Political society

Henley Archaeological and Historical Society

Group chairman Michael Redley spoke to members of teetotalism in Henley before the First World War at King’s Arms Barn on April 5.

The speaker for the originally scheduled conference on ‘The Lost Villages of Oxfordshire’ was unfortunately unable to join us. We hope it can do so in 2023.

Teetotalism advocates the complete rejection of all alcoholic beverages. It was adopted by many working class people in the 19th century in an effort to improve themselves and be more prosperous.

Henley had 50 pubs in 1896 and had brewing, malting and entertainment traditions rooted in alcoholic beverages.

However, in the last 15 years of the century, the social life of the city was strongly influenced by abstinence.

In November 1885, an event organized by the Liberal Party in the old town hall was besieged by a crowd supplied with beer by the rival conservatives.

This disorder, universally regarded as disgraceful, led to the election of the city’s temperance leader, Charles Clements, in place of Archibald Brakspear, the former mayor, in 1885/6.

The city’s temperance movement established its base in the Bell Street Assembly Halls in 1886, and by the 1890s the cafe in Market Place had become a temperance hotel.

In 1897 Clements testified before the Royal Commission on Liquor Licensing, suggesting that the brewing trade encouraged corruption in local politics.

This proved too much for the locals and led to the temporary eclipse of his political career.

Support for abstinence was in any case in decline nationally after the Boer War in South Africa and the adoption by mainstream politics of many of the more moderate measures that alcoholics had promoted.

The group will meet again on May 3 to hear Janice Kinory, from the Historic Environment Image Resource project at the University of Oxford School of Archaeology, talk about the university’s rich collections of historic images from around 1880 to 1950.

Tony Lynch