“The drinking orgy is indulged in only by civilised peoples. Savages have other forms of self-inflicted torture.” —Mr. Pussyfoot Johnson

Some readers will have heard me talk about the Ancient Order of Frothblowers (AOFB), along with my recollections of the Friends of the AOFB[i] lunches at the very upmarket London restaurant ‘Simpsons in the Strand’. For those who are not familiar with the charity, check out the reference in the endnotes or in my book ‘The A-Z of Curious Flintshire. In summary. The Ancient Order of Froth Blowers was a humorous British charitable organisation “to foster the noble Art and gentle and healthy Pastime of froth blowing amongst Gentlemen of-leisure and ex-Soldiers”. Established in the 1924, the charity raised huge sums for a variety of children’s charities and activities. In its relatively short life (disbanded December 1931), it operated worldwide and had between 750,000 and 1 million members in its 2,350 groups known as VATs. Flintshire had five VATs. The Central Hotel in Shotton; the Swan and the Hawarden Castle in Flint, No.5 Flying School, RAF Sealand and the Market Vaults in Mold (licensee A. Stott). Anything that is seen as encouraging the drinking of alcohol naturally attracted the ire of the many temperance bodies, whose wished to see the United Kingdom following the lead of the United States which introduced the Prohibition legislation of the Volstead Act.[ii] This was passed by Congress in 1919.  During the 1920s in the UK, the Local Veto campaign made it possible to prohibit the public consumption of alcohol altogether in parts of the country that voted for it. The Temperance (Scotland) Act of 1913 gave the mechanism by which local ballots could be conducted in Scotland.[iii] The ballots held in Scotland in November, 1920 did not bring about the results the temperance campaigners had hoped for, with only 40 areas passing the simple majority required to limit the sale of alcohol, while at the other end of the scale, over 500+ areas rejected any limitation. While the Local Option was not offered in Wales, the many temperance bodies amalgamated their shared interests under the umbrella of the Wales Temperance Federation. The Federation held their 1920 annual conference in Denbigh. The anti-temperance organisations and individuals were not about to let their freedom to partake of a ‘beer’ be taken away from them, so they organised opposition groups. One national opposition organisation was The Fellowship of Freedom and Reform and my full article on the organisation can be found in a Pub History Journal entitled ‘Freedom and Reform or Freedom from Reform? Personal Liberty or ‘Pussyfootism’?’ So what was this organisation?

The Fellowship of Freedom and Reform​ were an organisation set up to oppose the temperance movement. Its aims were defined thus, ‘The Fellowship is a public organisation. Non-Party and Non-Sectarian, which stands for Personal Freedom, True Temperance, and Reform, as opposed to Prohibition, Local Option, and Excessive Restrictions.’ The declared guiding principles of the Fellowship were given as follows:

(a) Individual Freedom (within the bounds of morality). The right to exercise our free choice of right and wrong, without which we have no temptation, cannot therefore sin, and consequentially are unable to work out our own salvation.

(B) True Temperance. That is moderation in all things. We therefore believe that moderate use of alcoholic beverages is in perfect harmony with the practice of temperance.

(C) Reforms (domestic, social and industrial), including Reform of the Public House. Reform is needed-not Prohibition. Reform-wise, moderate and patient-in light of experience and education.

(D) Abolition of Drunkenness. Drunkenness is immoral; therefore, like all promoters of True Temperance, the Fellowship condemns it and upholds the law which conforms with morality and punishes the man who goes to excess.

One of the key speakers was William Eugene “Pussyfoot” Johnson an American law enforcement officer who admitted to lying, bribing, and planting evidence to obtain convictions. It is claimed he travelled the world 3 times giving over 4000 lectures on temperance. In 1906, Johnson embarked on the work that earned him the nickname of ‘Pussyfoot’. Appointed by President Teddy Roosevelt as a special officer in the Indian service, his role was to enforce the prohibition law in Oklahoma. On one occasion, it is said he dumped 25,000 bottles of liquor into the Arkansas River. Not surprisingly this made him many enemies among the various prohibition-busting gangs. Following his appointment as Chief Special Officer with a brief to stop liquor traffic in all Indian territories, he made even more enemies, resulting in some of his deputies being killed. Despite this he pressed on with his crusade but, as a result of the threats to his life, he began to conduct much of his work at night. This is described as being carried out in a ‘stealthy manner’ giving rise to his nickname ‘Pussyfoot.’ By 1911, he had resigned from government service, and started working with the Anti-Saloon League. In addition, he became managing editor of a number of temperance publications, but not satisfied with just saving our Atlantic cousins from the ‘evil drink’, he travelled extensively publicising the temperance cause. On a visit to England in 1919, he was caught up in a student ‘rag’ event during one of his lectures and, after being hit by a missile, he lost an eye. This still didn’t deter him.

