What the Temperance Movement did for us?

I have just done a live interview on Newstalk Radio, Dublin http://www.newstalk.com They had picked up on the press release for Scandal Salvation and Suffrage – The Amazing Women of The Temperance Movement from the publisher http://www.troubador.co.uk

The presenter, Tara, asked me a very good question – what had the temperance movement done for us and what lessons could we learn today from it?

I suggested that we could all follow the example of the women temperance campaigners featured in the book and be non-judgmental about people’s drinking habits. There are many reasons why people turn to alcohol. What we, as a society, need to do is to provide alternatives to the pub and activities which engage people without alcohol being provided.

Of course, on reflection, there are many more answers I could have given:

The movement did achieve a considerable reduction in the number of pubs in many towns by the end of the 19th century.

There was greater public awareness of the dangers, and the monetary and social cost, of alcohol abuse. Taking the pledge became socially acceptable – On April 6th 1915, The King took the pledge for the duration of the war, setting an example to all.

It brought about reforms in the drinking age for children, and got the serving of alcohol by youngsters banned.

The Church of England Temperance Society, supported by The National British Women’s Temperance Society (NBWTA) established a system of Police Court Missionaries who offered to work with the accused and help them lead more sober, and productive lives – this was the precursor to today’s Probation Service.

The movement promoted not just the ‘virtue’ of sobriety but those of honesty, trust-worthiness, concern for others and industry.

The temperance movement gave women a voice and demonstrated that they could organise themselves, campaign with vigour and make a difference to people’s lives.

Let me know what else I should have highlighted in my answer to this question.

Posted in alcohol abuse, books by Ros Black, British Women's Temperance Association, female temperance reformers, Feminism, government policy on alcohol, Radio programmes, Recreational pursuits, teetotalism, Temperance, Victorian temperance movement, women of the temperance movement, women's history, WWI | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Now on Facebook


I now have a facebook page. Hope you ‘like’ me.

Leave a comment

BBC Radio World War One at Home

I am delighted to be contributing to a programme for the BBC Radio World War One At Home series which is to feature the work of Dame Agnes Weston – The Sailors’ Friend.


Agnes Weston is one of the women featured in my new book Scandal Salvation and Suffrage – The Amazing Women of the Temperance Movement. Although Agnes was 74 when WWI broke out, she and her fellow workers at the Royal Sailors’ Rests in Plymouth and Portsmouth had a great deal to contribute to the war effort. They had an established operation to accommodate sailors and provide rest & relaxation in comfortable surroundings, with plenty of good food, tea and coffee but no alcohol.

Agnes and her partner Sophia Wintz were excellent organisers, with a meticulous attention to detail. A card index system helped them keep tabs on the thousands of sailors to whom they sent monthly letters. Ashore & Afloat, edited by Sophia and largely written by the 2 women, was a popular monthly journal with a circulation of almost 1 million during the war. The packing office at the Devonport Rest despatched over 60 tons of written material, and that’s without taking into account the mufflers, gloves, scarves, socks etc which were sent to grateful sailors.

As well as numerous hospital visits, Agnes would also write a personal letter of condolence to every widow or bereaved mother. After the Battle of Jutland, this involved other 5,000 letters of sympathy.

1-Image (263)

Agnes was a devout Christian who worked tirelessly for the benefit of sailors and their families. She advocated teetotalism with a passion, believing alcohol abuse was the cause of much distress and poverty. But her Sailors’ Rests were open to all soldiers and sailors, whether religious or not. And they weren’t sent away if they were drunk – just helped by coffee and kindness to sober up or crash out.

Agnes Weston was made a Dame in 1918 but sadly did not live long enough to receive her award in person. She was the first woman to be granted a funeral with full naval honours.

It’s great the BBC Devon are putting together a programme about her as part of the WWI At Home series. I believe it is likely to be aired in the autumn but I’ll let you know when I know.

