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Sacred and Useful Pleasures: The Temperance Tea Party and the Creation of a Sober Consumer Culture in Early Industrial Britain

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 November 2013


This essay argues that the strict branch of the temperance movement helped create and spread an idea of a sober consumer culture in early Victorian Britain. It specifically examines the material and gustatory, political, and religious culture of the mass temperance tea parties that emerged in the 1830s and the 1840s. Supported by middle- and working-class followers, evangelicals, and liberals, the strict branch of the temperance movement insisted that the consumption of tea, sugar, and wheat-based baked goods in a heterosocial setting would demonstrate the rewards of a religious and sober life. Mass tea parties disciplined consumers through satisfying the body and encouraging pleasurable cross-class and mixed-gender interactions. Temperance advocates hoped that the behaviors and values inculcated at the tea table would radiate to the home, the factory, and the marketplace. The temperance movement thus contributed to the notion that drinking tea produced well-behaved and energetic workers, as well as rational consumers.

Copyright © The North American Conference on British Studies 2013 

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1 Edward Brodribb, speech on taxation before the Financial Reform Association, Liverpool Times, 22 November 1849, also published in Hunt's Merchants Magazine (January–February 1850): 35, and in the postscript to Tea and the Tea Trade: Parts First and Second (New York, 1850)Google Scholar.

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9 Smith, Consumption and the Making of Respectability, 171–87; Kowalski-Wallace, Consuming Subjects, 19–36.

10 Here I am writing a prehistory to the conception of the consumer Frank Trentmann has documented in Free Trade Nation: Commerce, Consumption, and Civil Society in Modern Britain (Oxford, 2008)Google Scholar. See also Valverde, Mariana, Diseases of the Will: Alcohol and the Dilemmas of Freedom (Cambridge, 1998)Google Scholar.

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77 “Bolton Tea Party,” Moral Reformer, and Protestor Against the Vices, Abuses, and Corruptions of the Age 3, no. 11 (November 1833): 353. There is a rich historiography on nonconformity and the middle classes in these cities. Gunn is helpful because he connects this literature to a broader study of urban culture. See especially chapter 5 of The Public Culture of the Victorian Middle Classes.

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111 On Lipton's advertising techniques, see Erika Rappaport, An Acquired Taste: A Global History of Tea, Empire and Consumer Culture (forthcoming); Ramamurthy, Anandi, Imperial Persuaders: Images of Africa and Asia in British Advertising (Manchester, 2003), 106–16Google Scholar. There are many popular histories of Lipton, but the best study remains Mathias, Peter, Retailing Revolution: A History of Multiple Retailing in the Food Trades based upon the Allied Suppliers Group of Companies (London, 1967)Google Scholar.

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118 Clark, The Struggle for the Breeches, 79–82.

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122 Quoted in Harrison, Drink and the Victorians, 97.

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139 The essays in Bridge, Carl and Fedorowich, Kent, eds., The British World: Diaspora, Culture and Identity (London, 2003)Google Scholar primarily focus on the later nineteenth century, but James Belich has proposed a longer history. See Replenishing the Earth: The Settler Revolution and the Rise of the Anglo-World, 1783–1939 (Oxford, 2009)Google Scholar.

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141 Ibid., 60.

142 Report of the Executive Committee of the American Union, 1844 (New York, 1844), 14.

143 There is a growing body of literature on American consumer culture and the China trade. See Frank, Caroline, Objectifying China, Imagining America: Chinese Commodities in Early America (Chicago, 2011)Google Scholar; Dolin, Eric Jay, When America First Met China: An Exotic History of Tea, Drugs, and Money in the Age of Sail (New York, 2012)Google Scholar.

144 The Tea Saloon,Public Opinion 26, no. 25 (June 1899): 782Google Scholar.

145 The American Missionary Register for the Year 1825 VI (December 1825): 375.

146 See, for example, a 2,000-person tea party described in Chronicle of the London Missionary Society XII, no. 137 (May 1903): 111.

147 Quoted in John, L. and Comaroff, Jean, Of Revelation and Revolution: The Dialectics of Modernity on a South African Frontier, vol. 2 (Chicago, 1997), 236Google Scholar.

148 Rev. Campbell, John, Travels in South Africa, undertaken at the request of the London Missionary Society; being an account of a Second Journey in the Interior of the Cape, vol. 1 (London: Francis Westley, 1822), 164Google Scholar.

149 These accounts also imply that Africans were not yet connected to the world economy, and this has been disproved by a number of historians. On East Africa in this period, see Prestholdt, Jeremy, Domesticating the World: African Consumerism and the Genealogies of Globalization (Berkeley, 2008)Google Scholar.

150 Gurney, Co-Operative Culture.

151 League, 28 September 1844, quoted in Pickering, Paul A. and Tyrell, Alex, The People's Bread: A History of the Anti-Corn Law League (London: 2000), 134Google Scholar.

152 Report of the Conservative Tea Party (Birmingham, 1836), 49.

153 The Temperance Record, 25 January 1873, 47. By the 1880s, a specialized journal, the Temperance Caterer, served this socially minded catering trade.

154 For a further elaboration, see Erika Rappaport, Tea Revives the World: The British Empire and the Making of a Global Consumer Culture (forthcoming).

155 Miller, Daniel, “Coca-Cola: A Black Sweet Drink from Trinidad,” in Material Cultures: Why Some Things Matter, ed. Miller, Daniel (Chicago, 1998), 170CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

156 Appadurai, Arjun, “Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy,” in Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (Minneapolis, 1996), 42Google Scholar.