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Hastings, St Leonards,
Rye & Lewes



The Temperance Lobby in Hastings 1840-1940

                                                                          by David Russell                                                      

A national temperance campaign started in Preston, Lancashire in 1832 when a group of working men pledged to abstain from spirits, probably as a reaction to the abuse of cheap gin. Three years later in 1835 the British Association for the Promotion of Temperance started campaigning for total abstinence from all alcohol and its members started describing themselves as teetotal.

The word ‘teetotal’ stems from this time. A member of the Preston group had a stutter apparently and when speaking called for ‘t-t-t-total abstinence!’

In 1847 the Band of Hope was formed in Leeds, ‘to save working class children from the perils of drink’. Its members were required to abstain ‘from all liquors of an intoxicating quality, whether ale, porter, wine or ardent spirits’. The temperance lobby was not united and there were differences from the beginning. While some believed in abolition, others held to the idea of ‘moral suasion’ persuading drunkards to give up. Others accepted that alcohol should only be allowed as a form of medicine. The temperance message was picked up early in Hastings and included all three positions.

The first signature in the St Leonards Temperance Society Pledge Book is dated 1840 and by 1848 the Observer was complaining that: ‘Licensed houses are now multiplied far beyond the requirements of sobriety. Taverns and tap rooms are the haunt of drunkards and are hotbeds of vice.’ This was twelve years before licences in Hastings peaked in 1860.

The United Kingdom Alliance, formed in 1853, was inspired by developments in the USA and attempted to promote a law in Britain banning alcohol. This hard line position was supported by the Quakers, the Salvation Army, the Baptists, the Congregationalists and the Good Templars.

Following the Alliance, Hastings Tory MP Patrick Robertson delivered a petition to Parliament in 1855 demanding the closure of pubs and beer houses on Sundays. The petition was signed by 760 Hastings residents who supported the Sale of Beer bill. Although the bill became law it was quickly repealed following widespread rioting mainly in London.

A religious dimension of temperance came with the formation of the Church of England Temperance Society which had 13 branches in Hastings. The CETS attempted to recruit members who drank ‘moderately’ and then try and persuade them to abstain. Their definition of a moderate drinker was one who drank only at meal times.

A gender dimension came in the form of the British Women’s Temperance Association set up in 1876 to persuade men to stop drinking. Most temperance supporters in Hastings have been women, often as part of what some describe as a branch of feminism. The strong temperance movements of the 19th and early 20th centuries found support among women who were opposed to domestic violence associated with alcohol abuse, and to the large share of household income it could consume, which was especially burdensome to the low-income working class.

A political dimension emerged in 1884 with the foundation of the National Temperance Federation, associated with the Liberal Party. Brewers and publicans were generally Conservative. From the 1860s the town had several temperance hotels, restaurants and coffee houses. There were Temperance Hotels in St Leonards, Silverhill, Old Town, Clive Vale and the town centre. The biggest was the Harold Hotel, Harold Gardens in Pinders Shaw. It had an attached temperance tea garden where very successful fêtes were attended by thousands with facilities for ‘dancing for several hundred’. However, its proprietor William Rogers (formerly a Good Templar) changed his mind about temperance in 1879 and applied for a licence and again in 1880, which was refused. The magistrates were puzzled: ‘How can a temperance man apply for a licence? they asked. ‘I’ve changed my diet,’ he replied.

The magistrates were further confused when another former Good Templar built a public house (to be called the Foresters Arms) in nearby Pindars Road in 1878. His licence applications were also turned down until in 1881 the Foresters Arms was granted an Off Licence. The area, formerly Clive Vale Farm, had been purchased by the National Freehold Land Company, divided into plots for ‘forty shilling freeholds’ enabling freeholders to get the vote. The land company was founded by two Liberal MPs Cobden and Bright, who were temperance campaigners. There might be a connection between the company and the granting of licences in Clive Vale.

Canon Wilberforce laid the foundation stone for the Albert Temperance Hotel on the corner of Albert Road and Queen’s Road in 1881 but by 1885 the hotel was bankrupt. The shareholders complained there ‘were too many societies, missions, lodges and halls’ in the town competing for temperance business. The hotel vastly increased its takings when it started serving alcohol to customers from the newly opened Gaiety Theatre next door.

British Workman temperance ‘pubs’ started in Leeds in 1867 and spread rapidly around the north of England. The first British Workman in the south opened at 105 Bohemia Road in 1871 and was known as British Workman no. 1. About 40 people ‘mainly working men living in the neighbourhood,’ drank tea at the opening meeting which proposed setting up a sick fund, a drum and fife band, bible classes and a flower show. It was followed by British Workman no. 2 in Hollington in 1873, British Workman no. 3 in Castle Road in 1878 and British Workman no. 4 this time a Coffee Tavern, on the corner of Waterworks Road in 1885 (now the lighting shop). By this time the tag: ‘temperance pub’ had been dropped and the organisation had become very similar to the Salvation Army.

