Whittaker, Thomas

Local preacher, temperance advocate and lecturer, and newspaper proprietor, he was born near Clitheroe on 23 August 1813. The family moved to Blackburn and then to Preston about 1825 on his father being appointed the watchman at Horrock’s Mill, where both Thomas and his brother found employment in the weaving department. Preston led the way in the teetotal pledge, which Thomas signed about 1825. Following a drunken brawl, he returned to Bradford, was converted to total abstinence and in 1836 became an eloquent and effective temperance lecturer, first in northern counties and then for the New British and Foreign Temperance Society in London and the south-east.. In 1849 he moved to Scarborough, using the town as a base for lecture tours both in the United Kingdom and America. He became active in Liberal politics there and was mayor in 1880. He was both a correspondent and columnist to the town’s papers but they were found to be too inflammatory by the editors. For a short time in the 1860s he owned his own paper The Watchman, then in 1875 acquired The Mercury and in 1882 began the still continuing Scarborough Evening News. He wrote an autobiography, Life’s Battles in Temperance Armour (1884), which went through at least three editions, and Brighter England and the Way to It (1891). He died on 20 November 1899. His funeral service was held at Westborough Wesleyan Chapel and he was buried in Scarborough’s Dean Road Municipal Cemetery.

His son, Sir Thomas Palmer Whittaker (1850-1919), originally a Scarborough ironmonger but later also a newspaper proprietor, continued his father’s work in the temperance movement,. From 1898 to1908 he was the managing director, then from 1908 the chairman, of the United Temperance & General Provident Institution. As the Liberal MP for Spen Valley 1892-1919, he was the leading prohibitionist in the House of Commons. He died on 9 November 1919.

  • W. Pilkington, The Makers of Wesleyan Methodism in Preston and the relation of Methodism to the temperance movement (London, 1890)
  • Brian Harrison, Drink and the Victorians: the temperance question in England, 1815-1872 (2nd edn., 1994)
  • Oxford DNB