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North Mymms people in Victorian times
by Peter Kingsford

Chapter 6
The demon drink

The parish had a flourishing temperance movement for about forty years between 1876 and 1914. The movement played a large part in the lives of many people for over a generation. Was there a drink problem in North Mymms? We do not know. But the middle class of England thought that there was one among the working class. The United Kingdom Temperance Alliance and the British and Foreign Temperance Society waged great campaigns in Parliament and in the country to reduce drinking. The parish was well supplied with public houses, six among fifteen hundred people. All the evidence we have from ancient inhabitants is that so and so used to have drinking bouts. The fact is, however that the national consumption of beer rose steadily after the Beerhouse Act of 1830 to a peak in 1876 of no less than thirty four gallons per head of population per annum.

In that very same year the vicar of North Mymms, the Rev A S Latter launched his campaign against the evil of drink with his branch of the Church of England Temperance Society, and at the same time, a Band of Hope for the young. He had already had a success with the parish magazine, now he was to have another. He had the powerful organisation of the Society behind him.

The Church of England came into what had been essentially a nonconformist movement in the early l860s through the efforts of a group of evangelical clergy, and had established its own temperance society. It grew so rapidly that by the time of the Rev Latterís initiative the Society covered the whole country, had an annual income of about £7000 a year and the Queen as its patron. As for the Band of Hope, it had been flourishing for nearly thirty years and had several hundred thousand members. The motives of the temperance leaders were mixed, both spiritual and material. There was the thirst for souls felt by the evangelical churchmen who saw the public houses as "nurseries for sin"; a real concern for the welfare of poor parishioners, and the knowledge that sobriety produced the best labourers.

North Mymms was not, therefore, a pioneer; it joined the swim. Temperance societies had already just been formed at South Myrnms and Potters Bar. The origin in the parish was a meeting at the Boysí School room on 2 May 1876, addressed by five speakers including the vicar of South Mymms and the Rev Latter. A fortnight later it was resolved to form a North Mymms branch and twenty-seven persons joined immediately. Next month there was a grand temperance tea in schoolroom. A hundred people turned up for the glee singing, songs by the Waterend schoolgirls and speeches; twenty two new members enrolled in the cause.

The children were next to be gathered in. In July a meeting in the Deer Park led to a service in the church followed by tea in the Park. The children made their solemn promise: "I hereby agree by Godís help to abstain from all intoxicating drinks as beverages so long as I keep this card of membership." Thirty children crowded into the vicarage in August when there was singing and reading. But this was only a start, for a year later, in 1877, the Band of Hope had a hundred members. The enthusiasm spread from Welham Green to Bell Bar where twenty children joined. Next year the gentry and the vicar subscribed £23 to start a drum and fife band which received weekly instruction from the bandmaster, and by 1879 the membership had risen rapidly to a hundred and fifty.

Meanwhile the Branch continued to attract new members. The national body sent speakers to the meetings, the most attractive of whom were reformed drunkards. In May 1877 those present were inspired by a former prize fighter, aptly named Charles Bent, who had been brought to better things by becoming a teetotaller. It was at this time that the vicar announced his conversion from moderate to total abstainer. On another occasion the sub editor of Home Words spoke on the attractive subject of Illustrious Abstainers. That year, much encouraged, the Branch opened a coffee and reading room. Literacy was by now more general. The Anglican evangelicals believed in fostering a love of books and reading.

The movement went from strength to strength. When the membership of ninety-eight included eighty total abstainers and the Band of Hope numbered a hundred and fifty, the vicar could claim that more than a sixth of his parishioners were in the fold. Such a considerable body of opinion was sufficient to organise a petition to Parliament in favour of the Sunday Closing Bill. The Bill would have restricted the opening hours of public houses from six hours to three hours a day.

