Religion & Temperance

Overview of the Songs and Poems in this Category:

Religion and Temperance songs are grouped together because the Christian church - especially non-conformist church-goers - were actively involved in the temperance movement. Most of the songs produced before 1850 were printed as broadsides and were presumably distributed by Temperance groups as campaign literature.
The later songs are sentimental parlour ballads and music hall items.

Main Themes and Motifs

- Sobriety leads to contentment, prosperity and a place in heaven
- Drunkenness leads to poverty, misery, and eternal damnation.

Chronology

1820-29
1830-39  299
1840-49  091; 343; 396; 501
1850-59
1860-69
1870-79
1880-89
1890-99
1900-09  134
1910-19

Uncertain: 091; 323

Historical Background

Before 1870 there was little effective challenge to a popular world-view that was recognisably Christian. Most people believed that the world could be changed by prayer, that their deeds were recorded in a great book to be opened on the day of judgement, and that their dead children were sleeping in the arms of Jesus.
Non-conformists and the Evangelical wing of the Church of England were inclined to see the secular and divine as parts of an integrated whole. For them the steam engine was a gift from God. A pamphlet entitled Railways and published by the Religious Tract society in 1840 declared that "God's good providence had designed to furnish this wonderful piece of mechanism".

The "Unchurched masses" were seen by the evangelical wing of the Church of England as fertile territory for missionary activity. The new railways were used to broadcast religious tracts across the nation and evangelical businessmen used their involvement with railways to spread the word. WH Smith was brought up a Methodist, he wanted to go to Oxford to prepare for holy orders; but his father, and set him to work in his news agency in the Strand In 1848 Smith rented his first platform bookstall at the terminus of the North-Western Railway at Euston. He cleared his stall of everything he though corrupting and replaced it with material he thought wholesome and improving. He acted as treasurer to the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and was nicknamed 'the north-western missionary' and 'old morality'.

Steam engines came to be seen as agents not only of economic benefit but in some mysterious way, agents of moral good. Teetotallers were enthusiasts for the railways in which many of them invested. Railways provided cheap travel which together with cheap literature was valuable to the temperance movement.

Consumption of alcoholic drink was deeply ingrained in the culture of early 19th century Britain - until 1839 it was legal to sell spirits to children under 16 and it was legal to sell them beer until 1908. Alcohol oiled the wheels of recreational activities and also important in the establishing and maintaining friendships among poor people. Drinking - especially of beer - is the sole topic of hundreds of songs and is mentioned in many more.
It was widely recognised that excessive drinking of spirits harmed both the individual and society; and the temperance movement began as an anti-sprits campaign. The temperance movement arose in the years between the opening of the Stockton and Darlington Railway in 1825 and the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway in 1830. It originated in Lancashire and its first stronghold was in the industrial cities of the north. The places where the first railways were built. The railway as a metaphor for the route to heaven or hell became a favourite with social and religious reformers.