Children of the Green

Source: Doris M. Bailey, Children of the Green: A true story of childhood in Bethnal Green 1922-1937 (London: Stepney Books, 1981), pp. 48-49

Text: The Band of Hope was entirely different. Held on a Monday evening, it attracted so many children as to need two sittings. We would queue up for about three quarters of an hour, and the queue was so long by the time the doors opened, that there would be another three hundred or so waiting to get in when we came out. Some of the children came out and tagged on to the end of the queue again, so much did they enjoy it.

Yet it was a very simple meeting really. We sang cheerful hymns, flashed on a big screen, lovely hymns about drinking pure water and not yielding to temptation.

One favourite was

Give me a draught from the crystal stream,
When the burning sun is high

Not that any of us had even seen a crystal stream, but it was a nice gooey tune and we could really yell.

But the top favourite appealed to me very much, the words had so much meaning for me.

As on the path of life we tread,
We come to many a place,
Where if not careful we may fall, And sink into disgrace.

There was a really rousing chorus which we yelled at the top of our voices.

Don’t step there, don’t step there, don’t step there,
For if not careful you may fall, don’t step there.
The drinker’s path is one beset by many a hidden snare,
Oh, shun the drink shop’s fatal spell, I warn you,
Don’t stop there.

After the hymns, the lights were lowered and we had a story, illustrated by Magic Lantern slides. A deep hush settled over us as we listened to the lovely stories. Nearly always about poor children living in hovels, whose fathers drank away every penny. My Dad was a saint compared with these fathers. How we all wept, when father stole the blankets off the children’s bed to take to the pawnshop for drink money. And we sobbed audibly when mother walked the streets in the snow to get help for her sick baby, clasped to her breast for warmth, while Dad lay in a drunken stupor on the bare boarded floor. Then, the minister of vicar met up with the family, and when the dog collar went into the hovel, the sin went out. Father broke down and admitted the evil of his ways, all the family were saved, father got a job immediately; and they all lived happily ever after. This was the bit I found hard to swallow. I knew that even good men, when they lost their job, didn’t easily get another. But I supposed the minister helped them, because the last picture showed them all well dressed and smiling, sitting in a well furnished room with flowers on a vase on the table, and even the sick baby had taken a miraculous turn for the better and was now a chubby darling sitting on father’s knee.

Then the lights went up and we sang another hymn and made for the door, taking a ticket and signing the pledge, week after week. “I promise to abstain from all intoxicating drinks as beverages.”

Comments: Doris M. Bailey (1916-?), daughter of a french polisher, was born in Bethnal Green in London’s East End and lived there until the late 1930s. This sequence describes events from the 1920s. The Band of Hope, founded in 1855, was a British religious organisation dedicated to teaching children of the evils of drink. It organised regular meetings in churches and halls, which were widespread and popular throughout the Victorian and Edwardian periods.

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