Posted in Agnes Weston, alcohol abuse, Devonport, Navy, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Radio programmes, WWI | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


I was shocked to read that £435 million a year is paid out to people with alcohol or drug problems in welfare benefits. Mostly this is made up of sickness benefit or, as it is now called, Employment and Support Allowance. Some will qualify for Disability Living Allowance and many qualify for help with Housing Benefit and Council Tax relief.

This begs the question – why are we not doing more to tackle the problem of alcohol abuse? Is it time for a resurgence of the temperance movement?

I’m not a teetotaller but some of my research into the Victorian temperance movement has made me think about my own alcohol consumption. I’m probably what the Victorians would have called a moderationalist – someone who thinks my moderate drinking is OK. Sadly, for many people moderation is not a word in their vocabulary. An addict simply can not drink in moderation. Some may want help with their addiction; others reject all offers of help.

There are many organisations doing excellent educational work about the dangers of alcohol and drugs but in the grand scale of things these are small, often localised, initiatives. There seems to be no national awareness of the scale of the problem – and the huge cost to the individual, to their loved ones and to the state.

Where are the modern day equivalents of the temperance campaigners? Where are the modern day Lady Henry Somersets, the Agnes Westons or the Sarah Robinsons?

1-Image (260) Agnes Weston – The Sailors’ Friend

new penny magLady Henry Somerset

1-S RobinsonSarah Robinson – The Soldiers’ Friend

There are some high profile celebrities who have given up alcohol, often after a stint in rehab. But while the general public applauds their efforts, they see this as a matter of the individual’s choice not a symptom of a national (in fact world-wide) problem.

We may have moved on from Scandal Salvation and Suffrage  but perhaps we could all learn a thing or two from The Amazing Women of the Temperance Movement.

Posted in Agnes Weston, alcohol abuse, female temperance reformers, government policy on alcohol, Lady Henry Somerset, Sarah Robinson, Victorian temperance movement | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sarah Robinson’s ‘Little Keepsake’ book 1904

Thanks to Maria Lawless who contacted me through the site, I am able to bring you a photograph of a miniature book (approximately 6 cms by 5 cms) circulated, on request, by Sarah Robinson to mark her 70th birthday.

The inclusion of a photograph made the book especially popular with the thousands of soldiers who had benefitted from the accommodation and support she had provided through her Soldiers’ Institute and other establishments at Portsmouth. There was a small verse for each day of the year, all produced in a facsimile of Sarah’s own handwriting to give it that real personal touch.


Posted in female temperance reformers, Portsmouth, Sarah Robinson, Soldiers' Institute | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Scandal Salvation and Suffrage – The Amazing Women of the Temperance Movement

My new book is now available at a special early bird price

New Book Out Now

I’d love to hear what you think of the book. New Book Out Now

1 Comment



It will be available in all good bookshops soon, but the new book has now been printed.

It’s available from http://www.troubador.co.uk/book_info.asp?bookid=3087

and will shortly be available through this website at a special early bird rate

Posted in Agnes Weston, alcohol abuse, Band of Hope, books by Ros Black, British Women's Temperance Association, Catherine Booth, Elizabeth Lewis, female temperance reformers, Julia Wightman, Lady Henry Somerset, Rosalind Howard Countess of Carlisle, Sarah Robinson, women of the temperance movement | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


1-sr inst 3

Sarah Robinson was not a woman to hide her light under a bushel!

As you can see from this photograph of her Soldiers’ Institute in Portsmouth, which she established in 1874, she proclaimed its use far and wide with huge white letters on the roof.

She had faced a great deal of opposition when trying to set up the Institute. Surprisingly, perhaps, some of this opposition came from the military chaplain, Archdeacon Wright. The archdeacon did not appreciate a mere woman stepping on his toes – for Sarah wanted her Institute to be a place of worship as well as a homely, alcohol-free welcome for soldiers.

