William Booth started as a preacher in the Wesleyan Methodist Circuit then joined the Methodist New Connection.
In those days it was not acceptable for women to speak in public and during one of William’s sermons on Whitsunday 27th May 1860, in Gateshead, to the astonishment of the congregation, and not least of her husband, Catherine Booth (William’s wife) walked up the aisle as he was concluding and told him she desired to speak. This she did to some effect.
As William Booth was walking through Whitechapel Road in East London one fine evening in June 1865, he got as far as the “Blind Beggar” public house on Mile End Waste in Bethnal Green. A group of Gospel Missioners were concluding a meeting. Their leader, as was customary before pronouncing the benediction, was asking whether any converted bystander would like to have a word. The Rev. Wm. Booth responded at once for nothing in the world could, at that moment, have pleased him better.
His commanding figure and forceful words immediately challenged attention. Passers by stopped to listen. They drew nearer and soon a crowd gathered. Not before had these people heard sin denounced, the love of God extolled and salvation offered so plainly. The language used was the simple speech of their everyday life. Every point of importance, too, was aptly and clearly illustrated. They not only heard, but understood.
Most of these missioners were members of The Christian Community, an association formed by the Huguenot refugees in the 17th Century, others were linked with some of the small missions around east London while a few belonged to other denominations. They were for the time being unitedly taking part in a special mission being held in a tent on a disused burial ground nearby.
A few days after the ‘open air’ meeting a deputation came to Wm. Booth and asked him to take charge of the mission as the evangelist engaged had been taken ill and could not come. Booth decided to accept the invitation and from that humble beginning the seed to begin the open air work of the Salvation Army was planted.
He was eventually asked to leave the Weslyan Methodist Church and the New Connection because of his radical ways. In fact he was banned from many churches, so he took to preaching in tents and the open air with hundreds of people listening.
Conditions in London in these times, around 1865, were abysmal; sewage was emptied directly into the Thames, water supplies were from rotten butts with filth in the bottom. Drainage was via open ditches in places and untrapped gulleys in others. The 1866 cholera epidemic was caused by contaminated water from reservoirs at Old Ford. Over 8,000 died during that summer from cholera and kindred complaints.. The government were forced then to establish Water Works to supply east London.
The cholera epidemic and continued unemployment intensified the distress. Newspapers were full of appeals for help in these and Wm. Booth joined. The Mission distributed food and clothing, opened soup kitchens and provided free teas. But Booth and his workers kept their heads and did not allow themselves to be stampeded into distributing food, clothing and blankets indiscriminately or into losing sight of the Mission’s first objective.
Another illuminating glimpse of the miseries endured by the people in those times were from the records of some matchbox makers in Bethnal Green
“In one house children from four to sixteen years of age were at work. One, a boy with a broken spine, was putting sandpaper on the boxes – he could only work kneeling. In another house was a mother pasting boxes with a sick child on her knee, and a dying mother watching three children at work. A mother and three children earned together 3d (about 6-7p) when they could get a full days work, but sometimes could only make 4s6d to 5 shillings (22p to 25p) per week. The mother was allowed 1s relief and 1s worth of groceries per week and Rent was 2s. per week.”
Much has resulted from the efforts of The Salvation Army, particularly in the early days, to provide employment, the country’s first “Labour Exchange” or “Job Shop” before the government of the day, housing, feeding, and generally bringing about the betterment of the poor. The Salvation Army’s greatest contribution to the world’s advancement has surely been its insistence upon the principle that the salvation of the soul is the key to the salvation of the body.
‘Open-Air’ work was regarded from the outset to be the Army’s special sphere. “We found that though the aversion of the working classes to churches and chapels was as strong as could be readily conceived yet they eagerly listened to speakers who, with ordinary ability, in an earnest loving manner, could set before them the truths of the Bible in the open air. At any season of the year, in nearly all kinds of weather, at any hour of the day and almost any hour of the night, we could obtain a congregation.”
Nevertheless Wm. Booth was convinced that every outdoor service should, if possible, be connected with an indoor meeting, where free from outside influences which usually accompanied outdoor preaching, the Gospel could be set forth with greater clarity and an opportunity secured for personal conversation with the people
Wm. Booth wrote later about the open air ‘season’. “That the many thousands of poor people who attend no place of worship should be left to wander about half the year without hearing the Gospel , on the plea that wind and weather do not permit open-air preaching, seems to me to reflect upon the manhood, let alone the charity, of Christian men.”
The Christian Mission was prospering under the leadership of Wm. Booth and others, like Captain Elijah Cadman and his “war”.
The title page of the Annual Report for 1876 said “The Christian Mission under the superintendence of Rev. Wm. Booth is a Volunteer Army”. It is said that Wm. Booth objected to the phrase “Volunteer Army”
“No”, he said “we are not volunteers, for we feel we must do what we do, and we are always on duty”. He then took his pen, deleted the word “Volunteer” and above it wrote “Salvation”. The Christian Mission became, by the inspired hand of Wm. Booth the organisation with a name wholly and unmistakably descriptive of its purposes and character, the appropriateness of which has never been questioned.