In addition to his forays into the United Kingdom he also visited Algiers, Australia, Paris, Estonia, Canada, India, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), New Zealand, South Africa, Turkey, Bulgaria, and he did not neglect the United States. In India he gave lectures on behalf of the Anglo-Indian Temperance Association and the Calcutta Temperance Federation. In Windsor (Ontario) the local Militia Commander refused permission for Johnson to use the armoury for a lecture, calling him a ‘Foreign Agitator.’

The terms ‘pussyfoot’ and ‘pussyfootism’ came into common use, but were usually used in a derogatory manner. While I was previously aware of his activities, there was no apparent link to Mold, so I simply noted ‘Pussyfoot’s’ work by making brief mentions in my writing and talks. Then in January 2023, I was re-reading a set of early 20th century reminiscences given to me by Rhiannon Griffiths, and written by her local historian father, John. At the bottom of the page was a one line reference to a visit to Mold and Denbigh by ‘Pussyfoot’ Johnson in 1920. So intrigued, the local newspapers were checked for news of the visit.

“AT PUSSYFOOT’S MEETING AT MOLD. (By a Contributor who is temperance supporter). – And you were at Pussyfoots meeting at Mold were you! I have heard such a lot about it that I would like to know how you got on there. Well I started by the 7.20 p.m. motorbus from Gwernymynydd, in company with a lady friend from Lixwm, who was as eager as myself to see and hear the American visitor.

It was just half-past seven when we arrived at the front of the well-lit Town Hall, (Ed: I believe they are referring to the Assembly Hall) where there was a surging, jostling crowd of some hundreds trying desperately to elbow their through the police-guarded door. “There’s no room for more,” cried a couple of officials in blue. We were quite downcast at this, but, to our relief, another officer bobbed up from round the corner and announced quietly that we could get in through the back door. So off my lady friend and myself hurried, along with a few others persons, and up the stone staircase to the back of the Hall. But we could see nothing of the platform, as a dense and noisy crowd stood on the back benches. My lady friend looked scared, and said with trembling voice that she would not stay. “This is not a temperance meeting, surely! It is more like that ‘hot place’ with the lid off. Look at that man shaking a bottle of beer up in the air. No, indeed, I shall not stay here. I was never in such a meting. But before I go I should like to see ‘Pussyfoot.’ ” So we edged our way to the further side of the room, and managed to get the lady to stand on the end of a bench, till we got a fair glimpse of the occupants of the platform, which, I am glad to say, was crowded with sturdy, intelligent advocates of the good cause. The gentleman in the middle was the Chairman, Mr. C. L. Williams, or “Ty’n Llwyn,” as they familiarly know him; to his right was Mr. Pussyfoot, the stout gentleman, with grey hair and high forehead. My lady friend then left, and I felt more at liberty to move about as best I could through the turbulent crowd, and to take stock of things. I also mounted one foot on a bench and the other on some heating pipes (not hot at this time, fortunately). Mr. “Pussyfoot” Johnson is on his feet, essaying to speak, but his voice is completely drowned in a wild chorus of yells and booing. He looks calm and collected, as if accustomed to ‘fight with beasts at Ephesus.’ “We want no foreigners here!” “Who spilt Milk?” “Miaw! miaw” Up goes the full beer-bottle again. “More beer, more barley.” “What an absurd thing,” said a woman in the crowd, “Isn’t there a use for barley than making beer?” Just then the Rev. G. Parry Williams attempts to address the audience, but is silenced by the gesticulating roisterers at the back, and sits down. The Chairman again stands erect and undaunted, and manages to throw forth a few sentences between the waves of noise, till he also resumes his seat, hopeless of being able to proceed. Then the crowded platform all sit tight and mute, hoping the hired disturbers would in a while get tired at their job. When, lo! a well-dressed gentleman, with bow-tie and hair parted in the middle, (Ed: I believe this was V.C. Redwood, the Organising speaker of the Fellowship of Freedom and Reform) at the opposite side of the Hall, takes the field. He motions furiously with both hands for the crowd to be quiet: he was evidently known to them, for “Hush!” “Hush!” runs through their ranks, and behold, there was a great calm.  I challenge any lady or gentleman on that platform to debate with me, not now, but later on the question of Prohibition.” “Hear,” “Hear,” was the rejoinder of his followers. Their was a momentary stir on the platform, but 1 don’t understand that the challenge was taken up. “Why don’t they let Pussyfoot speak?” 1 asked of a neighbour. “Yah! We don’t want Americans and foreigners to interfere with us,” was the curt reply. “Why! You don’t call Americans ‘foreigners,’ do you?

