conflict with the stance of those who had adopted an intensely committed form of Christian faith. Although superstition could mesh readily enough with evangelical belief in providence, other aspects of folk belief were condemned by the Free Churches. Such traditions as warding off evil by lucky charms remained strong at the end of the century, even in London. The normal insistence on sabbath observance also clashed with the wish of working people to use the day for other purposes. But the greatest obstacle in popular culture to the progress of voluntary religion was the widespread devotion to strong drink. The consumption of alcohol rose steadily down to late in the century and the number of drink outlets, whether in metropolitan bars or in frontier saloons, was legion. The public house was a centre of male sociability, sustaining a web of values that fostered gambling, tolerated swearing and admired a manliness that could express itself in violence. The temperance movement, though originating outside the churches, was grafted into their life. They banned alcohol from their events, provided organisations such as the Band of Hope to train the young in the dangers of drink and sponsored counter-attractions such as coffee taverns. They also increasingly turned to political measures to restrict the availability of strong drink. The effect was to reinforce the polarisation of society between respectable folk, who went to church, and the rough drinkers, who did not. The endorsement of total abstinence erected a barrier between the Free Churches and many of their potential converts.
The problems faced by the Free Churches multiplied in the last two or three decades of the century. The process of suburbanisation, already underway in the biggest cities of the world, gained fresh impetus as transport became cheaper. Although new places of worship were erected for suburban dwellers, the older congregations near the city centres thinned as former members moved out to homes on the edge of the countryside. The lay leaders on whom voluntary organisations depended were specially likely to possess the initiative to prosper and depart to the suburbs. Meanwhile rural churches, though sometimes flourishing, were often, especially in Britain, hard hit by agricultural depression and so no longer able to pay a minister. The urban workforce, however, enjoyed higher wages than before and so could afford new forms of entertainment. From the 1870s the music hall attracted huge audiences and organised sport took off as a major preoccupation of the masses. So there were new activities competing with the churches for popular favour. On the other hand non-religious reasons for making a connection with the churches declined. The basic training in reading and writing that was often provided in Sunday schools earlier in the century became superfluous as state schools became general. Professional social workers started to appear and
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