Pub with no beer

Former Ossington Coffee Palace, Newark, Nottinghamshire

Former Ossington Coffee Palace, Newark, Nottinghamshire

The temperance movement is one of the aspects of Victorian social history that has strong resonances in the twenty-first century:  powerful moral interests raged against the perils of the demon drink, while much of the population cheerfully imbibed without actually coming to much harm, in much the same way that current political hysteria about illegal substances conflicts with a widespread and partly respectable black market in drugs, some of which appear to be less risky than legal commodities like alcohol and tobacco.

I’ve been reading some research by Andrew Davison into the history of the temperance movement and the buildings that arose from it.  In many British towns the temperance hall was the most comfortable – and often the only – public meeting-place available for hire other than the upstairs room of a pub.  Temperance billiard halls were common:  Rochdale had six in 1916.

The most startling, to modern eyes, were the coffee palaces, the temperance answer to gin palaces, designed to offer the working man everything he’d find in a pub, but without the temptations of alcohol.

One of the most visible of these is the Ossington Coffee Palace in Newark, Nottinghamshire, designed by Ernest George & Peto and opened in 1882, boasted a ground-floor coffee room instead of a bar, a first-floor assembly room with a reading-room, a library and a club-room and, on the second floor, a billiard room and sleeping accommodation.  There was a tea garden, an American bowling alley and stables for fifty horses.

It is now the Newark branch of the Zizzi restaurant chain and – so they say – haunted:

Its original name is a reminder that it was built, at the considerable cost of over £20,000, as a memorial to John Evelyn Denison, Viscount Ossington (1800-1873), Speaker of the House of Commons from 1857 to 1872, by his widow, Charlotte (1805-1889).

She was the third daughter of the 4th ‘Farmer’ Duke of Portland, and sister of the eccentric 5th ‘Burrowing’ Duke [see More country-house railways and Having a ball at Welbeck Abbey] and his political brothers, Lord George and Lord Henry Bentinck.  Another sister married Lord Howard de Walden.

Denison’s forbears were Leeds wool merchants, but he inherited the Ossington Hall estate, near Newark, in 1820:  he was educated at Eton and Oxford and served as an MP from the age of 23.  His brothers were respectively Archdeacon of Taunton, Bishop of Salisbury and Governor successively of Tasmania, New South Wales and Madras.

John Evelyn Denison was not thought sufficiently grand to court Charlotte.  Her father resisted an engagement until she seriously threatened to elope.  (The story is related in a chapter of Charles J Archard, The Portland Peerage Romance (1907) which can be found at  They married in 1827, but had no children.

Charlotte, Viscountess Ossington’s bequest to the town of Newark appears not to have been a commercial success.  Which is a pity, because some police officers will tell you that they don’t spend their Saturday nights arresting out-of-control cannabis takers – or coffee drinkers.

Andrew Davison’s essay, ‘”Worthy of the cause”: the buildings of the temperance movement’ appears in Geoff Brandwood (ed), Living, Leisure and the Law:  eight building types in England, 1800-1914 (Spire Books/Victorian Society 2010):  see  It supplements Mark Girouard’s account in the first part of chapter 8 of Victorian Pubs (Yale University Press 1984), which is out of print.


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