History: Where were Suffolk’s alcohol-free bars?

The Temperance Hall in Ipswich. Funded by Ipswich banker and temperance advocate Richard Dykes Alexander, the Sons of...

The Temperance Hall in Ipswich. Funded by Ipswich banker and temperance advocate Richard Dykes Alexander, the Sons of Temperance would regularly meet here - Credit: Jack Keen/Archant Archives

Did you know Suffolk once had around 30 alcohol-free bars and hotels? Following popularity Stateside, the premises were part of the 19th century Temperance Movement, aimed at promoting moderation of, or total abstinence from alcohol. 

The early days of the movement were more in favour of moderation, but by the time the idea of temperance of had reached the United Kingdom in the 1830s, it had steered towards a more teetotal stance. This was in reaction to the rampant drunkenness that had swept the nation in the 19th century due the cheapness and accessibility of alcohol. 

Historian George Kitson Clark said in his 1962 book The Making of Victorian England: “Drunkenness caused endless trouble to the employers of labour. The results of strong drink were patent in disgusting forms at the appropriate times in most of the streets and market places of Britain. In the background, there was always present the degradation, the cruelty, particularly to the weak and defenceless, which resulted from drunkenness.” 

For the many men who wanted to join the booming industrialised workforce at the time, temperance was the perfect solution to help them get sober, stay focussed and provide for their families.  

“In the 1830s and 1840s, there was a massive influx of people from rural Suffolk into industrial Ipswich going into regular paid employment,” explains John Norman, chairman of the Ipswich Society. 

“As country dwellers, they would have enjoyed a glass or two after the harvest, and if they were lucky, a tipple at Christmas, but they were not heavy drinkers. Once in the town, with a pub on every corner, a shilling in their pocket and a day’s dirty work to wash away, the number of people drinking went up considerably.” 

While beer and cider were popular, it was the volume of spirits being consumed that caused the most damage to society. 

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That’s where temperance hotels and bars came in.  

During the 19th and 20th century, a number of these establishments appeared across the Suffolk, offering an alcohol-free option to working men who were staying in the town.  

Richard Dykes Alexander

Richard Dykes Alexander, a prominent advocate of the temperance movement in Suffolk in the 19th century - Credit: Archant

“There were a few temperance hotels in the Ipswich area from the 1880s to around the end of the Edwardian era. We have references to about 30 in total,” explains Nigel Smith, area organiser for Suffolk CAMRA. 

His records show that there were booze-free hotels in various towns across Suffolk, including the Ipswich Temperance Hotel on Tavern Street, Central Temperance Hotel in Bury St Edmunds and Southwold Temperance Hotel.  

Giving men somewhere to stay without the temptation of alcohol, they would instead serve a range of alcohol-free tipples, including dandelion and burdock, sarsaparilla and tonics. 

“The earliest dates back to around 1868, and while most had closed by the First World War, there was a short-lived revival in the 1920s and 1930s.” 

READ MORE: 6 non-alcoholic Suffolk beers and wines to try this Dry January

While the majority of these buildings were either demolished or repurposed, the Temperance Movement itself still had a fairly sizeable following in Ipswich well into the mid-20th century. 

The Ipswich branch of the Sons of Temperance Society would regularly meet in the town, using Temperance Hall for its activities. 

Established in New York in 1842, the Sons of Temperance was formed to not only help members sustain a teetotal life, but also provide its members with financial security. 

Lynn Day, 66, grew up within the Sons of Temperance Society, and remembers the movement as her mother Joyce Wallis was heavily involved in the Ipswich branch between the 1930s and 1960s.  

“My mother was quite active in it as she was a treasurer and a secretary, and all of my younger days were spent going backwards and forwards to meetings. 

“It was like a Friends Society mixed with the Freemasons, and it was mainly set up for the women and families of men who drank. People would pay a penny a week, and joined so they had money stored aside to pay for healthcare and dentalcare.” 

Temperance Hall was funded by local businessman Richard Dykes Alexander in 1839, who was a prominent figure in the town’s temperance movement. It could hold around 800 people, and had a hall around 65ft long. However, it has since been demolished.  

“From what I can remember, the Sons of Temperance wore all sorts of regalia, and it was more about people who didn’t want alcohol themselves, rather than campaigning or protesting for prohibition. They mostly kept to themselves, from what I can remember,” added Lynn. 

Following the demolition of Ipswich’s Temperance Hall in 1964, the remnants of the movement slowly began to dwindle here in Suffolk. 

To this day, only one temperance bar remains in England – Fitzpatrick's in Rawtenstall, Lancashire.  

Do you remember the temperance movement or any of the alcohol-free establishments in Suffolk? Email danielle.lett@archant.co.uk with your stories and photos.