IN our latest Eye on Millig column, Leslie Maxwell takes a look, with the help of historian Alistair McIntyre, at Helensburgh's links with the temperance movement of the 19th century – and how the Kirk, and others, tried to clamp down on drinking in the area...

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HELENSBURGH has plenty of licensed premises these days...but the district had very early links to the Temperance Movement.

The launch of the movement in the 19th century reflected a growing awareness that society was being blighted by a culture of excessive drinking, and that some form of grassroots action was desperately needed.

The first temperance society in Great Britain was formed in 1829, and local historian and Helensburgh Heritage Trust director Alistair McIntyre has been researching the local links to the movement almost from its beginning, and I am grateful to him for the details which follow.

Prior to the emergence of organised temperance, some voices had already been raised about the negative effects of alcohol consumption and the temptations that might draw people in that direction.

The Old Statistical Account of Scotland gives some local context. Produced in the 1790s, it provides descriptions of life in every parish, drawn up by ministers of the Established Church.

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The account for Row — now Rhu — parish, written by the Rev John Allan in 1790, states: “A few individuals are much addicted to dram-drinking. There are eleven ale or rather whisky houses, one properly called an inn.”

While he does not qualify this further, his counterpart at Rosneath, the Rev Dr George Drummond, was more incisive with his comments.

“There are no ale houses, but plenty of whisky houses, which are rather unfriendly to the morals of the people,” he wrote.

The Rev John Stuart, minister at Luss, wrote: “There are nine licensed ale and whisky houses, and one inn.”

There were many places in the district offering alcohol for sale, and these figures do not take account of the considerable amount of illicit liquor which was being manufactured and consumed.

The whole culture of the country was geared to heavy drinking at almost any opportunity.

A study has calculated that in the early 19th century, the average consumption of whisky in Scotland, by those aged 15 and over, was almost a pint a week. This staggering statistic refers only to legally produced spirits.

It was against this background that in 1829 a Greenock advocate, John Dunlop, founded the first temperance societies in Great Britain.

In October of that year, he formed two societies, one in Greenock, and the other at Maryhill, near Glasgow. Later, of course, Maryhill became part of Glasgow.

He seems to have taken inspiration from the fledgling Temperance Movement in the United States, and almost immediately found a willing lieutenant in William Collins, a Glasgow publisher, who not only formed a society of his own, but evangelised in England, establishing societies at Bristol and London within the next two years.

A local connection comes through Dunlop’s father, Alexander, a prosperous Greenock merchant and banker, who took possession of the small estate of Keppoch, between Helensburgh and Cardross, and built a mansion house there in 1820.

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There is a further local connection in that John’s half sister, Helen Boyle Dunlop, married, in 1829, the minister at Rosneath, the Rev Robert Story, who himself features in the temperance story.

Helensburgh had its very own Temperance Society as early as 1835. The president was the Rev John Anderson, treasurer John McLeod, and secretary Alex. Wilson, along with a committee of six.

The author of ‘The Story of Helensburgh’ in 1894 said of the Society: “The basis was not total abstinence, but abstinence from any liquor stronger than beer. Of what success it had, there is no record.

“There was, however, an early setback, when a temperance lecturer brought along a very small still to demonstrate how whisky was made. This was seized by the local exciseman, and the lecturer prosecuted.

“Later, the principle of total abstinence was substituted for the previous vague pledge, and it was found to be the only workable rule.”

This sums up the shortcomings of the movement in the early days.

Membership of the societies tended to be middle class, and in their call for whisky and other spirits to be shunned, while wine and beer could still be consumed, they were perceived by many to be hypocritical: the working classes were to be denied their refreshment, while the middle classes were at liberty to imbibe wine and beer in the privacy of their homes.

However, people like Dunlop were pioneers, perhaps fearing that calling for total abstinence would be a step too far.

The fact is that the principle of complete renouncement of alcohol proved a much more winning formula.

