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THE GOTHENBURG EXPERIMENT AT THE RED LION INN, BROADCLYST

 

At the end of the 19th century, middle and upper class Victorians were much exercised by the problems caused by drink. Not what their classes drank, of course, but what the working classes drank. Their paternalistic views were expressed on  the large scale through the various temperance societies and on a more local level by land owners, parsons and carefully constructed peer pressure.

 

We wrote recently about the improvements W. H. Smith made to the village of Rewe, which included building a place of meeting for working men which was under the constant supervision of a committee headed by the local vicar - so no democracy there, then. Alcoholic drink was doled out according to prearranged measures ordained by the committee and if you didn't like it, well tough, there wasn't another pub for miles. Nor was this restricted to Rewe - it was common practice in a county which just a few years previously had forced its farm labourers to take part of their wages in cider. As the century came to an end, drink was seen as an evil, the source of all woes for working men. If alcohol could be controlled, things would change - they would return to how they had been in the past; there would be no complaints about wages or sub-standard housing or pensions or health care or wanting to vote - perish the thought that such men should actually have a vote when they couldn't control their drinking habits. What was needed was kindly guidance and control administered by their betters. England turned to the continent to see how the rest of the world was dealing with this issue. Many became impressed by an experiment which had begun in Sweden's second city - Gothenberg.

 

Unfortunately, the Swedes had different motives behind their experiment. They wanted to eliminate private profit from the sale of drink - to prevent a group of people, such as a company, from deriving financial benefit from the effect of the "evils of drink" on their less fortunate compatriots. To the Swedes, it sounded like a great opportunity to clean up society and improve living standards; To the English it sounded like a golden opportunity for even tighter control of the labouring classes and offered fund-raising possibilities which they could direct  to projects which otherwise may have to be paid for out of rates and taxes.  An Association was formed which was called The People's Refreshment  House Association Ltd which had  the objective of buying up village pubs, appointing a manager who would act on behalf of the Association, and decide which local objectives were worthy of support from the profits.

 

Well, in itself that doesn't sound too bad but this is what a clergyman who headed one such committee said to the Royal Commission set up to examine Licensing Laws in 1898: " If anyone is decidedly drunk in my village, I expect to be informed". So it was all about control, ultimately. 

Between 1897 and 1901 the Association acquired 18 public houses throughout the country.. In Devon, in March 1899 they acquired the Red Lion Inn in the village of Broadclyst. In the same year, they also acquired the Plymstock Inn at Plymstock. What follows is  a report made on the progress of the Association in Broadclyst by 1903. It was drawn up by Joseph Rowntree, the Quaker philanthropist in conjunction with a well-known temperance campaigner of that time, Arthur Sherwell who was to become an MP.

 

The Red Lion Inn , Broadclyst -  2004

The Red Lion Inn, Broadclyst - 2004

© Richard J. Brine

 

CONTINUED

 

 
 
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