A magistrate’s idea to promote Temperance in late Victorian London

Mr Curtis Bennett was a sitting justice at Marylebone Police Court in the late 1890s. He was clearly a champion of the Temperance Movement, who campaigned for abstinence from alcohol at all times of the year (not just for a month at its beginning).

Alcoholism was seen as a curse of the working classes (especially the men) , who drank away their small wages  and then beat their wives when they came home drunk. It was a social problem which exercised countless middle-class reformers and religiously motivated commentators.

When Frank Godfrey (described as ‘a labourer’) was brought up before Mr Bennett charged with assaulting a publican and a police constable it gave him an opportunity to advance his own theory of how to deal with the issue.

Godfrey had become intoxicated at the Portman Arms pub in the Edgware Road. When the landlord tried to throw him out he had become unruly and so the police were called.

In court Mr Bennett told the assembled courtroom (and of course the press) that there was a fairly simply solution to the problem. He said there was a ‘very useful Section of a certain Act of Parliament which had, unhappily for the country, fallen into disuse’. It allowed for the prosecution of a publican if a person became excessively drunk on his premises (or was ‘seen to leave his premises drunk’).

In his 12 years as a magistrate Mr Bennett had seen many many cases of inebriation and its consequences . He told the court that these could have been ‘enormously decreased’ if publicans had been better motivated to stop serving those customers that were drinking more than they needed to. The Act ‘had not been taken advantage of’ he lamented but no one listed with act it was, so I’m none the wiser.

As for Godfrey, he fined him 40s for the assault and he was taken away.

[from The Standard , Friday, January 08, 1897]

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