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Temperance & Religion

The great Religous Census of 1851 found that about half of the chruchgoing population identified themselves as belonging to Non-Conformist churches. It was in this constituency, though not exclusively, that the Temperance Movement would flourish.

The London Church of England Temperance Society

Church of England

The Church of England Temperance Society, the largest organisation of its kind during the mid-20th century, was founded in 1862 and reconstituted in 1873. In 1969 it united with the National Police Court Mission to form the Church of England Council for Social Aid. The NC for Social Aid changed its name in 1991 to 'Concern' (The National Council for Social Concern).

Church of England Temperance Society Membership coin

In 1875 Queen Victoria became its patron and within  the first twenty years the CETS established local branches throughout all the church dioceses.

Chuch of England Temperance Society Coffee Stall

The Methodist Movement

The Methodist Movement emerged in 18th Century Britain inspired by the the teaching and preaching of John Wesley as a revival of faith in the Church of England. 

In 1784  Wesley  saw the necessity to provide church structure for his followers in America, after the Anglican Church abandoned its American believers during the American Revolution. He ordained a number of preachers to address this shortage. . That year he also  gave legal status to the Methodist Conference. The final break came in 1795 with the Plan for Pacification. 

John Wesley in America who provided support for the temperance movement

The Methodist Movement experienced its own split in the early 19th Century. The major offshoot was represented by a growing body of opinion that the Methodist Movement was not being true to the teachings of Wesley.


Inspired by a Methodist preacher Hugh Bourne,  a breakaway occurred  to form the Primitive Methodists. 

Bourne was "put out of the old Wesleyan Society" (aka expelled) in June 1808 and another  124 years would pass before, in 1932,  Methodism would be united again.

hugh borne of the temperance movement

Bourne was a vocal and ardent supporter of total abstinence.


He saw drink as the fall of the human race and for part of his theology he took his mission into the inner cities. He reached out to the working class, advocating self help and improvement.


The Primitive Methodist Conference embraced temperance societies as early as 1832, and in 1841 decreed the use of unfermented communion wine. 

Wesleyan Methodism was generally  hostile to teetotalism, exemplified the 1841 Wesleyan Methodist Conference decisions to ban teetotal meetings on chapel premises, and the ordering the use of unfermented wine instead of port wine at Communion.


Wesleyan leaders were fearful for a number of reasons, not least of which was the spectre of Radical Political change and  rise of Teetotal Chartism.

The believed that total abstention represented a denial of religious faith and divine grace in favour of a secular and ethical crusade. It was believed that Teetotalism could prove a  divisive effect upon Methodism. 

United Reformed Church

The URC was formed in 1972 by a union of the Presbyterian Church of England and the Congregational Church in England and Wales.  Further unions occurred with the Reformed Association of  Churches of Christ in 1981 and Congregational Union of Scotland in 2000.

In the early days of Temperance some of the leading Congregationalists embraced the philosophy of Abstinence and became staunch advocates and leaders.  In Wexford, in Ireland  in 1829 a Congregational minister, G.W.Carr founded the 1st effective anti-spirits society in New Ross. Figures such as Dr John Pye Smith, born in Sheffield in 1774 and later Principal of Homerton College. He was a  leading Congregational theologian and author and was a keen Temperance total abstainer.

GW Carr and John Pye Smith were instrumental to the temperance movement as abstainers
Jay of Bath, Rev John Angell James of Birmingham, Rev Benjamin Parsons, Rev WR Barker all pioneered durin the temperance movement

Others Included Revd. William Jay of Bath and the Rev John Angell James of Birmingham.

In 1840 the Rev. Benjamin Parsons, a Gloucestershire minister, published a famous and popular Temperance publication titled 'Anti-Bacchus' and which to several print runs and editions.

The Rev. W. R. Barker published a number of works on Temperance and in the 1840 could be found chairing Temperance meetings in the East End of London.  Dr Livingstone, a Congregationalist  from Scotland, on his journey to Africa in 1841 was so appalled by the behaviour of drunken sailors in  the brothels of  Rio De Janerio during a stop off that he took the opportunity to show them the error of their ways by handing out Temperance Tracts.