Growth continued into the 1880s. The membership in 1881 enabled the Rev Latter to write in the Parish Magazine that nearly a quarter of the parish were total abstainers. The peak was reached two years later when the Branch reached the extraordinary figure of one hundred and eighty abstainers of different degrees and the Band of Hope had no less than two hundred and sixty eight "on its Books". There were few children left unconverted. At Water End and Bell Bar the fortnightly meetings drew attendances of fifty.

By this time the Rev. George Batty and his wife, complete with cook, housemaid and footman, had succeeded to the living and the temperance success. Both he and his predecessor were very busy with a number of charitable clubs for clothing, shoes, coal and so on. It was fortunate that the vicar had devoted assistants in the temperance branch and the Band of Hope.

James Cheeseman, coachman at Brookmans for many years, addressed meetings regularly, as did also James Pousty of the Laurels, Pancake Hall, auctioneer and local preacher by occupation. A supporter of much more substance was Samuel Gurney Sheppard, active evangelical churchman and wealthy owner of Leggatts estate. Sheppard was brought in for special occasions. At a Public Tea meeting in October 1881 he decorated all the members who had kept their pledge.

Although the Branch suffered a gradual decline after the 1880s, it remained a strong influence until the 1914-18 war. The children were more faithful than the adults, or were perhaps their conscience. Thus while by 1890 the abstaining adults had fallen to sixty and a soiree could attract only forty persons, the Band of Hope had apparently grown to its maximum of two hundred and seventy seven. This figure may be doubtful since it was based on a festival at Brookmans, and only fifty-four cards for one yearís faithfulness were awarded.

Until the 1914-18 war, there was still much activity, though on a smaller scale. At a soiree on new yearís day 1895 there was an address on The Evils of Intemperance. How these were to be avoided was explained, in the following March by a clergyman who dealt with "The best way of escape from the toils of the Tempter with regard to this particular Sin". But only fifty were present. The Branch was no doubt held together by devoted work from its treasurer, James Cheesman, the coachman, and by the parish scripture reader, John Moon, receiving a salary of £75 a year. The census of 1881 indicates that John Moon, his wife and six children, lived in Poplar Cottage, next door to the Sibthorpe Arms. It was a useful position for a temperance worker. The relations between him and the licensee, William Spearey, remain unknown.

The Branchís own brass band must have been a great attraction and a recruiting agent. New members still came in; "the large school room was packed" at a tea party in 1894. For the rest of that century and into the next meetings were held regularly, mainly in Welham Green. A soiree in November 1899 enjoyed a whole array of entertainers: "Miss Briand, Mr and Mrs Brown of Bell Bar, Mr Halsey, Oliver and George Moon, Mrs Bother, the Misses Parsons, Knott and Nash". The Police Court Missionary at St Albans was always a popular speaker.

Subscriptions to the Branch by the gentry, which had been the greater part of its income fell sharply by 1913. This suggests either that the Branch was much reduced in size or that subscriptions were no longer necessary to its survival. During the 1914-18 war DORA severely limited the opening hours of public houses, and to some extent did the work of the temperance movement for it. By 1918 the Parochial Branch of the Church of England Temperance Society no longer appeared in the churchís annual statements of accounts. Nor did the Band of Hope, which also seems to have been a casualty of the war. For some years, it too had no longer depended on subsidy; in 1898 the sole subscription from the gentry was £1 from Mrs Cotton Curtis of Potterells.

All classes in the parish had been involved; the gentry, the farmers, like Mr Giddens of Moffats Farm, the craftsmen and the labourers. Both sexes too, for the Girls Friendly Society and the Mothers Union also gave strong support. Temperance meant freedom from the violence of drink as well as a thrifty home. William Marlborough told a meeting how, before his conversion he kept one pig for the publicanís benefit, but after it he kept two for his own pocket.

Peter Kingsford, 1986

Chapter 7 - Thrift and philanthropy
Index - North Mymms people in Victorian times
Preface - North Mymms people in Victorian times
Photographs - from the book

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