 Haven’t you read of the Pilgrim Fathers recently? Americans are a part of ourselves, only a bit of cold water separate us. And, besides, we were jolly glad a short time ago to get Americans to help us in the war. You didn’t object to them them” “When did they come in? just at the fag-end. And what did they do?” “What did they do! Fifty thousand of them died on the battle-field! From this you can reckon the number of wounded. Besides, remember, friend, that there are fifteen million Germans in America, five millions of them German born; and as many millions of Irishmen over there, who would be only too glad to see us, our Country and Empire, ground to the dust, and you may depend upon it that it took President Wilson some time and diplomacy to get a country with hostile elements in it to join us in the great struggle. Yes, and he got full conscription there without a single riot.” “That’s right,” said a woman near me. “Let me get on the platform for five minutes, and I’d tell these rowdy chaps what my husband spends on drink, and how he demeans me and the children. Why don’t you let ‘Pussyfoot’ speak? Let’s hear what he has to say. “Right you are,” cried another woman, “there’s two sides to every question.” So, between us all, our debater was effectively squelched, and his tail went down. I found myself later on rubbing shoulders with a well-known and prominent citizen of Mold. “It’s a pity,” I said, “that they won’t let him speak. These noisy fellows are not Mold fellows at all.” To my astonishment, he shakes his head significantly, saying “We don’t want Americans to meddle with our affairs.” “But we were very glad of them to meddle with us in the ‘Great War,” I remarked, And if we and the Americans were more united we could hold the world in peace.” “England, France and Belgium can do this all right,” was his reply, with a puff at his cigar. Hello! Here’s the National Anthem! The occupants of the platform are all on their feet, as well as the body of the audience. “Mae Hen Wlad fy Nhadau”, is sung twice over, the last time with a shrill lady’s voice leading, and the meeting breaks up. After those on the platform make their exit, a gentleman in the Hall mounts a bench to hold an opposition meeting. After a few opening sentences, the hall-keeper appears, as if by magic, on the deserted platform, calling out in commanding tones, with right arm outstretched and clenched fist, “Stop it! Stop it! You have no right to speak here. You have not paid for the Hall.” Stepping down, he walks up to and faces the speaker on the bench, saying in stentorian accents, “Out you go. You have not paid for the Hall.” The intending orator collapsed like a pricked bladder at the sound of the word, “payment.” It was more potent that all the appeals of the lithe chairman for silence. It was all so very comical, and we couldn’t help but smile. We trudged from the heated atmosphere to the High Street. Here were a number of dirty, capless, and ragged little Arabs, with old tins, kettles, frying pans and sticks, a veritable African band, on the lookout, as they said, for Mr Pussyfoot. I disliked very much this aspect of the night’s proceedings, the children infected with the views of anti-temperance sentiments. They must have been inoculated by their elders at their homes. I can only commend them to the immediate and serious attention of our churches, chapels and schools. Another thing that struck me at the meeting, all the women I came across were more or less pro-temperance. At least, I didn’t see them jubilate against the speakers, whilst many of them spoke up bravely for them, and especially for ‘Mr Pussyfoot’, as I have already mentioned. But I did hear afterwards, from a good authority, that one woman from ‘Bedlam’ (Ed: Milford Street, Mold) stated emphatically at the meeting. He (Mr Pussyfoot) has lost one eye, and by jabers (Ed: R: Irish expression meaning an oath), he will lose another before he goes home tonight. This threat failed for a motor car steered to the front of the Hall, apparently with the object of taking the great Temperance reformer to his hosts’ home for the night. An eager crowd clustered at once around the car, many of them with no good intentions, but the visitor and his friends quietly slipped to another car at the back of the Hall, completely eluding his angry enemies. So the woman from “Bedlam” and her like, had not a “look in,” as they say. The Armonic (Ed: Printers)side of the High Street was lined with charabancs, ready to take the disturbers back to their respective districts, Wrexham chiefly, I was told. One of these huge vehicles was already full with passengers when I walked up to it, and they were in a merry mood. A dark-visaged passenger stood up at the front, to conduct them. I stepped on the footboard and enquired, “Are you going to Wrexham?” “Yes” was the immediate reply, “Step in, mate,” thinking I was one of the crew. “And you all come from Wrexham?” “Yes.” “Why wouldn’t you let Pussyfoot speak?” “Yah! We don’t want foreigners.” “And you came all the way from Wrexham to disturb our meeting in Mold. We in Mold don’t want foreigners like you either. Fair play to Mold.” I met several of the occupants of the platform in the street, men and women always foremost in every good work; they looked somewhat dejected, and each cried “shame.” “Be of good cheer,” I answered. “This is the best advertisement possible for the Temperance cause.” Too tame and tepid have the Temperance waters been for too long a time; now the waters are stirred, and from stirred waters cometh salvation. This man, Johnson, does things; he is no mere talkee-talkee; therefore the drink interests fear him, and will suppress him if they can. these incidents are fomented by the booze interests, but at the bottom it is principally due to the resentment of outside interference. Many Britons think it would be a good idea if ‘Pussyfoot’ Johnson and his associates devoted themselves to restraining their fellow-countrymen found drinking while in England.” No comment of ours seems necessary.”

The following evening his talk at Denbigh was to be one of a preliminary series of meetings, organised by the Wales Temperance Federation prior to their 1920 annual conference at Denbigh. The Federation organised a series of committee meetings; a meeting aimed at children, a parade and public meetings at Bodfari, St.Asaph, Caerwys, Rhyl, Nantglyn, Wrexham, Llanelidan, Ruthin and other places. At Denbigh, the proprietors of one hall refused to allow the Federation to hold their meeting on the premises. It was held in a chapel and a row of stewards stood guard behind iron railings, preventing the 1,500 anti-prohibitionists from gaining entry to the locked chapel. Meanwhile as Johnson was delivering his address inside the chapel, the protestors held their own meeting outside and passed resolutions against prohibition, the interference of an American, and their exclusion from an ‘advertised meeting.’  While the protestors were holding their meeting, Johnson was smuggled out through the basement of the chapel. The decision of the Denbigh hall proprietors not to allow a meeting may well be as the result of the disturbances at Mold the previous evening. This visit to north Wales appears to be his one and only visit across the dyke.

Despite all the setbacks, the loss of one eye, the constant heckling and harassment ‘Pussyfoot’ continued with his campaigning and attempted to fulfil his 1921 prophecy.

“I am not going to die till England is Dry.”

The considerable efforts came to naught and the prophecy was not fulfilled. The Aberdeen Press and Journal of 3rd February 1945 carried the following article regarding his death.

Death of ‘Pussyfoot’ Johnson. “Mr William (” Pussyfoot”) E. Johnson, internationally known prohibitionist, died yesterday, states a New York cable. Johnson gained world repute as a prohibitionist in 1913 when he represented the U.S. at the international anti-alcohol congress in Milan. The great moment in his life came when the Volstead Act,[iv] introducing Prohibition was passed by Congress in 1919. It was repealed in1933, and though he still campaigned he admitted that much of what he fought for had been lost.”

The full article on ‘Pussyfoot’ will be published in the Pub History Society[v] Journal, summer edition.

David Rowe                                                9th March 2023






Copyright of articles
published lies with the Mold Civic Society and individual contributors.
Contents and opinions expressed therein
remains the responsibility of individual authors.