The Temperance Movement was a dynamic and militant failure. It mobilised thousands against what it considered to be the greatest social evil of its time – the demon drink. However, unlike its American counterpart, it failed to establish Prohibition in Britain and it failed to win the hearts and minds of the vast proportion of the British population. Perhaps the grand failure of the Movement accounts for the fact that it is often overlooked as an important social phenomenon. More importantly, perhaps this explains why some of the buildings associated with Temperance are now faced with the prospect of being left to crumble.
The Temperance Movement was established in Britain in the early half of the nineteenth century and initially advocated moderation in drink. However, as communities became more industrialised it became clear that an increasing number of hard-working men were spending their wages in public houses to the detriment of their families. The Temperance Movement moved from a position of moderation to one of total abstinence of alcohol. The Movement drew strength from members of Nonconformist Chapels who used non-fermented wine for Holy Communion as an alternative to alcohol. It grew in strength in Wales during the second half of the nineteenth century because of the strong attachment to Nonconformity. Battles were fought out in the towns and villages of Wales between the ‘drys’, who believed in Temperance and the ‘wets’ who did not. Some of the buildings in Caergwrle stand as a testament to the vigour with which dry crusaders fought for their cause.
In Wales the Temperance Movement achieved a victory when, in 1881, Gladstone’s Liberal Government passed the Sunday Closing (Wales) Act which made it illegal for public houses to sell alcohol in Wales. However, one of the loopholes in the Act was that licensees were allowed to sell drinks to ‘bone fide travellers’ who were passing through and needed refreshment. The local impact of the new legislation was to put Caergwrle’s Bridge Inn under the spotlight for all of the wrong reasons.The Bridge Inn was next to the railway station and it had a thriving business based on the large numbers of Merseysiders who travelled to Caergwrle on Sundays. Meanwhile, local people, who lived in the village, were not legally entitled to buy a drink. The Bridge Inn was therefore the obvious place for less well-known local people to use if they wanted to buy a drink on a Sunday because they could mingle with the crowds and pretend that they were travellers. In 1891 it was said that “the Chief Constable received more complaints of Sunday drinking at the Bridge End Inn than anywhere else in the Mold Division.” It became customary for the licensee to require Sunday customers to produce a railway ticket to show that they were ‘bone fide travellers.’
The Chief Constable was not the only person to be concerned about the close proximity of the Bridge Inn to the railway station and the temptation which it offered for travellers. The local members of the Temperance Movement opened a strategically placed Temperance Tearoom on the opposite side of the road to that of the Bridge Inn. This offered alternative refreshment to that of alcoholic beverage.
The building is now recognised to be a Building of Local Interest but it is currently in an extremely poor condition. It it is a fundamental part of the story of the battle that was fought out between the ‘wets’ and the ‘drys’ within the locality. It is sad to see this part of our social history is at such serious risk. It is to be hoped that the building may yet be given a new lease of life so that it can be retained as evidence of this aspect of the heritage of the village.
Chronologically the Temperance Tearoom was not the earliest example of a local Temperance building. The Friends of Temperance built the building known as ‘Trewynfa’, 50 Derby Road, in 1883, from funds raised by public subscription, so that young men could find non-alcoholic refreshment there.
The Hall became the meeting place of a local group of the Independent Order of Rechabites, a Friendly Society which was committed to the principles of Temperance. The Rechabites took their name from Jonadab, son of Rechab, who founded an order of abstainers from drinking wine in Biblical times. As they were a nomadic people the Society adopted a unit of organisation known as a ‘Tent’. The local ‘Estyn Tent’ was active in collecting subscriptions for a sick fund for members and in securing medical assistance from a surgeon. It attempted to sustain its membership by organising events and non-alcoholic refreshments in the Hall. Their cause was strengthened by involvement of the Salvation Army who used the premises for meetings until 1884, when they moved to their own Citadel in Castle Street. An advertisement, dated 1886, shows that entertainment at the Workmen’s Hall included singing by members of the Wesleyan Choir.The Temperance Movement nationally had been given a boost by the passing of the Act of 1881 and the local Tent was active in writing to prominent politicians, including W E Gladstone, to oppose plans to compensate publicans as part of the Local Government Bill in 1888. In 1890 it passed a resolution favouring the establishment of a junior ‘Tent’ under the control of the adult ‘Tent’. The secretary was instructed to write to the surgeon to see how much it would cost to have juveniles included under his care. However, in spite of a promising start, the local Rechabites failed to win sufficient support to be able to continue to run the Workmen’s Hall and the building was sold to become a private house in 1905. The Workmen’s Hall was remembered by William Roberts, who wrote that it ‘was used as a cafe, assembly rooms upstairs and a reading room. Owing to lack of support, it failed and the premises were sold.’
The contest between ‘wets’ and ‘drys’ was a national and international phenomenon. It impacted upon the lives of millions of people. There are a significant number of local people who have a family connection with someone in the past who had signed the pledge not to allow alcohol to pass between their lips. Every effort should be made to preserve the buildings which represent an important episode in the story of our heritage.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the policy of Flintshire County Council. Readers are welcome to contact the author with any news or views on the local heritage at DHealey204@aol.com or by telephoning 01978 761 523.