The Good Templars, a hard organisation, were formed in 1867. In the 1880s they met weekly at the British Workman no. 1 until 1895 when the building became the new Bohemia Police Station. The Good Templars then moved to Park Road Methodist Church. It was one of at least five lodges in the town, others being the Halton Lodge in Lennox Street, the Saxon Lodge at the Mission Hall, Beach Terrace, the Excelsior at St Mary’s Hall, Castle Road and the Central in the Beehive Dining Rooms, Pelham Street. Their policies were extreme. They spent their time campaigning for prohibition and thought alcohol should be illegal and all licensed premises closed down.

A branch of the ‘Association for Stopping the Sale of Intoxicating Liquors on Sunday’ was set up in 1879 and the Hastings and St Leonards Temperance Union, which claimed 1,200 members, organised two very large meetings of a similar number at the Warrior Square Concert Rooms in 1881 described by the Hastings News as ‘one of the most imposing and important demonstrations that have taken place in connection with the temperance movement of this town’. They were inspired by a new law of 1881 forcing the Sunday closure of the pubs in Wales. Further stormy meetings took place in the Market Hall and at Bohemia. A motion: ‘That this meeting is of the opinion that the sale of intoxicating liquor on the Lord’s Day is productive of drunkenness, pauperism and crime’ was defeated by the large number of publicans and their supporters in the audience. But a third meeting, also at the Market Hall, ended in violence and disorder. Temperance supporters were admitted early took all the front seats and forced their opponents to the back which meant they could only be heard by shouting, which they did. Fighting broke out and a mass wave of people stormed the platform. ‘This uproar ended in a riot the like of which has never before been manifested in Hastings in the memory of living man. Women fainted and chairs were thrown.’ Ironically, key temperance campaigners had to escape through a private entrance into the Anchor pub next door!

The Hastings & St Leonards Licensed Victuallers Association were very active in opposition to all this activity. Sunday closing was seen as the thin end of the wedge of prohibition. At a publican’s meeting, also in the Market Hall in 1887, attended by the ‘working and fishing classes’, Robert Smith, landlord of the Dun Horse, Halton made an ‘energetic speech bristling with strong accusations against the teetotallers’, and moved a resolution in opposition. Nationally the Conservative Party, funded by the ‘Beer-age’ a name acknowledging the political funding of the Conservative Party by the brewers, resisted Liberal moves towards prohibition.

In the general election year of 1892 the Hastings Conservative candidate Wilson Noble went against Conservative policy by expressing support for the Sale of Intoxicating Liquors to Children’ bill. This bill, among other things, condemned the widespread practice of sending children to the Jug and Bottle for beer for home consumption. Following local Conservative Association disquiet, Robert Smith threatened to stand against Noble in the general election forcing him to withdraw his support for the bill. The chairman of the Clive Vale Conservative Association in expressing his support ‘for the trade’, said ‘I have been a Tory since the day I started to drink’. Pub customers also fought back. A small church in Ore, near the Millers Arms, found ‘the bellows of the harmonium hopelessly cut before a service began, a brick through the window whilst it was in progress,’ and at the end members of the congregation ‘tripped up in the dark by a string tied across the steps’.

The Salvation Army was regularly mobbed and harassed when they moved into the Iron Fort in St Andrews Square in 1883. In 1884 a new Catholic Church, opened in Old Town. The Hastings Bonfire Boys claim they were encouraged to riot but returned to the Salvation Army headquarters instead. These events were heavily influenced by the formation of a ‘Skeleton Army’ across Southern England.

By 1900 the vociferous Mrs Tuppenny, chair of the St Leonards branch of the British Women’s Temperance Association and wife of the (Liberal) Mayor, Frederick Tuppenny, was consistently lobbying the Brewster Sessions. In 1905 its AGM cheered when it was announced that five pubs had been closed under the 1904 Act. The lobby was also responsible for the withdrawal of the ‘Christmas pint’ donated to the inmates of Ore workhouse by local brewers.

In the 1890s the lobby was joined by the Lords Day Observance Society also complaining about pubs and tobacconists open on Sundays and ‘steam boat trips to Boulogne with liquor flowing’.

At a Liberal meeting in the Fortune of War in 1900, some members put forward a motion that future meetings be held in unlicensed premises. This was defeated but it was agreed to hold ‘business’ meetings elsewhere. However, Liberal ‘radical smokers’ and other social occasions continued in the pubs.

