Rosamund West, a Guide at York Museums Trust, looks at works of art used to promote the views of the Temperance Movement, which campaigned against the drinking of alcohol.
Pay a visit to the newly refurbished Kirkgate, York Castle Museum’s Victorian Street, and you will find a new Cocoa Temperance Room.
Within the room, you will see two interesting posters of temperance art. These two posters used to be part of the old education collection and were unframed and tightly rolled up in the stores. They were worked on by conservator James Caverhill before going on display.
The two posters are by J.F.Weedon and are part of a series, Temperance Pictorial Diagrams. The two posters are entitled Soldiers, which is number 9 in the series; and In The Laundry, which is number 12 in the series. They both carry important moral messages about the virtues of temperance.
Soldiers by JF Weedon
Soldiers carries the caption underneath: “A “Portage” in the Red River Expedition, Canada (1870), under General Wolsley, who says: “The men worked as I have never seen men work before but from the time we started till the time we got back, not a drop of grog was drunk.”
The British Army was the backbone of the British Empire, and had to be efficient, disciplined and in health. Weedon’s soldiers are shown as fit, active men, fighting in Canada for the Empire.
For soldiers to be commonly drunk would weaken the army, threatening Britain’s governance in far flung parts of the Empire.
In The Laundry by JF Weedon
In The Laundry carries the caption, “Of all domestic operations in which women were employed, Laundry work is, perhaps, the most trying and fatiguing. The testimony of both the employers and the women is that the work is best and most easily done without alcoholic liquor of any kind”.
Alcoholism was rife amongst women as with men. Drunken women contradicted the perfect Victorian image of womanhood and drinking could have devastating effects on the health and wellbeing of their children.
Weedon shows these women, due to their temperance, as healthy and industrious women, working in a clean and bright laundry room. Weedon shows us that temperance avoids drunken deprivation and squalor.
Both of Weedon’s posters on display in the Cocoa Room were published by the United Kingdom Band of Hope Union, a temperance group for children, first begun in Leeds.
They carry the message so strongly fought for by The Society of Friends, the value of temperance. The Society of Friends wanted to promote the consumption of drinking chocolate as an alternative to alcohol as they saw the harmful effects of alcoholism, particularly amongst the poor. Hence the opening of cocoa rooms like the one on Kirkgate, as an alternative to the public house.
Temperance Cocoa Room
The Temperance movement was strong in York, a city with a significant Quaker presence. The York Temperance Society, set up in 1830, held enlightened views on the dangers of alcohol and campaigned on such issues as the sale of alcohol to children.
They were fighting against the established view that beer was a good, healthy drink.
Beer was also a relatively cheap alternative to sometimes contaminated water. It was seen as a patriotic drink, conducive to industriousness and was seen as a healthy alternative to gin, another curse of the disadvantaged. Doctors even recommended beer to nursing mothers.
This attitude is seen in Ford Madox Brown’s Work, painted earlier in the century, where we have a central group of strong, hard-working navvies, nourished by a tankard of British beer.
- Work by Ford Madox Brown
(image courtesy of Manchester City Galleries)
Ford Madox Brown said: “Here are presented the young navvy in the pride of manly health and beauty; the strong fully developed navvy who does his work and loves his beer”.
This was a view which the Society of Friends did not share. The captions on The Soldiers and In The Laundry explain how these men and women work best and most industriously without alcohol.
Far from aiding ‘manly health’, they saw that alcohol was a destructive force in Victorian Society.
Come and see them for yourself in Kirkgate and see if you are inspired towards temperance…