St Thomas Wesleyan Methodist Church Band of Hope, 1910s with banner proclaiming "For the Children's Sake, Destroy the Liquor Traffic." St Thomas Wesleyan Methodist Church Band of Hope, 1910s

Sobering Up: The Temperance Movement

10 min read

The links between poverty and heavy alcohol consumption were widely recognised by the mid-nineteenth century and attempts were made to address the problem.  Wealthy employers and industrialists like Bairds of Gartsherrie took a paternalistic approach. They advocated religion, education and moderate wages to combat the evils of liquor and all-day drinking on Sundays (the only day off for workers at this time).

Friendly Societies were set up to assist working class people with insurance and saving schemes. Moral reformers regarded many of these societies as dangerous because meetings were often held in pubs.  To combat the perceived threat, a number of temperance societies were founded with the aim of promoting abstinence from alcohol. Scotland’s first official temperance society was founded in Greenock in 1829. By the 1850s several temperance organisations had sprung up in towns across North Lanarkshire.

The Independent Order of Rechabites was founded in Salford in 1835 and set up several tents (branches) in the Lanarkshire area. “Rechabites” was the name given to the nomadic abstainers of the Old Testament.  These biblical Rechabites lived in tents, hence the use of the term in reference to branches of the IOR.  To join the IOR, proposed members had to sign a pledge that they and their families would not drink any alcoholic beverages. There were tents in Airdrie, Banton, Bellshill, Coatbridge, Kilsyth, Motherwell, New Stevenson and Shotts.

The Sons of Temperance Friendly Society was prominent in North Lanarkshire. The society formed in New York, USA in 1842 and the first Divisions were established in Britain a decade later. In return for a regular subscription members received benefits that included sick pay, unemployment insurance and a modest pension. Records in North Lanarkshire Archives show that Airdrie Divisions of the Sons of Temperance were founded in the 1870s and 1880s as branches of the Coatbridge Grand Division, with some still in existence in the 1940s.

The Sons of Scotland was among those societies which founded lodges specifically for women and some for juveniles. The Hope of Coatbridge Section of the Cadets of Temperance was formed sometime before 1878 and was in existence until at least March 1925. Members had to take this pledge:

We the undersigned promise to abstain from all intoxicating drinks, and discountenance the Causes and practices of intemperance and to abstain from tobacco in all its forms.

Many temperance societies advocated the prohibition of alcohol. One such example is the Independent Order of Good Templars, founded in New York, USA in 1851 and originating from the Sons of Temperance. They took their name from the Knights Templar. The first Scottish lodge was established in Glasgow in 1869. The “Independent” in the Good Templars’ title was replaced by “International” in 1906 to reflect the society’s global reach.

The Templars preached total abstinence for the whole family, with women and children able to join the society. They also preached equality, admitting women on an equal footing to men and encouraging them to be active participants and board members. In Airdrie, Provost James Knox, manager of Airdrie Savings Bank, held the position of Chief Templar in the early 1900s. There were also lodges in Bellshill, Caldercruix, Coatbridge, Coatdkye, Gartcosh, Kilsyth, Motherwell, Newarthill and Shotts.

The Order of the Eastern Star was created in the United States in the 1850s by a Freemason official.  The General Grand Chapter was formed in Indiana in 1876, by which time the Supreme Grand Chapter of Scotland had already been established.  The Order of the Eastern Star is presided over by the Worthy Matron and Worthy Patron.

Christianity (notable for its symbolic use of wine during Holy Communion or Mass) has largely advocated moderation over the last two millennia but also regarded over-indulgence as a sin.  In Scotland, as in other countries, most temperance societies and prohibition campaigns were built upon Christian beliefs. They spread the message of abstinence alongside the gospels.

The Salvation Army was founded in 1865 and originally called the East London Christian Mission. It preaches that members abstain entirely from alcohol, which includes not partaking in Holy Communion.  People with an alcohol addiction were among the first people to whom the Army administered the ‘three S’s’ of soup, soap and salvation. The organisation was established in Scotland in 1879 and remains active in Lanarkshire.

The British Women’s Temperance Association (BWTA) was founded in 1876 following a meeting of the International Organisation of Good Templars in Newcastle. Its first president and a founding member was Margaret Eleanor Parker (1827–1896), a delegate at the Good Templars meeting. Parker was also instrumental in founding the World Woman’s Christian Temperance Union.

The BTWA organised groups for young girls, running weekly meetings and other activities. Known as Y-branches (for youth) these girls’ groups were often associated with Methodist and other non-conformist churches. The white ribbon was often worn as a symbol of temperance and the British Women’s Temperance Association was re-named the White Ribbon Association in 2004.

With the rise in (predominantly female) public support for the temperance movement, came new legislation.  The Temperance Act (Scotland) 1913 became operative in 1920 and Kilsyth became Scotland’s first “dry” town shortly afterwards when the majority of residents voted that no shops or bars should be licensed to sell alcoholic beverages.  The PSA (Pleasant Sunday Afternoon) Brotherhood was popular amongst teetotallers, and the town remained dry until 1967, when residents voted to repeal the decision.

Temperance hotels, coffee houses and tea rooms replaced licensed premises in many areas of Scotland. The Scottish Temperance Annual 1907 doesn’t list any premises in North Lanarkshire but a number were certainly in existence later in the twentieth century, including the Station Hotel in Shotts. Tea dances were also popular.

Just as many organisations promoting temperance or abstinence often were and continue to be faith-based, many alcohol support groups also utilise faith as a tool in the battle against the bottle. Alcoholics Anonymous deploys an inclusive, non-denomination approach. Founded in Ohio in 1935, the AA states that its “primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics achieve sobriety” and suggests the Twelve Step Programme for spiritual and character development.

Since the mid-twentieth century, Lanarkshire has been home to thousands of Asian immigrants.  Many are practising Muslims and Sikhs, for whom the consumption of alcohol is prohibited. Hindus also commonly abstain due to their spiritual traditions.

Today, abstinence and abstemiousness or moderation are practised by diverse groups of people and individuals, whether on the basis of religious or spiritual belief, personal preference or health reasons.


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