It brought in to the temperance fold many new people, and a typical ‘teetotaller’, as members were termed, was likely to be a skilled worker, and quite possibly a Chartist — an active working class political movement.

The accolade for preaching complete renunciation of alcohol goes to Joseph Livesey, a key figure, who began a total abstinence society at Preston, Lancashire, in 1832.

John Dunlop sought to bridge the gap with his original philosophy, but William Collins remained more circumspect.

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The author of ‘The Story of Helensburgh’ mentions a total abstinence society being established in the town, but he does not give the date of its formation, and says the leading members were the late Andrew Provan, James Beckett and Donald Dempster.

This is almost certainly a reference to the Helensburgh society that was linked to the Scottish Temperance League, which was founded in 1844.

It is not certain when the local society was formed. But it was in existence by 1862, when it appears in an STL register.

Within the field of complete abstinence, there was debate as to whether the “short pledge” or the “long pledge” was the more appropriate,

With the former, alcohol was shunned by the individual only, while with the long pledge, the aim was to avoid placing temptation before others as well.

Did the early days of the movement meet with measurable success in weaning people away from strong drink?

This is very difficult to quantify, but the New Statistical Account of Scotland accounts of parish life gives some idea.

In the entry for Row parish, written by the Rev John Laurie, quite a different tone is adopted to that of his 1790s predecessor.

He wrote “There are about 39 public houses in the parish, a far greater number than ought to have been licensed among a population of so inconsiderable an amount.

"Nine of them are on Garelochside, where one or two at most would have been abundantly sufficient.

“Considering the rapidity with which the habits of drunkenness are increasing everywhere, it is much to be wished that some effectual means could be restored for checking this fearfully ruinous vice.”

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The Rev Peter Proudfoot, minister of Arrochar parish, stated: “There are seven public houses, five of which are worse than useless and ought to be abolished, but two are necessary — the inns at Arrochar and Tarbet.

“The other five have a most pernicious influence, inducing and maintaining habits of intemperance.

"It were well for the interests of the community that these were instantly and for ever put down.”

Cardross sounded a more optimistic note, with the Rev William Dunn writing: “Considerable exertions have been made to check the increase of public houses, and excepting in Renton, the number is moderate.”

The Rosneath account, written by the Rev Robert Story, was of especial interest, as his brother-in-law was John Dunlop, father of the movement.

He wrote: “Inns — lately there were five, now there are only two, the ferry houses of Row (Row of Rosneath) and Kilcraigin.

“The privilege which this parish enjoys is its magistracy, which resorts to all just expedients for diminishing the opportunities of indulging in the use of intoxicating liquor, and this cannot be too highly valued.

“From this evil, likely to inundate some of the contiguous parishes, by the proprietors encouraging rather than preventing the multiplication of licenses, the people of this parish are comparatively secure.”

Story seems to attribute much of the credit for progress to the principal landowner, the Duke of Argyll.

However, up until 1839, the Duke in question was George Campbell, 6th Duke, whose own lifestyle was scarcely a model of prudence and self-control.

Possibly the estate factor exercised real influence here, since the 6th Duke himself was rarely present at Rosneath.

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The Rosneath author W.C. Maughan says of Story: “He was fearless in the discharge of his duty, bravely encountering dangers from ill-disposed parishioners, who resented his vigorous denunciations of their drinking and smuggling propensities.”

The 7th Duke was pro-active in his outlook. Battrum’s 1864 Guide to Helensburgh stated: “Aside from Rosneath Ferry inn, there is not an inn, lodging house or shop on the Peninsula where a single lawful glass of whisky can be obtained.

“This is no great deprivation, probably, but an illustration of the possibility of a pretty large and populous burgh thriving under the Maine liquor rule, which the advocates of temperance seem largely to have forgotten.

“This has been the case now for some time, and we suppose that so long as His Grace, the Duke of Argyll, continues to rule in his own lands, it will remain so.”

Licensed grocers on the Peninsula did sell alcohol, though this was limited to the likes of ale and porter.

To be continued next week...