, have not a moment to lose in disposing of their licenses (for there's to be an end to all licentiousness), shutting up their shops and taking down the DUKE OF WELLINGTON, MY LORD NELSON, the RED, WHITE AND BLUE LIONS, ELEPHANTS, BULL'S HEADS, COCKS AND COWS and sundry other bright and beautiful configurations. Sell them for what they will bring to the farmers and others, to scare away rooks, etc. at this critical juncture of seed-time; and thus make them do a bit of good in their latter end, as amends for all the mischief they have done in their past condition to the souls and bodies of men..."

The pamphlet continues in this vein:

"The modest female when she walks abroad shall no longer be shocked by the DRUNKARDS' filthy lewd extravagances..."

"For this rejoice and be grateful O ye faithful and injured wives and daughters, this is reviving news for you who have smarted so long and bitterly under the vile and cruel tyranny of drunken HUSBANDS. How have your dear babies been well nigh famished for want of bread and starved for want of clothing, that their cruel wicked besotted fathers may gorge their stomachs with drink, and turn themselves into beasts and their carcasses into ale-taps..." "The drunkards are cured; let their families hail the tidings, let their wives be happy. There's a REVIVAL..."


The pamphlet concludes with a claim that the REVIVAL had taken place:

"Thanks to the REVIVAL for this grand purgation of raging, polluting and infernal evils. In the place of them shall surely spring up the meek, the Holy and the pacific virtues. The dwellings of the poor are henceforth the abodes of religion, of righteousness and of peace. In every cottage shall now be found an ALTAR and never a night or morning without the social sacrifice and the bended knee. Oh happy, favoured RUNCORN, HALTON, FRODSHAM and hamlets far and near, that experience this spiritual and felicitous resurrection!"

Although the contents of this pamphlet seem to be the unbalanced and distorted ravings of a religious fanatic, they do nonetheless paint quite a vivid picture of life in Victorian Runcorn and the extent to which drinking and drunkenness contributed to the squalor experienced by the working classes and generated so much alarm for the self-righteous.

Next page "The arguments over Temperance"