The Dangers of Smoking

Heritage & Archives Officer Philip Jeffs looks at Thomas Glazebrook Rylands’ attitude to the dangers of smoking and finds that, surprisingly, not much has changed…

The item I want to share with you today is a pamphlet written by Thomas Glazebrook Rylands, 1818 – 1900. You may remember T.G. Rylands from the earlier posts on this blog looking at his observations of snowflakes and his involvement with the abolitionist movement.

One of Thomas’ concerns throughout his life was the health and welfare of the people of Warrington. From 1858 – 1859, he held the position of Mayor, and much of his work whilst involved with local government was aimed at improving living conditions in the town. The pamphlet I want to show you here touches upon that theme of public health, but in a somewhat unexpected way.

In 1843 Thomas published a pamphlet at Warrington, titled An Enquiry into the Merits and Demerits of Tobacco Smoking.

If, like me, you thought the idea of smoking being bad for your health or even bad for society, was a modern idea, a construct of the late 20th Century, this pamphlet proves us wrong. Here, in 1843, Thomas is stating clearly and concisely that smoking can kill you. He is also making that other complaint we hear so often today, that smoking is so expensive it will leave you poor. The front cover of this pamphlet may give some idea of the origins of Thomas’ concerns about smoking. He includes the quote “Do Thyself No Harm”, a reference to the Book of Paul in the Bible, where it is stated that doing anything which will lead to your own death is forbidden. Thomas had been brought up by deeply religious nonconformist parents, John and Martha Rylands of Stepney Chapel in Warrington. I copy here the conclusion to Thomas’ pamphlet:

“Is it not an unqualified evil, physical and moral, for a nation to spend such an amount (four millions annually!) on a material universally allowed to be a poison, and now proved to be not only useless but injurious; to do this while the cry of a starving people is for bread, while the Benevolent Institutions of Country are crippled for want of funds… And then to consume the poison when bought and thus perfect the evil?”

In one of my earlier posts, I said that crime was nothing new to Warrington, and this little pamphlet shows that struggling social services and a council trying to help people stop smoking are nothing new either. It is interesting to think that 160 years ago T.G. Rylands would have been sitting in Bewsey Street talking about crime in the town centre, economic depression meaning people can’t afford food, and how the Council could stop people smoking. A conversation I think you could hear just as easily today.

The picture today shows men smoking clay pipes around the date of Thomas’ pamphlet. Cigarettes would be almost unheard of in England at the time; clay pipes were by far the most common way of smoking and many broken pipes are dug up in gardens and fields even now, the “dog ends” of their day.



This article was first posted on Wednesday, July 9th, 2014.