In 1906 the Rechabite Temperance Mission met at the Central Hall to campaign against ‘Friendly Societies meeting in Public Houses’. The Rechabites were a friendly society open only to abstainers. At organizing meetings of the annual Whitsun parade they put forward a motion that ‘parades should not be held on Sundays’ which was defeated.

Meanwhile before the First World War, socialists debating the causes of poverty dismissed the major temperance idea that poverty was caused by drink. Tressell discusses this in his book and it was debated at length by the Hastings and St Leonards Debating Society at the Palace Bars and at open air debates on the beach.

In 1908 Herbert Asquith became Prime Minister of the Liberal government and proposed a new licensing bill. At the time there were an estimated 93,000 pubs in England and Wales. The bill proposed closing 30,000 of them and nationalising the rest. Asquith thought that as the state granted licences it also owned them and could ‘take them back’. It also proposed banning women from working in pubs i.e. barmaids. The bill created huge demonstrations of 250,000 people wearing hops in London. In Hastings a nine day open air campaign against the bill was conducted by Harry Johnson, landlord of the Angel on West Hill and for the bill by the Salvation Army, Methodists and others on the beach at Denmark Place. In the event the Conservative House of Lords defeated the bill. The government responded by raising drink taxes.

The temperance movement received an unexpected boost due to state intervention when the Liberal government passed the Defence of the Realm Act in 1914 at the beginning of the First World War. Pub hours were severely restricted and watered down beer was subjected to a penny a pint extra tax. ‘Treating’ and the ‘Long Pull’ were banned. Anyone caught buying or attempting to buy a member of the military a drink was in bad trouble.

The 1920s were another high spot in temperance activity in Hastings. In 1926 to take just one year, the Licensed Victuallers Association attempted to get opening hours increased in the summer months by half an hour. The BWTA noted in its minutes: ‘A good muster of Hastings and St Leonards members attended to oppose application for alteration of hours. Not granted by magistrates. Mr Perry Idle, Solicitor, employed by the Temperance Societies to defend the case.’ The issue generated a voluminous correspondence in the Observer after a survey found that large amounts of alcohol were being brought into the town by ’trippers’ because pubs were closed until 11.30am. The Observer (also Conservative) came out in support of the trade, condemning the ‘kill joy’ restrictions of the lobby, particularly with respect to serving drinks after 11pm at dances at the Queen’s Hotel. This it felt was a step too far for a leisure resort and was detrimental to the local economy.

Temperance organisations now included the Free Church Council, Christian Social Centre and the United Temperance Council. Hastings and Bexhill were the only south coast towns where hours were not extended in the summer months. Eventually the editor refused any more correspondence on the subject.

Ada Bell, landlady of the Marina Inn in Caves Road and secretary of the Women’s Auxiliary League (the women’s section of the LVA), campaigned vigorously against what she called the ‘pussyfoots, killjoys and fanatics’. (After ‘Pussyfoot Johnson’ an American prohibitionist who toured Britain in the 1920s). She was apparently an excellent speaker.

In 1926 Alfred Williams, landlord of the Silverhill Tavern said he had tried for four years to get the temperance lobby to meet with the LVA in Silverhill but they had refused. ‘Around Silverhill the women are becoming so pious they say grace before they blow the froth off a glass of stout.’

In 1940 there was a further bout of correspondence on ‘The Drinking Habit’ and on ‘Sunday Extensions’ (this was before the evacuation) and the British Women’s Total Abstinence Union opposed the licence for the White Rock Theatre, which was granted. In June 1941 they opposed the use of sugar and grain for brewing in wartime, and had a ‘Dry Public House Fund’. At the 1942 annual licensing sessions the lobby reverted to using children. The Junior Temperance Choir was brought in to complain about ‘children left outside public houses’. The magistrate told them this was factually incorrect and to withhold their comments.

Temperance organisations in Hastings and St Leonards

British Association for the Promotion of Temperance -1835
St Leonards Temperance Association – from at least 1840
Band of Hope -1847
United Kingdom Alliance -1853
Church of England Temperance Society -13 branches.
Salvation Army
British Women’s Temperance Association -1897 in Hastings.
National Temperance Federation
British Workman Temperance pubs -1871?1894
Good Templars – 5 lodges
Association for the Stopping of the Sale of Intoxicating Liquors on Sundays
Hastings and St Leonards Temperance Union
Lords Day Observance Society
Rechabite Temperance Mission
Free Church Council
Christian Social Centre
United Temperance Council
British Women’s Total Abstinence Union
Junior Temperance Choir



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