SOME EARLY CORPS:-
- The FIRST Corps 1865- Now Social Services
- BETHNAL GREEN
- No 2 1865- Now Goodwill Centre
- No 3 1866- OLDEST EXISTING CORPS
- No 4 1866- Closed
- CANNING TOWN
- No 5 1869- Closed
- No 6 1869- Closed
- STOKE NEWINGTON
- No 7 1870- Still OPEN
- No 6 – Now Social Services
- No 9 1869 – Still OPEN
- No 10 1870 – Still OPEN
- No 11 Closed
- No 12 1873 Still OPEN
- No 13 1873 – Still OPEN
- No 14 1873 – Closed
- No 15 1873 – Still OPEN
- No 16 1873 – Still OPEN
Having proved the usefulness of musical instruments in attracting crowds to open air work and indoor meetings the General (as he became known) declared hois desire that as many officers and soldiers as possible, male and female, should learn to play instruments.
The musicians of those days were not all as skilled as could have been wished – one Captain headed a march with a ‘four-shilling fiddle’ which he could not play, but was quite satisfied because his attempting to do so was ‘an attraction’. Another Captain, finding he needed more than his voice to gain attention in the street, bought a cornet, practised four hours and a half – and sallied forth.
A dustman’s bell, a huntsman’s horn, bugles were all used. Railton, an early leader, carried a set of bones in his pocket, and when he thought a meeting was stiff and wanted loosening up, rattled them.
In his early days the General had some unfortunate experiences with choirs so he originally forbad their use, allowing only congregational or solo singing. Fortunately he was persuaded to change his mind by the Fry family (od Salisbury) and Herbert Booth (his son) by their use of officers in a brigade. Salvation songs quickly replaced revival hymns because of their association with anything “churchy” and therefore disapproved by the masses who came to the meetings.
The General was persuaded that the use of secular and comic-song tunes would be a great attraction, “Champagne Charlie” being the first of many used.
The first brass band of The Salvation Army was a family affair, the Fry Family of Salisbury. The mob had taken to singing popular songs to drown the voices of the Salvationists. The Fry family were persuaded to bring their brass instruments to the open air and their concerted playing soon put an end to this interruption. Until 14th May 1880 the Fry family were the Salisbury Corps Band and by their excellence of playing gave a stimulus to the formation of bands all over the country.
By 1884 many bands had been formed and the General layed down “our general rule for them”:-
“They are to work for the good of the corps and for the salvation of souls, and nothing else. We are not going to stick them up on the platform, nor march them through the streets for them to perform and to be admired. They are to go there and blow what they are told, and what the Commanding Officer thinks will be best for the good of the Corps and the salvation of souls, and if they won’t blow for this object, let them stop playing. We want nobody like that amongst us. The man must blow his cornet and shut his eyes, and believe while he plays that he is blowing salvation into somebody, and doing something that will be some good. Let him go on believing while he beats the drum or blows his cornet, and he will be just as anxious about the prayer meeting – he won’t want to buckle up and rush off. He will say all his beating and blowing is to get people first into the hall then to the penitent form”.
It was not too costly in those days -according to present standards – to set up a Corps Band. The War Cry of 2nd November,1882 advertised a set of twelve instruments of first quality for, £31. 7s. 11d (approx £31.40p) but the record for cheapness was achieved by the CHATHAM CORPS under the command of Captain ‘Jockey’ Rowe, in the Spring of 1881. Eight brass instruments used by a military band had been declared to have outlived their usefulness and were sold to a marine store dealer. In such poor condition were they that the dealer had ordered them to be flattened out and sold for old brass. His foreman, a Salvationist named Brock, thought they might be fixed up for use by the corps and obtained possession of them by paying the “Old Brass” price. There was a plumber in the corps, a drunken reprobate who had been recently converted. He set to work on them to good purpose. Another convert had been in a drum and fife band. He recollected that when it had been disbanded he had kept the big drum. He recovered it from his loft – it was very dirty but was quickly cleaned up. After a month’s practise on one tune, “Who’ll be the next to follow Jesus?” the band “played out” at the head of three hundred salvation soldiers!
In August 1880 Chatham had a band of eight players marching in two ranks – a big thing in those days although the instrumentation was made up, oddly enough of fifes, flutes, a violin and concertinas.
Mrs. Booth said in 1890, “We had a great deal of argument regarding the first introduction of bands into the Army and a great many fears. I had always regarded music as all belonging to God, and the church has strangely lost sight of the va1ue of music as a religious agency. I think God has used the Army to resuscitate and awaken that agency – to create it in fact, and while the bandsmen of the Salvation Army realise it to be as much their service to blow an instrument as it is to sing or speak or pray, and while they do so in the same spirit, I am persuaded it will become an ever-increasing power amongst us. But the moment you begin to glory, in the excellency of the music alone, apart from spiritual results, you will begin at that moment to lose your power”.
CHATHAM AND NEW BROMPTON (GILLINGHAM) BANDS played on board the Japanese cruiser “Tsukuba” in Chatham Basin in the evening of 22nd June, 1907