Ipswich Temperance Tracts.

Original title page

Actually, we are cheating a bit in this section, in the sense that our ‘title page’ isn’t the title page of any single tract, but a sample taken from one of a series. There were nearly three hundred Ipswich Temperance Tracts published in the nineteenth century, containing articles with cheery titles like Alcohol generates a tendency to Death (no.129) and The Victim of the Destroyer (no.255). One of my favourites among these tracts, which unfortunately lacks a title page (hence my use of the Teetotal Coat of Arms) is Dirt: and a Word about Washing (no.228).

Dirt was originally the subject of a lecture delivered to the Harrow Young Men’s Society in February 1852 by William Clayton Clayton M.A., a Barrister-at-Law and one-time Fellow of Jesus College Cambridge. It begins thus:

“What is it that robs the working classes, in many of our large towns, of nearly half their natural term of life ? Dirt – dirt on the person, in the houses, in the streets, and in the air. What is it that makes the children fretful, impatient, and bad tempered? DIRT again. What is it that keeps rich people from associating with the poor, from sitting by them at meetings, or letting them come to their houses? Often not so much pride as DIRT. What is it that destroys self-respect, makes men careless and degraded, and weakens the natural restraints of modesty? DIRT again. What is it that makes the prettiest face ugly, the finest clothes tawdry, the cleverest man disagreeable, and the most splendid house uninhabitable ? DIRT, again.”

The remedy?

“Welcome Water and Air, Sand and Soap, even Besoms and Scrubbing Brushes! The child who fetches a pail of water into the house is as an angel of mercy; while the man that brings in a jug of ale is beginning the work of a demon.”

That jug of ale, of course, explains the relevance of this tract to the temperance movement, as does the following:

“Wash your whole body over every morning; and put on clean clothes as often as you can. You could soon afford plenty of clean shirts and sheets if the publican gave you back your money, and you gave him back his ale. Don’t take those dirty drinks: cool yourself with the fresh clean water that Nature filters so beautifully for you in the bowels of the earth.”

Turning for a moment to another Ipswich Temperance Tract, no.41, by J.J.Gurney, and entitled Water is Best, we find the following:

“There ought to be a drain and water-closet in every house; a sewer in every street; and, above all, a plentiful supply of water to flush the dirt away. The places where many of the poor reside are only fit for drunkards; they are too bad for beasts. If working men spent part of their drinking money in house-rent, such places would be deserted and soon pulled down.”

But returning to Mr Clayton’s tirades against dirt, and his vehement pleas for cleanliness, these were, of course, sensible enough, as was his belief that every house should have a proper toilet and every street a sewer. And the temperance people do have a point that drink can be a source of social evil, as, for example, when it results in wife-beating or the ill-treatment of children. The trouble is that they go too far in condemning all drinking and all drinkers with exaggerated zeal, so that in the end they set themselves up as rather comic figures. In the same way there is something about Mr Clayton’s near fanatical stance over DIRT which brings a smile to the face. I reproduce the text as it appears in the tract, to give the reader a better sense of the flavour of the original:

Original text: Down with dirt

This concludes Mr Clayton’s contribution to the tract, and we turn now to A Word about Washing by J. Livesy. It begins thus:

“Now is the time for timid people who dreaded to start in cold weather the new-fangled but most important operation of washing the whole skin daily. I say, now is the time to begin in good earnest. Don’t be content with an occasional bathing when you happen to be conveniently situated for taking the bath, but begin the practice of ablution all over every morning.”

A recommended procedure is to fill a wash-basin with COLD water the night before, and to leave a towel or large sponge handy as well:

“You then jump out of bed, throw off your night-dress, squeeze the towel on your head, and then just rub it over each part of the body. This is done in half a minute. Have two coarse towels ready (not little, soft, mangled things) about 4ft by 2ft; with these you give yourself a good rubbing for about three minutes, just as if you were rubbing a horse. You then put on your clothes in a crack, drink a tumbler of water, and go to work, or if you are not of the working class, take a brisk walk. This is worth more than all the doctor’s physic in Great Britain.”

Dawdling between getting out of bed and applying the cold water to the skin is not recommended: one should leap out of bed and get to it straight away, for “there is nothing puts the body into such good working order for walking, working, thinking, as a good splash of cold water the first thing in the morning.” Mr Livesy adds that washers dress in one-third of the time that non-washers usually take, he himself taking a mere 8 minutes, as compared with a grubby friend of his, who habitually took 35 minutes.

And now a few words to those who “may incline to discontinue their cold water washing during the winter months” – the slackers and grubby idlers among us, in other words:

“If we really cannot bear the water at its winter temperature, let us have it at its summer or autumn temperature. Have water, at any rate, and at as low a temperature as you can bear it. There is no reason whatever why, under ordinary circumstances, every man, woman, and child in the British dominions should not be washed all over with water every morning of their lives. The unpleasant feelings which some experience after washing are entirely owing to not beginning their exercise (either in-door or out) the moment they put their clothes on; leaving shaving and all minor matters of the toilette till the circulation has been well set going by sufficient exercise.”

Finally, to remind my readers that our subject is really temperance and not bathing, I reproduce the Ipswich Temperance Society’s illustration of the contrast between the drunkard as he was and the drunkard reformed. It featured in tract no.207:

Reformed drunkard