Retro: Celebrating Rushden’s temperance tradition

Members of the Rushden Amenities Society unveil a restored plaque honouring the temperance movement.
Members of the Rushden Amenities Society unveil a restored plaque honouring the temperance movement.

The names of the founders of Rushden’s temperance movement will live on, thanks to a new plaque which has been put up in the town.

It was unveiled at the temperance drinking fountain by members of Rushden Amenities Society and replaces the original plaque which dated back to 1889.

Members of the Rushden Amenities Society unveil a restored plaque honouring the temperance movement.

Members of the Rushden Amenities Society unveil a restored plaque honouring the temperance movement.

The society’s chairman John Billington said: “Over the years the original plaque had fallen into disrepair and the names inscribed on the sandstone were not visible.

“The original plaque cost £35 and the replacement was several hundred pounds. That’s inflation.

“We received a donation from the town council towards the cost of this project, for which we are grateful.

“I hope the plaque continues to be a reminder of the pioneering manufacturers of Rushden.”

Part of the exterior of Rushden Hall on October 14, 1966

Part of the exterior of Rushden Hall on October 14, 1966

The temperance movement is an important part of the town’s history.

The growth of Rushden from a country village to a manufacturing town was largely due to the enterprise of several pioneers of the temperance movement.

Among them were Ebenezer Knight, John Sargent, the Rev R Bradfield, Mr W Colson and John Knight.

After Ebenezer’s death, it was suggested at the annual meeting of Rushden Temperance Society that something should be done to commemorate his life and work.

After much discussion, it was decided that the memorial should also include the names of all Rushden’s temperance movement founders.

A site at the Green was eventually agreed on and, according to the Wellingborough and Kettering News, of April 26, 1889: “A wall was built of Staffordshire blue bricks and Mr HA Cooper, architect, provided a design for a fountain in harmony with the wall, the same kind of bricks being used, with Derbyshire stone.”

The inscription on the new drinking fountain read: “Erected to commemorate the services of the founders and early workers of the Temperance Movement in Rushden 1889.”

The names on the stonework were Rev J Whittimore, E Knight, Rev R E Bradfield, G Denton, Canon Barker, W Skinner, C G Cunnington, N Crick, J Claridge and J Cave.

The grand opening took place on Easter Monday in 1889 and a crowd of between 300 and 400 people gathered for the big occasion.

After Rushden Temperance Band played a selection of tunes, the Rev Tomkins introduced the speakers.

Adding a touch of humour to the proceedings, he suggested that a tap should be laid to the drinking fountain from the Wheatsheaf.

After several speeches paying tribute to the founders of the temperance movement in Rushden a collection was held which raised £2, four shillings and six pence.

During the proceedings, headmaster of the National School, Mr A Vann, conducted a choir made up of 80 children who, according to the newspaper report “sang a selection of songs in a very pleasing and creditable manner”.

In his speech that afternoon, Rev Tompkins said the world had never seen truer heroes than the pioneers of the temperance movement.

They were men of principal, who had minds of their own, and were convinced that strong drink was not essential to health or happiness, but was positively injurious.

Later, after the reverend’s rousing speech, about 100 guests enjoyed a tea in New Hall.

It is claimed that Rushden was built on the temperance movement.

The pioneer boot manufacturers were temperance men whose abstinence and clear heads enabled them to devote all their energy to building up their businesses.

Rushden Temperance Society started in 1840 at the Old Baptist Church when 15 members led by the Rev J Whittemore signed the Pledge.

They vowed: “We voluntarily agree to abstain from all intoxicating liquors except for medicinal purposes and in a Religious Ordinance.”

The First Band of Hope, the junior branch of the movement, was set up in the village in 1855 and by 1898 there were nine of them with 1,300 members. The society worked to provide an alternative social life to the public house for the workers who moved to Rushden and Saturday night entertainment was held in the Temperance Hall.

Its annual report in 1893 said that the winter Saturday night meetings attracted an average attendance of 350, and that the hall was used by village organisations for teas, choral society concerts, sports clubs, dancing displays and bazaars.

Drinkers were invited to meetings, given a free tea and invited to sign the pledge.

Leaders of the temperance movement in Rushden were prominent in the church, the school board and the urban council, as well as in business and commerce. In 1891, of 31 shoe manufacturers in Rushden, 26 were abstainers.

In 1940, Rushden Temperance Society marked its centenary but there were no real celebrations due to the Second World War.

According to a report in the Rushden Echo and Argus: “It is strikingly certain that in the last century the cause of sobriety was a major cause in the town and drew to its banner most of the men whose strength of character was the driving force of progress.”

Mr Billington said: “Rushden Amenities Society members were delighted to replace the plaque which records an important part of the town’s heritage for future generations.

“We were also involved in the projects to put up plaques in the town in honour of the author HE Bates and Lt Col Bernard Vann who was awarded the Victoria Cross.

“It is all part of the history of the town.”

History of society

Rushden Amenities Society was launched on February 26, 1967, as an organisation with a mission.

Its aim was to save Rushden Hall, the oldest domestic building in the town, from demolition, a campaign it won.

At the time the building was in a state of disrepair and its future was the subject of a number of heated debates.

Today the society, which meets at the hall every month, is a social group where members enjoy talks by visiting speakers on a host of subjects, as well as outings held in the summer.