BLACKBURN in 1830 was a town where ‘drunkenness and profligacy exceeds belief... public houses are open day and night.’ A London newspaper thus described the town nearly 200 years ago as the beeriest in the country.

But things were about to change and that year the Temperance ideal came to Blackburn with Francis Skinner, who became pastor of Mount Street Presbyterian Chapel.

Twelve months later, at a meeting at the Music Hall in Market Street Lane, the Blackburn Temperance Society was launched.

A century later, a couple, who had both been brought up in Blackburn pubs and thus had first hand knowledge of the effects of drink, joined the Temperance movement, after they met at Waterfall Mill and married.

They were Ralph and Maggie Holden. Ralph had grown up at the Greenbank pub in Harwood Street, while his wife lived at and was married from The Holehouse in Burnley Road.

Their son, Jack, now in his eighties, vividly remembers the Temperance Hall, on the corner of Mincing Lane and St Peter Street, Blackburn, where they were regular attenders and where he was baptised as a baby by the Rev W E Moss.

Throughout his schooldays he attended the mission every week with his parents until starting work at 14.

He remembers that on Tuesdays there would be a meeting of the Rechabites Association – it had a branch office in Regent Street, up to the early fifties, consisting mainly of young people of the temperance movement, and which promoted the temperance knowledge exam, which was held annually.

On Saturdays there was often a fund raising jumble, or bring and buy sale, followed by an evening concert. Sunday service would be followed by a temperance lecture and on some occasions there would be tea and sandwiches in the in the ante room,followed by a short evening service.

Said Jack: “These are just a few recollections of a little disinterested boy, about 10 years old, who at the time much preferred and joined the Boy Scouts!”

The temperance movement had mushroomed in Blackburn, thanks to the efforts of Elizabeth Ann Lewis, wife of wealthy coachbuilder Thomas Lewis, who had become a leading light in 1882.

Within two years she was organising entertainments to counter the attractions of the public house, in its base at the Spinners' Institute.

At one, Master Willie Wolstenholme played the piano which proved to be an early performance by the celebrated organist.

The Mission went from strength to strength and when attendances grew too big, it moved, in 1891, to its own purpose-built residence at Lees Hall, where crowds of over 600 regularly descended for the various entertainments, sermons and lectures.

Mrs Lewis also went out to the poor areas trying to protect them from the evils of drink and when she died in 1924, aged 76, the whole town stopped for the ‘drunkard’s friend'.

In the 40 years of her work, offences of drunkenness had dropped to a little over 100 a year and the number of licensed premises in the town had been halved and opening hours restricted.

The building is still there today and inside, one wall has painted slogans, names and flags, from the days of Mrs Lewis.