The Broader Temperance Aims in the ‘British Workman’ and the ‘British Workwoman’

The broader temperance aims of the evangelical Christian temperance magazines the British Workman and the British Workwoman were expressed in the ambiguous terms of ‘advancement of the working class’ and an interest in its ‘Health, Wealth, and Happiness’. On the front page of the first issue of the British Workman in February 1855 the founding editor Thomas Bywater Smithies (1817-1883) made the statement that the magazine had an:

earnest desire to promote the Health, Wealth, and Happiness of the Working Classes. We solicit the support of employers and employed, believing that the  interests of both are firmly linked together, and that whatever injures one, affects the other.

The British Workman February 1855:1

Smithies’ reference to relationship between ‘employer’ and ‘employed’ is believed to demonstrate his desire to promote unity between workers and employers following the devastating impacts of the 1853 cotton industry strikes in Preston.[1]  

Both the British Workman and the British Workwoman supported fairer employment practices and strongly advocated reforms to improve working conditions, sanitation, housing and education. However the self-help individualist ethos of both magazines concerning employment issues often placed the solution firmly at the worker’s door. Both magazines argued that workers earnt enough money if only they carefully budgeted and did not waste money on beer or frippery. In the first issue of the British Workman for instance an article entitled ‘The Loaf Lecture’ started with the maxim ‘A Fair Day’s Wages for A Fair Day’s Labour’ which the article informed was a favourite saying amongst English working men. However the magazine went on to advise that it should be followed by another maxim “Good Wages Well Spent” suggesting that the ‘earnings of a hard-working, industrious man ought to enable him to live in comfort and respectability’. An example was given of two men earning the same wage one a teetotaler with a neat tidy house and the other who could scarcely make ends meet ‘a shabby dirty looking fellow who keeps his wife and little ones in rags’ as he squandered his wages on beer. [2]

Anxieties about strikes were displayed in both the British Workman and the British Workwoman. In addition to promoting employee and employer mediation the British Workman also planted the idea that strikes frequently occurred because of political or union agitators. A short article in the May 1856 issue entitled ‘ A Yorkshireman’s Notion of “ Strikes” ’ referred to ‘The Cuckoos, those travelling-about-talking chaps, who are too idle to build their own nests and so go about spoiling the nests of other folks.’ Whereas ‘a little common sense, and good temper, between masters and men, such as the carpet weavers have so wisely shown, would… prevent strikes altogether.” [3]A short poem accompanied the piece written by the unidentifiable ‘M.F.T.’ The second verse warns:

The demagogue in labour’s mart –

O honest toil, take heed!

His selfish and rapacious part

Is just to make the workers smart,

That he, the drone, may feed!

    The British Workman May 1856: 64.

The poem went on to refer to ‘noble Labour’ the honest workers who were at risk of being led astray and exploited by political agitators.

Figure 1 The British Workman February 1855:3.

The British Workwoman often referred to political or social issues in a less direct way than the British Workman, preferring to impart their views through fictional stories. For example in the July and August 1872 issues of the magazine a story entitled ‘Thirty Years Ago – A Story of a Strike of Factory Hands’ [4]  written by the anonymous ‘E.B.’ was published which referred to the mill workers’ strikes, in Manchester and surrounding towns in 1842. The economic depression of 1842 saw increased unemployment and slackened trade which resulted in many employers cutting wages. A series of strikes followed across the country supported by the Chartists.[5] The British Workwoman story was set in Bancroft’s Mill in Manchester where the new young employee Jane was about to start work. She was warned about ‘over-dressed Anne’ who wore a new gown to work paid for by credit. Anne was in support of the strikes and felt sympathy those who had gone hungry due to wage cuts. Through references to Anne’s misplaced priorities readers were encouraged to identify with the main protagonists who took a very disapproving view of Anne’s dress and political position. Instead they sympathised with the difficulties the employers faced. They commented that the poverty resulting from reduced wages could have been avoided as:

“Too many in good times, spend all they get when they might save: then, when the bad times come, they haven’t a penny to fly to. If people will be extravagant, they mun pay for it” and Mrs. Weston glanced at Anne Boyce’s finery.

The British Workwoman July 1872:78

After the ‘threatened’ strike eventually occurred in neighbouring workplaces none of the Bancroft millworkers participated but in support of the strike Anne set fire to the mill in which she almost died. Fully repentant Anne prayed for forgiveness, she renounced her ways and ‘tore off from her dress some useless finery and trampled it under feet’. She proclaimed, ‘For dress I’ve sold my precious soul to the devil.’ Forever plagued by a sense of insecurity and terror of the law Anne emigrated to Canada. The story concluded with an alternative conciliatory way forward for workers to address the injustices of their employment:

Brighter days dawned on the factory operatives; trade briskened, wages rising proportionately. The improvement to their condition was taken up by some of the wisest and most humane senators of the land, amongst whom may be mentioned the true friend of the poor, his Lordship the noble Earl of Shaftesbury. They had faith in their efforts; experience of the evils of the late strike taught them that measures of violence were backward steps to advancement.

