The building now occupied by shops in West Street, near the junction of Mandeville Street, was formerly called The Temperance Hall. It’s name was a link with the once flourishing temperance movement which existed in Northern Ireland until the late 1950’s and early 60’s. In the aftermath of the great religious revival in the North of Ireland in 1859, many temperance societies were formed. It was a time when the industrial revolution was taking place, and many people were moving from the Ulster Countryside to Belfast and the big linen towns like Portadown and Lurgan.
Heavy drinking was a feature of life in the British Isles at the time, alcohol being comparatively cheap, it was a means whereby people living in poor and often overcrowded streets could escape from the harsh realities of life, through excess drinking.
The Churches, were well aware of the need to counteract this outbreak of heavy drinking and they formed organisations aimed at providing not only an alternative to this, but as a means of educating young people about the perils of indulging in excess drinking.
The Temperance Hall in West Street was home to an organisation called The Independent Order of Good Templers, and its junior movement, the Independent Order of Rechabites. Hundreds of young Portadown people belonged to the Rechabites which met in the Temperance Hall, and in the year 1911 it had a membership of 700, a figure to grow within a few years to over 1,000.
The Rechabites was an organisation along the lines of the Lifeboy branch of the Boys Brigade or the Junior Orange Lodges. Children were taught Bible stories, they painted scenes from the Bible, and their weekly meetings were often visited by men-it was mostly male speakers-who told of how they had been converted to Christianity, and in doing so had ceased drinking alcohol.
The years after the 2nd World War saw a big decline in membership of the Temperance societies, due in large measure to the creation of the welfare state, and the greater prosperity, allied to the provision of better housing for the working class people, and the growing popularity of sporting and recreational activities which provided the alternative to the public house and excess drinking. But even as late as the 1950’s, the Rechabites in the Temperance Hall still had a large membership.