Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
One of the most eye-catching buildings in Blackfriars Road, The Sons of Temperance Friendly Society building was given a Grade II listed status in 2013. This was just after the Friendly Society sold the building for £1.7 million when the survival of the building could have been uncertain. The listing came about as a result of action taken by a local resident who was alarmed at the rate of old buildings in the area that were being demolished and replaced by larger, more soulless modern buildings. The Historic England listing entry for the Edwardian building describes it as having the “original signage, stained glass and mosaic roundels, all loudly announcing the identity and character of the organisation for which it was built.”
The Sons of Temperance Friendly Society was founded in 1842 and, as the name suggests, promoted an alcohol free way of life. Upon joining, members took a pledge to refrain from drinking alcohol and paid a subscription that ensured they received some financial help when unable to work due to ill-health and that their families received a lump sum in the event of death. There was also a social aspect to the Society and membership was open to both men and women. The Society was founded in New York and quickly spread throughout the United States and Canada. It was run along the same lines as the freemasons with lodges, insignia and rituals. The first UK lodge was established in Liverpool in the late 1840s with other lodges soon opening throughout the UK which were grouped into Grand Divisions. The largest of these was in London which in 1904 acquired two adjacent houses in Blackfriars Road for their headquarters. These houses were demolished five years later and replaced with the existing building in 1909/1910.
By the beginning of the 21st century, with the rise of the welfare state and not the least the necessity to abstain from alcohol, the Society had become an outdated leftover from another age. In 2007, it had a total of 8,000 members who were mostly elderly. The Society was winding down and a few years later amalgamated with the Compass Friendly Society who are based in Hampshire. The former headquarters in Blackfriars Road are now architects’ offices.