Sunday, July 05, 2020

Whiskey, Temperance, FJ Bigger and the Ulster Public House Trust (1901-1930)

I grew up in a teetotal household (apart from a dusty bottle of Bushmills at the very back of the kitchen cupboard). In our wider family there has been alcoholism in living memory, including an uncle who inherited a farm and drank it all away. The more judgemental would criticise from a high horse. But self-medication takes many forms, as an attempt to find ease from many problems. 

The expansion of massive distilleries in Victorian Belfast also brought social damage. An architect friend who was involved in the regeneration of the Belfast Gasworks site told me a few times that when the Gasworks was operating, wives and mothers would congregate at the gates on a Friday afternoon to act as a human barricade to try to stop their men drinking their wages away at the pubs just across the road.

In 1901, renowned Belfast historian Francis Joseph Bigger was one of the founders of the Ulster Public House Trust Company, supported and funded by various prominent backers. As you can see from the photo above its logo was the Arms of the province of Ulster, with a five pointed Irish crown. The Trust had a number of Temperance aims for the improvement and reforming of the worst excesses of pub culture; its headquarters were at 109 Royal Avenue, Belfast and its Secretary was J. Pim Thompson. The article below explains more –

The famous Crown and Shamrock pub in Carnmoney seems to have been the first to adopt the experiment. A Belfast News-Letter article on 1 June 1901, about the opening, said that 'alcoholic drinks will be sold, but they will not form the main attraction of the establishment; on the contrary, while they will be of the best quality, the manager of the establishment will not profit by the turnover from them, but he will from the consumption of food and non-alcoholic beverages'.

Near me, the Trust bought a pub from William John Askin in Ballywalter, demolished it, and built a brand new Dunleath Arms which operated under the standards of the UPHT (it is currently for sale - estate agents website here). The Templetown Arms in Templepatrick was another, as was The Goat Inn at Milltown.

One year later the UPHT reported that 'the written opinions of local clergymen, magistrates, farmers, artisans and others have been received and they all speak in the highest possible terms of the lines on which the inn is now conducted'.

The 1903 Church of Ireland General Synod in Dublin commended the scheme – 'amid some laughter Bishop Crozier confessed he had been in the Company's public house at Glengormley a couple of weeks ago, and had tried first to get in by the back door because he did not wish it to be generally known that he had been in it'. The manager was amused, and produced a recent newspaper report of a visit to the pub by the Bishop of Down. Interestingly there were some critical voices from the 'total abstinence' lobby at the Synod.

Earl Albert Grey (Wikipedia here) had introduced the GB scheme, known as 'Gothenburg Experiments' based on an earlier success in Sweden, and 'Public House Trusts'. Similar initiatives were tried in Fife in Scotland (at the mining villages of Hill-of-Beath and Kelty)

The Ulster Public House Trust's work and admirable aims seem to have been caught in the crossfire between the opposite objectives of the drink trade and the hardcore 'total abstinence' teetotallers; Prohibition and a global decline in the legal production of spirits may also have had an effect. Perhaps the Great War, and Partition, also played a role. The UPHT was voluntarily liquidated in January 1930.