Leading congregationalists included Sir Edward Baines: a journalist, he witnessed the Peterloo Massacre, and proprietor of the Leeds Mercury newspaper. Baines represented Leeds in Parliament from 1859-74. 


He was a fierce opponent of the Corn Laws and keen Temperance supporter, chairing the first meeting of the Leeds Temperance Society in 1840.

In Stalybridge progressive Mill Owner, and MP for Ashton Under Lyme from 1880 to 1885, Hugh Mason  supported many enlightened causes including Women's Suffrage and Temperance. He served as a vice president of the United Kingdom Alliance.

Image of Hugh Mason, temperance leader

Winskill's "History of the Temperance Reformation" observes that the initial enthusiasm and leadership of  members of the Congregationalist Church was characterised by a certain "slackness" amongst the Church itself. In defence he suggests that the Congregationalists were keen to avoid denominational separatism in the Temperance cause.  In 1866 it was recorded that Abstaining Congregationalist ministers number 19% of the total ministry.

It was not until October 1873 (following the lead of other denominations) that the Congregational Church took the decision to engage in its own organised Temperance activity.  In 1876 they established a strong commission to inquire and report how best the churches may work in unison and tackle intemperance. The Commission reported in May 1837 at Westminster Chapel and the report was adopted recommending:

- Temperance Sermons in every church and mission station

- Encouragement of personal abstinence

- Formation of adult Temperance Societies and Bands of Hope

- Support for Parliamentary Action for the restriction of the liquor traffic

The influence of Presbyterianism in Temperance was no less significant. Rev. John Edgar was a Presbyterian minister from Ulster, in fact the Presbyterian Professor of Divinity,  at Belfast and gave much initial impetus to the anti spirit movement in 1829.

In 1904  Temperance work was established as an official department in the Church to be known as the Congregational Union Committee for the Promotion of Temperance. It was reported in 1914 that for the past 12 years the recruits to the Ministry were almost exclusively total abstainers.

Congregational influence in Temperance continue to grow in the 20th century Leifchild Jones - later Lord Rhayader, MP at various times for Appleby, Rushcliffe and Camborne was the son of a Congregational minister and was a keen Temperance leader being President of the UKA from 1906-32.

In September 1929 Edgar presided at the creation of the Ulster Temperance Society and his zeal for Temperance reform had no equal in the early days of the reform.

Mrs Ann Carlile, inspiration behind the Bad of Hope movement was thw widow of a Presbytarian minister.

By 1873 over half of Presbytarian ministers confirmed that they were total abstainers.


Baptists emerged in the early 17th Century as the Reformation progressed and  separated from the Church of England. Along side the  Presbyterians and Independents (Congregationalists) the Baptists  with shared Calvinism but different forms of church government.  Embracing audult believers’ baptism set them aside from other dissenterrs.

In 1860 it was estimated that a 6th of 1,400 Baptist ministers in Britain were abstainers and a futher 3rd sympathetic to Temperance.

Roman Catholic Church

Until 1829 there continued to be numerous restriction on Catholics in Britain, introduced in amongst others the Act of Uniformity and the Test Acts.

In 1829 the Roman Catholic relief Act was passed removing the major restrictions in Catholics.

Pope Pius IX, temperance

In 1850 Pope Pius IX issued a  papal bull Universalis Ecclesiae recreating the Roman Catholic diocesan hierarchy in England since the reign of Elizabeth I. The bull aroused considerable anti-Catholic feeling among English Protestants.  The restoration created  an Archbishop to head the RC Archdiocese of Westminster and the RC church in England & Wales. The Roman Catholic population was swelled by the Great Famine in Ireland in the 1840's when over a million people migrated.

cardinal manning administering the temperance pledge

Temperance found a passionate  supporter in the 2nd Archbishop of Westminster Cardinal Manning 1865-1992. In 1873 he created the RC Temperance Organisation The League of the Cross. It was reported he wished his successor to carry on his work with the League and to join the United Kingdom Alliance as "the only real power outside Parliament to keep the Drink Trade in check".

the irish famine
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