I wonder how many people have heard of the Band of Hope? This was set up in 1847 by a Leeds based Baptist minister as a temperance society which would teach children about the importance of staying sober and not falling prey to what was known as the ‘demon drink’.
That this was important can be seen by reading through the Bideford court reports in the old Gazettes which regularly featured drink-fuelled assaults – with other reports from the Coroner’s courts often dealing with drink related deaths.
This teaching was carried out in Sunday schools, temperance hotels and coffee taverns with the group often staging marches which attracted hundreds of people.
A highlight of the Band’s year was an annual trip and picnic – often the only such entertainment poor children might experience.
At its height at the end of the 19th century the organisation was reckoned to have had around 3.2million members with virtually every child in Britain having been reached by its teachings at some point in their lives. One of the most well-known aspects of their work was the emphasis on ‘Signing the Pledge’ this being a promise not to drink alcohol – with millions signing up.
So important did this become that magistrates hearing drink-related cases would often reduce or cancel sentences if the offender agreed to ‘Sign the Pledge’.
The 20th century saw a decline in the group which matched a similar movement away from Sunday schools and a more balanced attitude to alcohol by most (and price increases have helped!)
Sadly, we still have alcoholics plus the more modern problem of drugs and the Band of Hope, now renamed Hope UK, still runs courses on alcohol and drug awareness in Britain.
Few Band of Hope documents have survived but I show one here, which, as can be seen, was issued at the Bideford Baptist church (then in Lower Gunstone) in October 1932.
I like the two mottoes within the circular wreaths at the bottom – ‘Sobriety aids Character, Citizenship, Success’ and ‘Abstinence benefits Health, Home and Country’ – and who can argue with that?