The British Workwoman August 1872: 82

The solution to conflict according to the magazine was reform to employment legislation where obvious injustices existed. The magazine did not voice support for the working class to achieve changes through their own union action or the campaign for suffrage through Chartism. Workers were instead encouraged to look to government, to philanthropists, such as the Conservative MP Lord Shaftesbury who was sympathetic and supportive of social and employment reforms to help the poor.[6]

The concluding paragraphs of the story inform us that Martha, one of Jane’s acquaintances at the mill, had left the factory when she married, as her husband did not approve of wives going out to work:

 “ If his missis did, he’d be tempted to spend his evenings at the gin shop. He weren’t th’ chap to come home to an empty grate, no baggin (tea) ready, an’ the place all of a ruck” (a heap, untidy). These are but the sentiments of thousands of British workmen. A wife’s place is home, her duties domestic; it is often mistaken economy for the housewife to go out to work.

The British Workwoman (August 1872: 82)

These sentiments perfectly summarised the British Workwoman’s position concerning married women’s work outside the home, including the magazine’s anxieties around the subsequent intemperance this might trigger amongst their husbands.

The following year in November 1873 the British Workwoman set out a further example of how workplace conflict could be avoided through the influence of women. An unsigned story titled ‘Dining Out, With Good Attendance’ focused on a married couple Sam and Mary Mumford.  Every day when Sam took his break at the building site his wife would bring ‘his bit of dinner’.  When Mary heard that a strike was mooted by the men at due to a reduction in wages she decided to approach the Master to ask him to talk to the men. The grievance she established and explained to the sympathetic Master was due to a misunderstanding between the workmen and the Foreman. The very reasonable Master spoke respectfully to the men and postponed the discussion about a reduction in wages. As a consequence Mary was credited with averting the strike.[7] This outcome fully aligned with the magazine’s belief in women’s enhanced emotional astuteness and moral superiority.

Figure 2 ‘Dining Out, With Good Attendance’.
The  British Workwoman November 1873.

‘Industrial employment is the best security both against the evils of our own heart and the world around us’. 

The British Workwoman (July 1872:76)

Both magazines encouraged their readers to be industrious, to acknowledge the dignity of labour and emphasised the need to engage in both earthly and spiritual work. They considered that even hard physical labour was a worthwhile and rewarding activity if workers rose above their ‘earth and earthly ends’ and fulfilled their spiritual needs.  The opening line of a ‘Song of the Workers’ in the October 1866 issue of the British Workwoman proclaimed ‘Work! Friends, work! There’s joy in honest labour’ [8] instructing readers to work for the sheer pleasure that ‘honest labour’ could evoke. The magazine contended that work served more than one purpose. It was good to be ‘obliged’ to work: ‘for it is a fact of experience, that temptations come to us in times of indolence and indulgence, when the hands are idle, and the mind wanders into mischief.’ Yet hard work should not ‘shut out’ religion. The editorial in the July 1872 issue of the British Workwoman suggests that religion should be carried into daily work:

The ploughman who tills the ground with a thankful heart, the tradesman who give to God glory for all his success, the servant who in all fidelity discharges the duties of his trust is each in his station offering a pure sacrifice, the sacrifice of a consistent life, walking humbly and obediently in the calling wherein Providence has placed him.

The British Workwoman (July 1872:76)
Figure 3 The British Workman April 1855:9

Both magazines exuded an underlying anxiety that workers would be drawn towards ‘temptation’ if they had too much time on their hands. Whatever this term referred to no doubt involved drinking alcohol. Most workers had  limited leisure time available as a result of the longer hours expected by industry. However the magazines had many suggestions about how this time should be utilised for a higher purpose. Becoming active evangelical Christians and participating in their communities was the underlying message but so too were suggestions of advancing learning through working-men’s libraries, education and training.

Figure 4 The  British Workman no 12, 1856: 48

Read What Was Temperance? and What has Temperance got to do with work? The role of the British Workman in the demise of Saint Monday, and and the links between tea breaks and the temperance movement.

[1] Frank Murray. Thomas Bywater Smithies and the British Workman: Temperance Education and Mass-Circulation Graphic Imagery for the Working Classes, 1855-1883. PhD Thesis, University of Salford. 1997, 98.

[2] British Workman February 1855, 2.

[3] British Workman May 1856, 64.

[4] British Workwoman, July 1872, 77.

[5] Martin Chase, Chartism: A New History, Manchester University Press 2007, 211. 

[6] For example Lord Shaftesbury campaigned from the 1830s on behalf of factory workers to limit the hours worked by women and children (aged 13-18) in mills to ten hours in week days and eight hours on Saturday. The Act was eventually implemented in 1847. “Ten Hours Act.” Oxford Reference. ; Accessed 4 Aug. 2020.

[7] British Workwoman November 1873, 208.

[8] ‘Song of the Workers,’ British Workwoman October 1866, 192.