Not the place to drink

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Don't even think about ordering a pint at Britain's last temperance bar, says Adam Edwards as he reports on a dying breed of outlet According to...

Don't even think about ordering a pint at Britain's last temperance bar, says Adam Edwards as he reports on a dying breed of outlet

According to local legend an innkeeper haunts Britain's last original temperance bar. In the corner of Fitzpatrick's, formerly the 'One Too Many' public house, an apparently grinning spectral landlord can be seen a-woo-wooing. Time has not been called on the pint-pulling apparition because he is 'too happy', claims the medium who was recently employed to do a bit of ghost-busting in the old pub.

But the medium is wrong. You don't have to be Mystic Meg to know that a semi-departed Mine Host, who dedicated his previous life to serving ale to Andy Capp, is not going to be happy hanging about in a white sheet rubbing ectoplasm with those who sup Sarsaparilla. The rheumy-eyed spook is not laughing but crying into his beer. He is not wearing a grin but a grimace to frighten away the teetotallers.

Furthermore, Fitzpatrick's phantom of the pumps is not about to evaporate into a celestial haze. He will continue to haunt those who abstain because of the renewed interest in temperance. According to groups like the Institute of Alcoholic Studies, opposition to binge drinking and the recent media outcry to the 24-hour drinking legislation are beginning to encourage members of the public to turn their attention towards non-alcoholic alternatives. Juice bars are already mushrooming, health shops are selling more cordials and pubs are increasing their soft-drink sales.

All of which is a throwback to the 19th century, when the temperance movement tried to combat the cheap ale and gin that was driving the country into drunkenness. The movement started, and continued to blossom, in the textile districts of Yorkshire and Lancashire, with several demonstrations in Preston and the foundation of the Band of Hope in Leeds. By the 1880s there was a temperance bar on every high street in northern England. The most prominent were Fitzpatrick's, a chain of bars started by a family of Dublin herbalists who had migrated to Lancashire. Fifty years later enthusiasm faded for the temperance movement on this side of the Atlantic, following the end of prohibition in the United States. That falling interest, combined with a raft of imported sugary soft drinks, resulted in a steep decline in the number of temperance bars. Only one of Fitzpatrick's stores survived, the former One Too Many pub in the cotton town of Rawtenstall, 20 miles north of Manchester. The town can now boast the largest dry ski slope in England and the only original dry bar in the country.

Bar next to a Methodist church

'I'm only the third owner since the original family,' says Chris Law, a plain-speaking Lancastrian who bought the shop sited behind the local Methodist Church five years ago. 'Malachi Fitzpatrick had run it for the five decades previous to 1981. I knew Malachi when I was a little boy. A few years ago I was thinking what I would do when I got older - I didn't want to be working outside - and when the shop came up for sale I went for it.'

Immediately inside the entrance door to the dark Victorian corner shop is a small marble-topped bar surrounded by a miniature two-man settle and a pair of round tables, each with dark green tablecloths and attended by a pair of bent-wood chairs. On top of the bar is an original copper water-boiler, antique malted-milk mixer and a couple of chrome soda-pump handles. On the wall behind is a rack of pottery barrels containing Sarsaparilla, dandelion and burdock, blackberry and raisin, ginger beer, cream soda, lemon and ginger punch and a blood tonic. Black beer - a non-alcoholic drink made from spruce trees - is also on tap. The drinks are served in pint glasses and cost a pound or you can have one in a half-pint glass tankard for 50p.

Old advertisements, including one of a little boy peeing in a pond with the caption 'Drink Sarsaparilla, never drink water', decorate the walls. And in the back of the shop natural remedies, sweets - such as aniseed balls - and medicinal and culinary herbs, housed in scores of glass jars, are available.

But it is the front bar and its speciality drinks and 'soda pop' that is the money-spinner for Law.

'I reckon I get about 40 customers a day for the bar, except on Fridays and Saturdays when it is chaos,' said the former welder, who likes to slip out to the neighbouring Queen's Head pub for an alcoholic bevvy in the evening.

'I have a few customers who are very anti-alcohol, but most come here because they love the taste of the old drinks,' he says.

'In the old days this shop used to stay open for the Astoria Dance Hall and we still get elderly people in their 60s and 70s who remember us from those days. We also get a lot of children: they drag their mums in here. They love the traditional drinks and yesterday's soda pop - quite a lot of them prefer it to the newer colas.'

Building a market for soft drinks

Law has begun to realise that in the current climate for soft drinks there is money to be made from the old-fashioned cordials. He is starting a website to sell his unique drinks and planning to distribute them to delicatessens. Recently he has been taking his Land Rover around local street markets with a makeshift temperance bar in the back. He is even servicing local pubs.

'On Friday and Saturday nights the pubs I deliver to serve Sarsaparilla with vodka or alternatively a spirit with lime and burdock, known as a 'Randy Dandy',' he says. 'On Sundays they do plain Sarsaparilla for children.'

The label of the take-away bottles of Law's cordial has the original Fitzpatrick's poem printed on it: 'A pledge we make, no wine to take/Nor Brandy red that turns the head/Nor fiery Rum that ruins home/Nor whisky hot that makes the sot/Nor brewers beer, for that we fear/Feel now the Fitzpatrick's cheer'.

It could have been written as a toast to the last original bar that may yet start a fashion for the old-fashioned soft drinks. This would, of course, be bad news for the ghoulish licensee of the One Too Many, who will have his work cut out if he ever hopes to be beamed up to the great saloon bar in the sky.

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