A Perverse Ambition

I recently achieved a long-standing, if somewhat perverse, ambition by visiting the Temperance Bar in Rawtenstall.

I say perverse because I have never understood the Temperance movement. As an Anglican I move freely between the church and the pub. Since our Heavenly Father has given us yeast, those tiny organisms with the remarkable property of turning sugar into alcohol, why should we not enjoy the fruits of their labours? The Bible abounds with references to wine – “wine that maketh glad the heart of man” (Psalm 104). So how did certain sections of the Christian church come to the conclusion that it is wrong to drink? When our Lord and Saviour chose for his first miracle to turn water into wine – something in excess of 100 gallons, if you do the maths, and top class stuff at that – it seems pretty clear that he didn’t object to people having a glass or two. Even St Paul, not normally one to promote the pleasures of the flesh, said “Take a little wine for thy stomach’s sake”. And anyway, doesn’t the word temperance imply moderation (a quality of which St Paul certainly approved) rather than total abstinence?

But I digress. At one time there were many temperance bars in England, or at least in the strongholds of nonconformism, but for several decades Mr Fitzpatrick’s establishment in Rawtenstall has been the only one left. When I was last there about five years ago it was closed for refurbishment but has since reopened and is apparently doing a good trade as well it might, given its uniqueness.

The building is quite small and inconspicuous (indeed when it was closed it was not at all obvious that it was there). It has a counter at one end, four or five tables with chairs and a wall lined with shelves full of jars rather like an old-fashioned sweet shop or apothecary. The beverages on offer are basically a range of cordials which can be had with still or fizzy water or even as ice cream floats. In addition to the founder’s original recipes like Dandelion and Burdock, Root Beer* and Blood Tonic, there are one or two which are probably of more recent origin like Lime and Lemongrass. Having tried the Dandelion and Burdock previously (bottles can be bought at a few shops in the locality), I opted for the Blood Tonic. It was not unpleasant but if I have one criticism it is that all these concoctions tend to err on the side of sweetness.

I’m glad I’ve been there. It was an experience, albeit hardly a life-changing one (Shortly afterwards, I had a pint in the Shoulder of Mutton before embarking on a bracing walk across the moors, followed by another in the White Horse and then a little tour of Ramsbottom, taking in the Ramsbottom Tap, the Irwell Works brewery and the Grey Mare.) Long may this unique establishment continue to flourish.

* I am told they also used to offer Black Beer and Raisin Tonic, which makes me wonder: why use the word beer in the name of a non-alcoholic beverage? It’s a bit like vegetarian sausages.

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