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Welsh History Review


Vol. 6, nos. 1-4 1972-73

The Welsh Sunday closing act, 1881

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THE Welsh Sunday Closing Act of 1881 is usually regarded as the
zenith of the temperance movement in Wales.1 The movement
originated in America in the mid-1820s and found its way to Wales
after successful progress through Ireland, Scotland and north-west
England. At first, the 'temperance movement' was an anti-spirits
movement advocating total abstinence from spirits and moderation in
the use of beer and wine. The British and Foreign Temperance
Society was founded in London in 1831 as the national advocate of
moderation. In 1834, however, the doctrine of total abstinence or
teetotalism appeared in Lancashire and it seemed to offer a more
sure and uncompromising solution to the drink problem. By 1838
teetotalism had almost completely usurped moderation as the most
likely and the most popular solution to the drink problem in Britain.
Until the 1850s the basic aim of the movement was to reclaim
drunkards to sobriety by restoring their self-respect.2 This was
regarded as the 'cornerstone' of the 'moral reformation' for which
temperance societies, as 'organisations of evangelical principles',
were striving.3 It aimed to bring men to a higher level of moral
perfection, and the heart of the doctrine of temperance lay in the
manner in which it coupled economic and social success with moral
virtue: the theme of uplifting the under-dog through temperance
reform and through stressing both self-help and middle-class
example-setting was a major one in nineteenth-century Welsh
temperance literature.4
The first Welsh temperance societies were established among the
Welsh communities in Manchester (October 1831) and Liverpool
(February 1832).5 The first temperance society formed in Wales was
at Holywell in March 1832, and in November 1835 the first teetotal
society in the country came into being at Llanfechell in Anglesey. 6
I am grateful to Professor Ieuan Gwynedd Jones for his valuable criticism and advice
in the preparation of this article.
1 United Kingdom Alliance, Report on a Special Conference for Wales at Cardiff, 1954,
p. 2 (privately circulated typescript).
I See National Library of Wales MS. 11,614E (D. Morgan Lewis 1), 'A Brief View of
the Operations and Principles of Temperance Societies'; Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian,
17 April 1841 (hereafter cited as C.M.G.).
The British and Foreign Temperance Herald, June 1835, pp. 70-71: Letter from
4 See W. R. Lambert, 'Drink and Sobriety in Wales, 1835-1895' (unpublished University
of Wales Ph.D. thesis, 1970) passim, but especially pp. 466-82.
6 Rev. John Thomas, D.D., Jiwbili y Diwygiad Dirwestol yng Nghymru (Merthyr Tydfil,
1885), p. 39; P. T. Winskill and Joseph Thomas, History of the Temperance Movement in
Liverpool and District, 1829-1887 (Liverpool, 1887), p. 10.
I For Holywell, see John Thomas, op. cit., p. 40; for Llanfechell, see Y Dirwestydd,
no. 2, September 1836, p. 9.
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