Friday, May 18, 2012

Christians and temperance

In 1830, the sale of beer was liberalised, as it was in 2005 – with very similar results. There was, to quote social historian Annemarie McAllister, “a colossal wave of working-class drunkenness” that took its toll on health and family life. Beer, and the many public houses that sold it, provided an easy and relatively cheap escape from harsh working environments and poor, overcrowded living conditions. It was not just men and women who sought oblivion in alcohol. Children, many of them working in appalling conditions, also found comfort in beer-induced stupor.

Into the breach stepped Christian men and women whose hearts were moved with compassion for the families of the men who squandered their small income on alcohol and for children who knew no better than to follow their example. They realised that children especially, “whose bodies were being bruised and broken in factory and colliery, and whose characters were being irreparably corrupted in the beershops”1 needed to be educated since there was no hope of legislation being changed in the near future.

Christians like Lord Shaftesbury worked through Parliament to improve social conditions. But it was Joseph Livesey who first began to make children aware of the evils of drink, for evils they certainly were in the days when there was no social safety net to pick up the pieces of shattered lives. He gave up drinking alcohol in order to set a good example to his own children, but his sphere of influence soon widened when he began the Preston Temperance Society in March 1832. This marked the rapid growth of a temperance movement within the Christian community that soon incorporated children as well since they were the ‘hope for the future’.  Read more

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