Scenes closely approaching a riot were witnessed in the Public Hall, Rushden, on Saturday night, at a midnight meeting arranged in connection with the temperance mission conducted by Mr Roberts.
Prior to the meeting a number of temperance workers paraded the town with the object of attracting the men and women as they were leaving the clubs and public-houses. A procession was formed near the railway bridge in High-street. Headed by the Mission Silver Band, the procession marched along High-street past the church up Griffith-street, and then to the Public Hall by way of Park-road and Rectory-road. The proceedings at the Public Hall were, however,
than a temperance and religious meeting.
At the outset it must be admitted that there was an utter lack of organisation on the part of the promoters of themeeting, the very first essential - a strong staff of doorkeepers - being ignored, with the result that the hall was crowded to excess long before the processionists returned from their march. And it must also be conceded that, if there was a lack of organisation on the part of the promoters of the meeting, there was no such lack on the part of its opponents. Beyond dispute, the opposition had been carefully organised, and the leaders of the opposition were not in the main men under the influence of drink but sober men who were inciting the victims of drink to riotous behaviour.
From the very first it was utterly impossible for Mr Roberts to get a hearing. Gangs of men had
Bottles of Beer
with them, and with these they "beat time" during the singing of a number of hymns.
Over and over again Mr Roberts tried to speak, but his voice was drowned in a perfect uproar. Mrs Roberts, too, essayed to address the gathering, but the interrupters were in no mood to give fair play even to a lady. Hymns were sung very readily, but that no addresses would be listened to was soon made manifest.
Free fights took place in many parts of the hall. Chairs were flung up in the air, landing on some of the spectators, and men were to be seen rolling over each other on the ground. Many of the leaders of the turbulent element were forcibly ejected, but when they were thrown out at one door they merely proceeded to march in again at another door, and so
The "Fun" Went On.
In the rows which took place quite a number of men had their eyes blackened, and bruises were common. The language used was filthy in the extreme, and the conduct of some of the rowdies was utterly disgusting.
After an hour or two or utter disorder, all hope of subduing the uproar was abandoned, the stage curtain was lowered, and the temperance workers left the platform. At about 1.30 Mr John Claridge successfully appealed for order, expessing his regret that the audience had prevented the missioner being heard. He asked them to go quietly home, as in five minutes it was proposed to lower the lights. Upon this there were cries for "Roberts." Mr Claridge, under the impression that the missioner had gone home, stated that Mr Roberts was not in the hall. It appears, however, that Mr Roberts had gone home, changed his hat for a cap, and then returned, unrecognised by most of the audience. Mr Claridge having restored order, Mr Roberts spoke for about ten minutes, and then advised people to go away quietly. By two o'clock most of the people left the hall, but for an hour or two afterwards
Gangs of Men
were marching up and down the streets, creating a serious disturbance.
One of the men kept addressing the crowd gathered around outside the hall at the stage door. "Working men," he cried, "why don't you help yourselves? Nobody else will help you."
It is fortunate that none of the lady workers were hurt during the struggles, but most of them escaped from the hall by the stage door. Mr Roberts described the meeting as "a midnight hell."
It will be asked if any good purpose can be served by these midnight meetings. At any rate, one thing has been done - a practical demonstration has been given of the influence which the drink is having upon hundreds of Rushden people week by week, and probably the temperance party will be stimulated to renewed energy in their efforts to uplift the victims of the curse of intemperance.