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Senate House Library

‘We shall drink no wine'


Written by
Sean Macmillan, Archives Manager, Senate House Library

Dry January is here and in this blog we take a look at the Independent Order of Rechabites, a temperance society started in 1835, that preached the avoidance of alcohol...

For many people dry January is massive challenge with a whole month without alcohol, but for the Rechabites, a temperance society, it was 163 years! 

The Rechabites preached the avoidance of alcohol from 1835 to 1998 and were fundamentally a religious organisation, with several 'tents' (groups, branches, lodges etc.) dedicated to spreading their message. They included several thousand paying members, whom they offered social support to as part of their membership. Moreover, they had a strong focus on children and teaching young people about the moral, medical, and social dangers of alcohol consumption.

Juvenile Rechabite magazine, February 1940

Between virtue and vice

The Rechabites were also active in warning of the dangers of other vices, such as smoking and gambling. The opposition to the former, as early as the early 20th century, is quite remarkable for how ahead of its time it was. Some of their publications warn of the potential damage smoking can do to one’s throat, years before it was scientifically and medically accepted.

Their communities spread all across the United Kingdom, and even included branches outside the United Kingdom, including Australia, United States, and Canada. Their existence survived and endured the entirety of Queen Victoria’s reign, both World Wars, and the technological revolution that took place after 1945. In this respect, they were a truly historic organisation, and their remaining records indicate this long and impressive timespan of existence. The Rechabites did not operate within a vacuum, they were very much of their time and affected by contemporary developments, which is indicated in their archives. In this respect the collection also chronicles aspects of British history, social and religious life, from the mid-19th century onwards.  Many of the records and papers held at Senate House Library are in bound volumes that have remarkably survived over a century of history and change.

Rechabite postcard 'we shall drink no wine' 1893

Virtue signalling   

The Rechabites archive collection includes a multitude of treasures and gems that document their rich and varied history, including minutes and papers from meetings that document discussions, decisions, and any relevant topics of the day. Many of these minutes belong to specific 'tents' who were active in specific geographical districts, such as Salford, and in this regard, the papers have a strong link to local histories. There is also an abundance of case files that relate to various cases and incidents that took place.

Some of their materials are also wonderfully artistic, showing the importance of design in campaigning for their cause. The postcard featured is from the Salford Juvenile section beautifully displays their ‘Motto for 1893’: ‘We will drink no wine’. It features in our SHL150 online gallery of 150 unique and treasured items, charting the growth of the collections to mark the 150th anniversary of the Library.

Among the most interesting and colourful parts of the collection, is the Rechabite magazines and journals. These are packed with various stories, articles, poems, and content which sheds much light on the type of organisation the Rechabites were and the values they promoted. The magazines in this collection have been sampled and described in more detail due to the immense amount of information they give us about the organisation and their activities, especially how focused they were on reaching and influencing young minds. 

Rechabite Magazine, 1904

Ritual union

Lastly, the collection also includes a plethora of documents, volumes, and papers that give us a glimpse into Rechabite rituals, procedures, and structures. The ritual books in particular give a fascinating account of how the Rechabites organised themselves and their members. The rule books also detail the rules and regulations that members were expected to follow and adhere too. These items provide us with a very detailed account of just how ritualistic, routine orientated, and formulaic the Rechabites were.

This collection should be of immense interest to anyone interested in the history of the Temperance movement in the UK, religious Christian societies, and the presumed health implications of alcohol consumption. The collection also gives an insight into the way a religious organisation worked with children and young people.