A WAG with a pen was on the loose in Hereford one night in the early years of Queen Victoria's reign.

The early Wesleyans held their services in a room in Packers Lane - now East Street - over a wine and spirits vaults. When the good Methodists arrived for their service one Sunday morning they found a note affixed to their door.

The Saturday night humorist had written: "Spirits above and spirits below; spirits of bliss and spirits of woe; the spirits above are spirits divine, but the spirits below are spirits of wine."

So, in this instance, drink and religion combined tolerably well.

That was not the case on another occasion in 1842. It was a time when drunkenness was one of the more unsavoury features of life in Hereford, a city with a population of only 10,000 and yet boasting around 100 pubs.

'Beastly nuisance'

A man was taken before the court for being drunk and disorderly during divine worship in the Roman Catholic Church which had only recently opened in Broad Street.

The priest in charge, Father Waterworth, said the drunkard had not only disturbed worship but had made himself 'a beastly nuisance'. He had been reluctant to press charges, but dearly wanted this kind of behaviour stopped.

The culprit was given a 'wigging' by the Mayor and was fined five shillings - a big fine on a down-and-out in those days. The cash was not forthcoming and he was sent to the treadmill to reflect on his escapade.

The Total Abstinence Movement was beginning at about this time and was regarded with amazement by the pious and free-spirited alike. For many good folk, including the deeply religious, quaffed a little wine - purely, they claimed, for the sake of their stomachs and the occasional infirmity. A Wesleyan conference even issued a declaration against total abstinence.

But hot stuff of a different nature was served-up at a well-known country hostelry. A news item in the summer of 1843 read: "On Monday last a tea meeting was held at the George Inn, Lyonshall, on behalf of the Home Missions of the Primitive Methodists. About 160 sat down and after tea were ably addressed by the Rev. Mr Walpington." Indeed, the landlord of the George seems to have been a zealous 'Prim' himself.

But, of course, the main beverage of the countryside was cider and there is a delightful tale relating to a hot summer's day in the Golden Valley during the 1840s.

A man travelling the valley on horseback called at a pub to refresh himself. He was given a tankard of cider and as he downed it tears coursed down his cheeks.

"Was it all right?" asked the landlord. Said the traveller: "It was like a cat clawing its way down my throat."

"Oh," said mine host, "I'll give you some milder cider," and brought another tankard. "Is that better?" he asked. "No," came the reply, "that felt like the same cat clawing his way back up."

Ross-on-Wye rowdies got strongly up in arms against the new temperance crusade.

In the summer of 1842, the Rechabite Society staged a demonstration. There was a procession, banners, flags, carriages and postillions - all headed by a band.

But then there were problems. Well-oiled trouble-makers came along with a sham band, pounding old kettles, frying pans, pots, saucepans and anything else with which they could raise a din.

In front of the band from hell there meandered a cart loaded with beer and cider from which the thirsty souls could refresh themselves.

The rabble rolled and brawled before the Rechabite procession which calmly made their way to the chapel for their meeting.

And they were able to wend their way home in a relaxed manner, too. As they emerged from the meeting, they were ignored by members of the mob who were either dead drunk in the gutter or pelting each other with missiles!