Journal of British Studies


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

Erika Rappaport


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.


  • temperance;
  • liberalism;
  • free trade;
  • evangelicalism;
  • tea;
  • sugar;
  • wheat;
  • cotton;
  • industrialization;
  • factory;
  • mass culture;
  • consumer culture

Erika Rappaport is associate professor of history at University of California, Santa Barbara. She would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers, as well as Brian Cowan and Elizabeth Elbourne, Amy Woodson-Boulton, Nadja Durbach, Donica Belisle, Alister Chapman, Lisa Jacobson, Julie Guthman, and the members of the University of California, Multi-campus Research Focus Group on Food, Culture and the Body for the helpful comments on this article.