St Philip’s Band of Hope, 1910
When selecting photographs for my blog, I always look for images with a story behind them, whether topical or historical. Sometimes, as with today’s post, the topical and historical come together to add greater meaning.
The subject is alcoholism, a blight on society for the last three centuries. From the gin mania of the eighteenth century through to today’s grim statistics, alcohol has blighted the lives of millions. The harsh reality of the Industrial Revolution drove countless men and women into cheap alehouses to find some solace from life, nearly always to the detriment of their children, who could not escape the brutality of life so easily.
In 1847, a Leeds clergyman, Jabez Cunniclif, was shocked by the death of a young worker and decided to promote total abstinence from alcohol and aimed his efforts at children, who he hoped could be educated about the evils of drink. By 1855, the Band of Hope went national and the message of temperance attracted new followers throughout Britain. Remarkably, by 1935, the society had 3 million members (reflecting also the Prohibition movement in America). Culturally, being drunk in public was totally unacceptable and the idea of sobriety was universally upheld.
By the 1950s, however, cultural values had shifted and, increasingly, the idea of ‘signing the pledge’ (the commitment Band of Hope members made to abstain from alcohol) was seen as eccentric. The society rebranded itself Hope UK and took on a wider remit to tackle drug as well as drink abuse, and is still active in encouraging individuals – especially children and young people – to choose to make healthy choices about using substances. This is called “Primary Prevention” because the aim is to stop drug use before it starts.
Back to the photograph, which shows dozens of smiling children belonging to St Philip’s Band of Hope (Sheil Road) celebrating winning the 1910 Challenge banner. At the back, banners proudly display previous winners: Liverpool winning in 1894, 1896, 1898, 1900, 1902, 1903 and 1905. Manchester only managed two wins, in 1907 and 1908, although I cannot imagine a similar rivalry to match that of today’s football obsession.
Today, some might look at the photograph as somewhat quaint and the idea of temperance bizarre. Others might feel that the idea of actively promoting sobriety is not such a bad idea when the cost of alcohol abuse on our society is so high.