She even relinquished a site offered to her for the Institute by the war office when conditions were suddenly imposed that there should be no religious element to its work. The Archdeacon had nobbled the Duke  of Cambridge on his visit to the troops!

Insistent that the Institute would be a house of God or she wouldn’t be involved in it, Sarah chose instead to purchase another site – that of the old notorious Fountain Inn. It’s ironical that so often old pubs proved the perfect site for temperance activities.

Archdeacon Wright continued to be obstructive to Sarah’s work. This must have caused her so much frustration. Yet in the end she had to admit she was almost sad to see him leave the area (he was passed over for the role of Chaplain-General) because his opposition had generated so much publicity for the Institute.

Posted in Army, British Women's Temperance Association, female temperance reformers, Portsmouth, Sarah Robinson, Soldiers Friend | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment


1-S RobinsonLet me introduce you to Sarah, another great character who is featured in my forthcoming book Scandal, Salvation & Suffrage – the Amazing Women of The Temperance Movement (due out 28th March 2015).

Sarah overcame her physical disabilities to set up a Soldiers’ Institute in Portsmouth in 1874. You might have expected this to earn her some appreciation from the town folk but in fact she was often harangued because she spoke out about the appalling state of the town, especially when soldiers and sailors returned home with fat wage packets and squandered the money on beer & brothels rather than sending it home to their families. And, of course, the publicans of the town didn’t appreciate her efforts. But many soldiers did. They enjoyed the warm, cheerful surrounds of the Institute. Even if they weren’t particularly religious, they were prepared to listen to the occasional talk or hymn to take advantage of the facilities the Institute afforded when they were on shore.

Sarah had a great sense of humour and a real knack of sending herself up. She wrote 3 autobiographical books – the final one My Book in 1914 in her 80th year. In the preface to the book she said that “after writing one book to suit the publishers, I would write a second to please myself … In this one, the size, the type, the cover, and the many pictures, should be as I liked!” That’s quite a good advert for self-publishing, yet it was written some 100 years ago.

I’ll share some of Sarah’s stories with you over the coming weeks.

Posted in Portsmouth, Sarah Robinson, Soldiers' Institute, Temperance, Victorian Do-Gooders, women's history | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Elizabeth Lewis – a temperance campaigner who inspired one small step in the battle for sexual equality

1-2013-11-04 11.23.31

Mrs Elizabeth Lewis of Blackburn

Her first efforts at public speaking ended in tears, yet Elizabeth Lewis went on to become a dedicated campaigner for temperance. She became so confident that teetotalism offered the best solution to many social ills that she even waylaid the Prime Minister, William Gladstone, on his way home from church to press her case. Mrs Gladstone actually agreed to meet with her, although the prime minister remained unmoved.

Elizabeth lived in Blackburn and, supported by her husband, set up a mission there. She became a member of The British Women’s Temperance Association. Joseph Livesey, known as ‘the father of teetotalism’ gave her the sobriquet ‘The Drunkard’s Friend’.

But the drink trade did not appreciate her efforts. One publican (no doubt  angered by the open-air services she would hold outside his premises) spread rumours about her, effectively accusing her of adultery with her young missionary. In 1889, the law did not provide redress in such cases. Casting aspersions on a woman’s morals  was insufficient grounds for slander – some pecuniary loss had to be proved.

Elizabeth, through her connections in the temperance movement, was able to engage a QC, Mr Gulley. He not only secured her damages, arguing her mission was financially prejudiced; he subsequently pushed through The House of Lords an amendment to the law giving women the same rights as men when accused of adultery or unchaste behaviour.

So hats off to Elizabeth Lewis, temperance reformer. She not only helped a great many men and women improve their lives; opposition to her work brought about a small, but important step, on the long road to equality of the sexes.

Posted in alcohol abuse, British Women's Temperance Association, Elizabeth Lewis, female temperance reformers, Feminism, sexual equality, teetotalism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment