A his­tory of the Sal­va­tion Army

To mark its 150th an­niver­sary, looks at the ori­gins, de­vel­op­ment and far-reach­ing in­ter­na­tional im­pact of the Sal­va­tion Army

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - CONTENTS - Michelle Higgs

Preach­ing the gospel in a makeshift shel­ter in Spi­tal­fields, East Lon­don, Wil­liam Booth had to con­tend with the usual heck­lers as well as van­dals who cut the ropes to the tent. It was 2 July 1865 and this was the hum­ble be­gin­nings of the Sal­va­tion Army. A fort­night later, a vi­o­lent storm blew the tent down but in those two weeks he had at­tracted be­tween 400 and 500 peo­ple to hear him preach.

Wil­liam Booth had been an itin­er­ant Methodist preacher but be­came dis­il­lu­sioned with the church (see page 65). It was his wife Cather­ine’s sug­ges­tion that he be­come an in­de­pen­dent preacher in Lon­don.

In the East End of Lon­don, Wil­liam yearned “to do some­thing for the masses of whom he was told that only five in 100 at­tended Chapel or Church; the district con­tain­ing 1,000,000 souls”.

The orig­i­nal name for the or­gan­i­sa­tion founded by Wil­liam and Cather­ine was the East Lon­don Chris­tian Re­vival Union. Be­fore 1878, it had sev­eral dif­fer­ent names in­clud­ing the East Lon­don Chris­tian Mis­sion, then the Lon­don Chris­tian Mis­sion as it spread across the cap­i­tal, then sim­ply the Chris­tian Mis­sion. By Novem­ber 1870, 18 mis­sion sta­tions had been opened in the East End.

In­stead of the tra­di­tional church set-up, the Booths took their evan­gel­i­cal mes­sage to the streets. They held meet­ings in the open air and in venues such as mu­sic halls and the­atres. Any­one could at­tend and there was no need for ‘Sun­day best’ clothes. The lan­guage that was used was eas­ily un­der­stood be­cause the speak­ers them­selves were usu­ally work­ing-class con­verts. They told their per­sonal sto­ries of be­ing ‘saved’ to en­cour­age oth­ers to re­pent. The Sal­va­tion­ists firmly be­lieved in the for­give­ness of sins but re­pen­tance was a con­di­tion of sal­va­tion. Any­one who did not re­pent and was not ‘saved’ was con­demned to hell to re­ceive eter­nal pun­ish­ment for their sins.

A new name

If there had not been a change of iden­tity in 1878, the Sal­va­tion Army may not have be­come the in­ter­na­tion­ally recog­nised char­ity we know to­day. When Charles Booth (no re­la­tion to Wil­liam Booth) car­ried out his so­cial in­ves­ti­ga­tions in Lon­don in the 1890s, he dis­cov­ered in the poorer ar­eas: “in al­most ev­ery street there is a mis­sion; they are more nu­mer­ous than schools or churches, and only less nu­mer­ous than pub­lic houses”.

In its guise as the Chris­tian Mis­sion, the Booths’ or­gan­i­sa­tion was sim­i­lar to many other re­vival­ist mis­sions in­clud­ing the

Lon­don City Mis­sion, the Open Air Mis­sion and Ran­yard’s Bi­ble-women.

The new name came about ac­ci­den­tally. When Wil­liam Booth read through the 1878 Re­port of the Chris­tian Mis­sion, he saw the move­ment de­scribed as ‘a vol­un­teer army’. This phrase res­onated with him but his son Bramwell dis­agreed, in­sist­ing they were all reg­u­lars, not vol­un­teers. Wil­liam crossed out ‘vol­un­teer’ and re­placed it with ‘sal­va­tion’ – the Sal­va­tion Army was born.

This rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the or­gan­i­sa­tion as an army grad­u­ally led to a re­struc­tur­ing un­der a mil­i­tary rank sys­tem. Wil­liam be­came known as ‘Gen­eral’ and Cather­ine as ‘Army Mother’. The clergy were called ‘of­fi­cers’ while the mem­bers were ‘sol­diers’.

Ev­ery mis­sion sta­tion was re­named a ‘corps’ and over­seen by a ‘cap­tain’, as­sisted by a ‘ lieu­tenant’.

The corps were di­vided into dis­tricts com­manded by a ‘ma­jor’; and sev­eral dis­tricts made up a divi­sion led by a ‘colonel’.

The first Sal­va­tion Army flag in red, yel­low and blue was pre­sented to Coven­try Corps by Cather­ine Booth in 1878. Th­ese colours were seen at ev­ery pa­rade, rally and meet­ing, rep­re­sent­ing a call to arms in the war against evil. Red was for atone­ment, blue for pu­rity and the yel­low sun (later, a star) was the Holy Spirit.

The new Sal­va­tion Army crest was placed around the sun or star along with the motto ‘Blood and fire’ to sig­nify Je­sus’s blood and the fire of the Holy Spirit.

From about 1880, a stan­dard­ised uni­form was in­tro­duced, mak­ing the Army’s re­cruits in­stantly recog­nis­able to the pub­lic. At the time, jin­go­ism was very pop­u­lar with the work­ing classes so the new mil­i­tary-style or­gan­i­sa­tion had great ap­peal for them.

An­other as­pect that struck a chord with the poor was the mu­sic played at events and meet­ings. Wil­liam Booth fa­mously asked, “Whyy should the devil have all the best tunes?” The Sal­va­tion Army clev­erly took mu­sic hall and other pop­u­lar sec­u­lar songs which the work­ing classes knew and changed the words to Chris­tian lyrics. The first of­fi­cial Sal­va­tion Army brass band was recog­nised in 1879 and a year later, Wil­liam Booth ac­tively en­cour­aged the found­ing of bands through the pages of War Cry, the Army’s weekly news­pa­per.

From its early be­gin­nings, women played an im­por­tant role in the Sal­va­tion Army. Cather­ine Booth was a gifted and in­spi­ra­tional preacher in her own right, even be­fore the Chris­tian Mis­sion was founded. It was she who in­sisted that women be given equal op­por­tu­ni­ties within the or­gan­i­sa­tion, which was ex­tremely un­usual for the time. Wil­liam Booth de­cided to ex­ploit this nov­elty and sent young girls off in pairs to take com­mand of corps. Th­ese ‘Hal­lelu­jah Lasses’ were hugely suc­cess­ful in their preach­ing and con­ver­sions.

At­tract­ing the masses

With their uni­forms, flags, loud mu­sic, pa­rades and in­spi­ra­tional meet­ings, the Sal­va­tion Army stood out from all the other churches, chapels and mis­sions. This was de­lib­er­ate. As Wil­liam Booth told a news­pa­per reporter in 1886: “The first ne­ces­sity of the move­ment… is TO AT­TRACT AT­TEN­TION. If the peo­ple are in dan­ger of the damna­tion of Hell, and asleep in the dan­ger, awaken them – ‘to open their eyes’.” The peo­ple he sought to reach were the de­graded and the fallen who never at­tended places of wor­ship and were un­likely ever to do so.

The con­verted, who acted as lay preach­ers at meet­ings telling their sto­ries, were known by names re­lated to their past pro­fes­sions. Th­ese in­cluded the ‘Hal­lelu­jah Fish­mon­ger’, the ‘Saved Rail­way Guard’, ‘Happy El­iza’ and ‘Nancy Dick­y­bird’. Nancy was a for­mer drunk­ard, “the ter­ror of the Manch­ester po­lice”, and had served 173 terms of im­pris­on­ment.

In their ad­ver­tise­ments,

A stan­dard­ised uni­form was in­tro­duced to make Army re­cruits in­stantly recog­nis­able

the Sal­va­tion Army even copied the style of cir­cuses and mu­sic halls to at­tract peo­ple to their meet­ings. One poster from 1880 pro­claimed: “LOOK OUT! LOOK OUT! LOOK OUT! CAP­TAIN MOR­RELL and SOL­DIERS of the 37th Corps (Reg­u­lars) will chal­lenge the DEVIL for War and make a SPE­CIAL AT­TACK ON HIS TER­RI­TORY on SUN­DAY SEPT 19th... CAP­TAIN MOR­RELL (Bet­ter known as the DEVIL DRIVER), from Le­ices­ter, let­ting the en­emy have it right and left… A HOST OF DARE DEVILS!! Will re­peat the fir­ing on the Bat­tle-field...”

Be­tween 1878 and 1883, the Sal­va­tion Army ex­panded rapidly as an or­gan­i­sa­tion. By the end of 1878, there were 57 corps across Eng­land and Wales. The num­ber rose to 519 by the end of 1883, plus 37 in Scot­land and 17 in Ire­land.

Dur­ing the 1880s, the char­ity started to make its mark in­ter­na­tion­ally. The first Sal­va­tion Army of­fi­cers ar­rived in the United States and Aus­tralia in 1880. Two years later, corps were es­tab­lished in In­dia, Canada, Swe­den and Switzer­land; and in Zu­l­u­land, Na­tal and New Zealand the fol­low­ing year. The Sal­va­tion Army also had a pres­ence in Nor­way, Ja­maica and South­ern Rhode­sia (later Zim­babwe) by 1891.

What were the Sal­va­tion Army meet­ings like in the late-19th cen­tury? A reporter from

The Graphic (30 Septem­ber 1882) was present at the Ded­i­ca­tion Meet­ing for the Sal­va­tion Army’s new head­quar­ters in City Road. He wrote: “What­ever may be the virtues and fail­ings of the Sal­va­tion­ists, they are not dull. Fifes and drums played be­tween the para­graphs of the speeches, hymns were sung, such as And now we’ve got

the Ea­gle, to mu­sic hall airs, young girls beat their tam­bourines, a ‘con­verted’ trapezist leapt about on the plat­form, shout­ing ‘Glory!’... there were cheers, laugh­ter and even hys­ter­ics...”

Op­po­si­tion to the Sal­va­tion Army came from a num­ber of dif­fer­ent quar­ters. Religious lead­ers thought their use of mu­sic hall tunes was pro­fane and their meth­ods of us­ing women as preach­ers and the­atres as places of wor­ship were vul­gar. The own­ers of pub­lic houses and beer shops were also against the Sal­va­tion­ists be­cause of their in­sis­tence that re­cruits give up al­co­hol.

An or­gan­i­sa­tion called the Skeleton Army, with a flag fea­tur­ing a skull and cross­bones, was al­legedly or­gan­ised by pub­li­cans. Their mem­bers were in­tent on dis­rupt­ing the Sal­va­tion­ists’ marches with ver­bal as­saults, and reg­u­larly pelted the marchers with stones and dead rats. In 1882, 669 Sal­va­tion­ists were phys­i­cally at­tacked across the UK in places such as Sal­is­bury, Ch­ester and Honi­ton.

So­cial work

In spite of the growth in the or­gan­i­sa­tion, it be­came ap­par­ent that in Bri­tain, the Sal­va­tion Army was not reach­ing and con­vert­ing as many souls as it should have. By the 1880s, it was re­alised that poverty was a ma­jor bar­rier to the mis­sion work. As one Hal­lelu­jah Lass put it: “We can’t go and talk to peo­ple about their souls while their bod­ies are starv­ing.”

The ills of the poor­est in so­ci­ety would have to be reme­died be­fore their spir­i­tual well-be­ing could be at­tended to. This was the be­gin­ning of the Sal­va­tion Army’s wide-rang­ing so­cial work for which it has be­come well known.

The first such for­mal work was car­ried out by El­iz­a­beth Cot­trill, a sol­dier of Whitechapel Corps. She took into her home ‘ fallen’ girls who had been con­verted but had no place to go other than the brothel. Three years later, the work moved to a house in Han­bury Street, Whitechapel, which be­came the first Sal­va­tion Army res­cue home. This led to the open­ing of ma­ter­nity homes as some of the girls were preg­nant, and to the found­ing of a ma­ter­nity hos­pi­tal in Hack­ney in 1888.

This was just the be­gin­ning. Soon there were Cheap Food De­pots, night shel­ters for home­less men (the ‘Three­penny Doss’), and ‘Farthing Break­fasts’ for poor and hun­gry chil­dren. In 1885, the Sal­va­tion Army got in­volved in the Pall Mall Gazette’s cam­paign to ex­pose the prac­tice of traf­fick­ing young girls to be used for ‘ im­moral pur­poses’. This brought about a change in the law, rais­ing the age of con­sent from 13 to 16.

In the 1890s, the shel­ters for men were de­vel­oped into ‘el­e­va­tors’, pro­vid­ing work in sal­vage de­pots and teach­ing them new skills. The world’s first free labour ex­changes were set up, as well as a match­box fac­tory pay­ing fair wages and us­ing only harm­less red phos­pho­rus; a miss­ing per­sons’ bureau; a poor man’s bank; an em­i­gra­tion scheme; and ini­tia­tives in fam­ily trac­ing and adop­tion.

‘The sub­merged tenth’

In 1890, Wil­liam Booth’s best-sell­ing book, In Dark­est Eng­land and the Way Out, was pub­lished. It high­lighted the des­per­ate plight of ‘the sub­merged tenth’: the three mil­lion men, women and chil­dren who were “im­pris­oned for life in a hor­ri­ble dun­geon of mis­ery and de­spair”. The book set out his plan for tack­ling poverty in Bri­tain, in­clud­ing di­vid­ing the needy into self­help­ing, self-sus­tain­ing ‘colonies’.

Wil­liam put his the­o­ries into prac­tice when he opened the Hadleigh Farm Colony in Es­sex the same year. Here, there was ac­com­mo­da­tion and train­ing for men who had worked their way through the shel­ters and el­e­va­tors, with work pro­vided in brick-fields. The colony was home to sev­eral hun­dred ‘colonists’ at a time.

Mak­ing a big dif­fer­ence

By 1899, the Sal­va­tion Army had pro­vided 27 mil­lion cheap meals, given shel­ter to 11 mil­lion home­less peo­ple, found jobs for 90,000 un­em­ployed, and traced 7,000 miss­ing per­sons. It now had ap­prox­i­mately 100,000 sol­diers.

Af­ter Wil­liam Booth’s death in 1912, his son Bramwell suc­ceeded him as Gen­eral and the work con­tin­ued. This in­cluded vi­tal work dur­ing the Boer War, as well as the two World Wars, pro­vid­ing ev­ery­thing from am­bu­lances, food parcels and cloth­ing through to mo­bile can­teens and hos­tels for the ser­vice­men.

To­day, the Sal­va­tion Army is the largest provider of so­cial care in the United King­dom, af­ter the Govern­ment. It is ac­tive in 126 coun­tries world­wide, help­ing the poor and needy, in­clud­ing those with­out a home or a job, vic­tims of traf­fick­ing and those who are lonely.

The Sal­va­tion Army con­tin­ues to in­spire hope through faith in Je­sus Christ as Wil­liam and Cather­ine Booth once did. Michelle Higgs is an au­thor spe­cial­is­ing in so­cial his­tory and ge­neal­ogy

Mu­sic was a vi­tal part of Sal­va­tion Army meet­ings – brass bands like this one from Southall were a reg­u­lar sight

Cather­ine Mum­ford Booth, 1880

The Sal­va­tion Army’s ‘Blood and fire’ flag – red was for atone­ment, blue for pu­rity and the yel­low star rep­re­sented the Holy Spirit

A 1918 Sal­va­tion Army poster as part of the United War Work Cam­paign in WW1

The Sal­va­tion Army marches down Ox­ford Street in Lon­don c1926

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