As a contrast to the families of the high elite of the 15th and 16th Centuries here is a sketch of the life story of one of the workers of the 19th Century who believed in social and political improvement and rose to high status within his class and faith.
Peter Turner Winskill had a varied and public career in terms of his employment, and as a significant figure in the Temperance Movement. His was a writer, publicist, campaigner, and was a strict Primitive Methodist by faith.
Peter attended the National and Barrington Elementary School in Houghton during the 1840’s, and he says he had a period as Pupil Teacher, but was not allowed to go on. In 1900 he still felt there was a serious injustice done. In 1851 he is an Apprentice Mason, but then he moved in 1852 to Middlesbrough and became an Iron Moulder, his occupation in 1857.
In 1858 he is in Ripley. He then seems to have moved to other work for his income and in the Temperance Movement. In 1861 he is listed as an Assurance and Commission Agent at Belper. For a period in the mid 1860’s he has returned to Durham, and is living at Bishop Wearmouth, Sunderland.
By 1871 he is an Auctioneer and Stationer at Clay Cross. At that time a Stationer, who supplied stamped legal documents, was required to register with the Commissioners of the Revenue. Later that year he moved to Warrington.
From the 1850’s he was active in the Temperance Movement and undertook a variety of work, as well as writing. In 1881 in Warrington he is still an Auctioneer, but in 1882 moves to another post in Liverpool, described in 1893 as a Book Agent, and he was there until his death as the consequence of a stroke in 1912, when he was described as a retired Insurance Agent. Peter was buried at Warrington Cemetery in an unmarked grave with two of his children. Elizabeth, his wife, for whom he had doubtless relied on for much support and help, had died in the early months of 1904.
In the 1850‘s Iron Moulding would be regarded as a highly skilled trade. In 1892 he was saying that for 40 years he was known as a Teetotal Middlesbrough Iron Moulder, a trade known for heavy beer drinking by its nature. Certainly, this was how he was employed at an early stage in his life, but he moved on to take advantage of his education and connections.
As a Temperance Worker, Peter seems to have been one of the hard line Total Abstinence men, but it is difficult to be definite because of the many schisms and divisions in the movement in the half-century he was active. Peter’s occupation in 1857 was still that of an Iron Moulder, but in 1861 he had moved on.
As the years went by it could be that less time was spent in the day job and more on his Temperance activity funded by expenses payments. His original employment may have given him scope for promotion as a result of the rapid growth of the Iron industry at this time.
Then the founding of the Temperance Insurance Societies in 1857 because of the heavy extra charges levied by the then Life Societies on teetotal life policy holders; total abstinence being claimed by them to be life threatening; could have led to other work. The locations given for the births of his children could reflect either possibility.
From his writings it appears that Peter was in Middlesbrough in the spring of 1852 when a dozen young men were brought together to form the Middlesbrough Young Men’s Auxiliary Temperance Association. In 1859 he was living in the Alfreton area, which could be Ripley, as above, when a prominent lecturer was unable to take a large meeting, and Peter took his place at the last minute. As a consequence of a successful meeting the Alfreton Temperance Society was formed which affiliated to the North of England Temperance League that had been established the previous year.
In 1863 he was speaking at the meeting of the League in Newcastle, and acting as supply, that is substitute agent, from time to time. In 1867 Peter and his family moved to Sunderland and he had begun to write. On the death of James Rewcastle, a major figure in the movement, Peter wrote several items.
One development in the period was the foundation of the Temperance “Lifeboat Crews” in Staffordshire, which spread to other Industrial districts, especially the North East. They were essentially social clubs that modelled their organisations on the structure of the Lifeboat service on the coast, and spent evenings in discussions and in singing. They were popular in Sunderland, and Peter composed a songbook “The Sons of Temperance and Teetotal Lifeboat Crew Melodist etc.”, printed in 1868. This was followed in 1870 by “Winskill’s (No.2) Band of Hope Melodist”, printed in Northampton.
In the 1850’s the Independent Order of Good Templars had been founded in America, as a Temperance organisation. There had been historical speculation on the Medieval Order of Crusading Templars in the previous decades, as part of the revival of interest in the Middle Ages. Some of this had become embodied in many Freemason’s Lodges, which then were enmeshed with the drink trade; hence the meaning of “Good Templars” for the Temperance Movement.
The movement spread rapidly in America, probably because of its open recruitment policy for both men and women. In 1871 the Good Templars began in England, and that year, Mr. James Gall Campbell, one of the moving figures, travelled from Sunderland to Clay Cross in Derbyshire at his own expense (the comment is instructive), to initiate Mr. and Mrs. P.T. Winskill into the movement. Brother Peter Winskill was made the first Worthy Chief Templar of the First Lodge of Derbyshire.
Later in 1871 Peter and family had moved to Warrington, and by the end of that year he had formed six Lodges in the town with over 300 members. In 1873 several similar organisations came together to form the United Templar Order and in the last three months of that year Peter was on the road as Organising Agent and Lecturer. He spoke at Warrington, Widnes, Runcorn, Leeds, Stockton-on-Tees, Sunderland, Shields, Jarrow, Newcastle-on-Tyne, Gateshead, Hexham, Southwick, Trimdon Grange, Trimdon Colliery, Wingate, and numerous other places according to his own account.
Peter did not speak only in earnest; apparently he was often called on to recite the ode “The Old Arm Chair”. In the 1950’s a Folk Song was made of this piece which was quite popular and frequently played on the radio. By the 1880’s he was writing more and the relevant journals of that period would need to be studied, including those of the Primitive Methodist Church and the Band of Hope. In 1881 he published a subscription edition of his own work “The Comprehensive History of the Rise and Progress of the Temperance Reformation from the Earliest Period to September 1881”.
In 1891 Peter produced a history of the Temperance Movement in Liverpool and Warrington. All this work culminated in 1892 in his four volume “The Temperance Movement and It’s Workers”, published by Blackie of Edinburgh. Peter was also in correspondence with many notables connected with the movement, Dr. F.R. Lees contributed an introduction to the 1892 book.
Peter’s activities were across the work of the Temperance Movement. In 1889 the Liverpool League was reformed as the Liverpool Temperance Electoral Association and John Paton and Peter canvassed four of the nine Liverpool constituencies. In 1890 the Liverpool and District Direct Veto League was formed.
In October 1891 the North of England Temperance League met at Middlesbrough in the course of a campaign to recruit a million new members to the Band of Hope. Peter went on to conduct a week's mission at Great Ayton. Clearly, by that time he had become one of the major figures in the movement in the North.
What his role may have been and how he reacted in the Great Arsenic Scandal in Liverpool in the late 1890’s is an intriguing question. A firm of maltsters preparing the raw materials for brewers in Liverpool were using processes and methods that resulted in exceptionally high levels of arsenic in their products.
The results were an epidemic of arsenic poisoning and a large number of deaths of beer drinkers in Liverpool in the late 1890’s, which culminated in a Royal Commission in 1901. Together with other known forms of adulteration of beers, including in America using cobalt to keep the head on the drink, there was ample scope for reform. It converted many to the cause of Temperance, albeit others to whisky.
In the final years of his life he lived in Liverpool a short distance from a Lyons Tea Room in the town centre popular with people of the Temperance inclination. One of the waiters, a recent immigrant from Austria who had married an Irish girl, was obliging and attentive. His name was Alois Hitler.