1883: Ban on booze in Shrews? No way cries mob!

Do-gooders demanding ban on booze booted out of town by angry mob.

If you’d have walked around Shrewsbury in December 1883 you might have been surprised and perhaps a little alarmed at the posters that had started springing up.

They declared “War! War!! War!!!” “An Attack on Sin and Satan” and were being put up by the Blue Ribbon Army.

Gloucester Journal – Saturday 15 December 1883

The Blue Ribbon Army were a radical Christian group who wanted a complete ban on alcohol everywhere as they saw it as the root of society’s problems. They targeted towns and villages across the country and it was part of a wider Temperance movement that was sweeping Victorian England and America.

On Tuesday night on the 11th December they were coming to drive the daemon drink out of Shrewsbury– and their fort which they’d “captured” was the Baptist chapel on Wyle Cop. They said they were coming armed with “hallelujah guns” and the message to town folk was “surrender or die” which they meant presumably in the metaphorical sense.

Their leader on the night was a so-called Captain J.E. Kay and he gathered his troops and volunteers in the Market Square.    

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If he was expecting a warm reception from the locals he was in for shock. His inflammatory posters had whipped up a lot of anger among “the enemy” who massively outnumbered his band of Christian do-gooders.  They were jeered, hooted and hustled by the bad tempered crowd and were driven out of the square. They fled down the Wyle Cop to the Baptist chapel hoping to take refuge from the baying crowd – but the rioters had beaten them to it.

The building was already filled with screaming, whistling “lads and roughs” and when Captain Kay and his army came in the room erupted further.

Kay tried to talk to crowd and hand out hymns but it was futile and the rioters stormed the platform and started tearing apart the room. Bibles, hymn books and prayer cushions were ripped to pieces. Seats were smashed up and the organ was tipped off the stage. Clocks and windows were smashed and several people were hit by flying debris thrown by the mob.

This is the building which currently sits in front of the former chapel. A pub called the Spread Eagles used to sit here at the bottom of Wyle Cop.
The former baptist church which is now a bike shop. Originally built around 1860 for a group of Baptists from Coleham. It was hoped that they would be able to expand and extend the building to the street but the congregation did not flourish, and by 1886 the chapel was described as “vacant”.

The Captain and his Blue Ribbon Army took refuge hiding in a room at the back and could only listen as their war on booze was routed next door.

The borough’s Chief Constable Joseph Harrop and his officers managed to battle their way in through a side door and order was quickly restored. Captain Kay and some of his fellow troops, “Captain” Davies and Mr and Mrs Perkins, were escorted home by a number of policemen. But the crowd followed and surrounded the house – shouting and throwing flour and eggs at them, as well as anything else they could get their hands on. This continued for about hour until the rioters got bored and left.

There was a big clean-up operation afterwards and it’s estimated that the damage caused was between £70 to £80 pounds worth – that’s nearly £4000 in today’s money!

Blue Ribbon Army Tea was sold as an alternative to the daemon drink. You could buy it in chemists or by post for 6d which is about £1.20 in today’s money.

Nobody was arrested during the riots but apparently the ring leaders were known and it was said that action against them was “extremely probable”.

 So what happened to Captain Kay and his do-gooders? Well if you think they were chased out of town for good you’d be wrong. They were a determined lot and planned a massive parade around Shrewsbury on Christmas day – a move which, as you’ll hear in another News From The Past blog, didn’t go down well with the ‘good’ people of Mardol.


Listen to the full story at the NEWS FROM THE PAST PODCAST




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