Wednesday, 24 October 2012

The Bondage of Pleasure



We have recently acquired The Bondage of Pleasure: Reminiscences of social life in Lancashire, Yorkshire and North Wales, a small pamphlet published in Manchester in 1910. The author, a clergyman going by the name of 'Amos', takes it upon himself to expose what he calls the 'ever-increasing mania for the sensual',  a task necessitating personal investigation of a vast number of drinking establishments in the north west of England, 'witnessing scenes of the most revolting character'.

The attention paid by Amos to every kind of depravity is extraordinary, obviously requiring an enormous sacrifice on his part. As he observes, 'our drinking saloons and places of amusement are crowded on week-days and Sundays; our churches practically deserted'. With characteristic fortitude and disregard for his own personal comfort, Amos sets out to discover the source of such distraction from religious duty: 'I determined to visit personally, and by personal observation ascertain where, when, and how, the people spend their time and money … I visited Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Blackpool, Scarborough and Llandudno on week days and Sundays … the sights we witnessed … were a revelation of shame and horror'.

Amos takes a systematic approach to his investigations. Taking each city individually, he visits a representative sample of taverns, drinking saloons and houses of resort, as well as mingling with merrymakers on the crowded streets. Listing each of these individually, he describes the horrors therein:

'I have no words to describe the scene which presented itself', he announces (taking up half a page in the attempt)

'it was a scene of debauchery unparalleled anywhere'

'By this time we had got somewhat accustomed to dreadful sights and sounds, but this house surpassed all we had seen. I can only describe it as a hell'

'The sight was such it is impossible to give an adequate description of the excitement, drinking and the general revolting behaviour. The place swarmed with women'.

In his summing up, the author regretfully concludes that these atrocities are by no means the sole domain of the working classes, the people coming from 'well furnished homes' in which, he judges, 'there is no parental control to-day'. He reserves particular judgement for the entertainment on offer: 'what a mischievous influence on the young are the Sunday concerts and animated picture shows'. Over the course of a hundred years then, perhaps not much has changed: nightclubs, cheap booze and the X Factor being our modern equivalent.