WILLIAM BOOTH  1829 - 1912 (G4, W4, Va, Vb, Vc, E7, G5)


Booth: date and artist unknown. Preaching: date and artist unknown. Cartoon: date and artist unknown. Catherine: detail, photographer unknown, contained in Catherine Booth: A Sketch by Brigadier Mildred Duff (c1862-1932), published Melbourne and New York 1890. Barnardo: photograph taken at the Boys’ Home Studio, Stepney Causeway, London, date unknown. Children: dates and artists unknown. Doré: detail, by the French photographer Nadar (1820-1910), 1867 – National Library of France, Paris. Eddy: published in 1916, artist unknown – Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington.

xxxxxThe Englishman William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army and its first “general”, was born in Nottingham. His family fell on hard times in 1842, and he had to leave school at the age of 13. He was apprenticed to a local pawnbroker, but at the age of 15 became convinced that his future lay in preaching the gospel and helping the poor. With this in mind he went to London in 1849. He lodged and worked in a pawnbroker’s shop in Walworth in order to send money home to his family, but he spent his spare time preaching out on the streets and on Kennington Common - and gaining a reputation for his fiery oratory. In 1852, he became a full-time Methodist minister, travelling around the country and working, among other places, at Spalding, Lincolnshire and Gateshead, County Durham. By 1861, however, he felt that too much of his time was being taken up with pastoral duties and, anxious to preach to the masses, he resigned from the ministry.

xxxxxOn returning to London he became an independent evangelist and took to the streets. But along with his preaching of the gospel went a feeling of deep compassion for the plight of the city’s poor, the long hours they worked, the squalor in which they lived, and the pitiful existence of the deprived children. He saw his role as fighting injustice and “freeing the captured and oppressed, sharing food and home, clothing the naked and carrying out family responsibilities”. It was in 1865, while preaching outside the Blind Beggar’s Pub in the East End that his extraordinary ardour as a speaker - bordering at times on the melodramatic - caught the attention of two missionaries. They asked him to lead a series of meetings in a large tent on waste ground at Mile End, Whitechapel. He held his first meeting there on 2nd July, and this marked the start of his missionary work. Within a few weeks he had formed the East London Revival Society, and by the end of the year this had become known as The Christian Mission, set up to help feed and house the city’s poor.

xxxxxThexMission was the first step towards the foundation of The Salvation Army. This was formed in 1878 and was a stroke of genius on Booth’s part, proving without doubt that there is something of value in a name. He first thought of changing the Christian Mission to the “Volunteer Army”, but some of his followers objected to the term, arguing that they were “regular” members. Furthermore, it clashed with the then title of what is now the “Territorial Army”. As a result, in a moment of inspiration, he came up with the words “Salvation Army”. This changed the image of the organisation, widened its appeal, and put it on the road to international success. The idea of a body of Christian soldiers, marching as to war and modelled on the rank structure and discipline of the British Army, caught the public imagination amid the jingoistic atmosphere of Victorian England.

xxxxxHowever, support did not come overnight. For a number of years opposition to this idea came from a number of sources, including the Anglican Church. Furthermore, because this new militant force supported the Temperance Society it became a target for gangs of men who called themselves the “Skeleton Army” and took as their emblem the skull and cross bones. They disrupted and broke up meetings and, because of the violence they used, many Salvationists were fined or imprisoned for disturbing the peace. But this opposition gradually subsided as the Army’s good work among the poor of London came to be appreciated. Indeed, thousands flooded to Booth’s banner and marched behind the movement’s military-styled bands. Nor was success confined to Britain. During the 1880s the movement spread to the United States, the European continent, and to most countries of the British Empire, including Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India and Jamaica. And in 1890 the Salvationists began work in Argentina. By Booth’s death in 1912 the Salvation Army was operating in 58 countries and today this figure has increased to over 80, and the army is two and a half million strong.

xxxxxBooth travelled the world in support of his growing movement, but he also found time to put on paper a social welfare scheme that went far beyond “soup and salvation”. His major work, In Darkest England, published in 1890, was a telling indictment of Victorian society, revealing as it did the “cesspit of squalor, starvation and vice” which lay hidden beneath the outward signs of progress, opulence and well-being. His radical ideas to remedy these “unmentionable evils” included the setting up of homes for the homeless, legal aid for the poor, small-loan banks, rehabilitation centres for ex-convicts, labour exchanges, shelter for “fallen women”, and farming communities where the deprived of the cities could be trained in agriculture and given a new lease of life. He also showed concern for the effects of alcoholism and the traffic in young girls for the purposes of prostitution. This “Cab horse Charter”, as he called it - because a cab horse was better cared for than millions of poor humans - bore much fruit. With the generous help of a number of wealthy philanthropists many of his advanced ideas were put into practice, and they went some way to alleviate the problems arising within “a population sodden with drink, steeped in vice, and eaten up by every social and physical malady”.

xxxxxBy the 1890s the street corner preacher who had been pelted with stones and shouted abuse was a man with celebrity status, respected and honoured the world over. He received the freedom of London, gained an honorary degree from Oxford University, opened a session of the U.S. Senate with a prayer in 1898, and was officially invited to the coronation of Edward VII. When he died in 1912, no less than 150,000 people filed past his coffin while lying in state, 40,000 people attended his funeral service at the Olympic Exhibition Hall, and 10,000 “soldiers” and 40 bands followed his coffin to his final resting place in Abney Park Cemetery, Stoke Newington.

xxxxxHe made his final speech in the Royal Albert Hall. A particular passage is well worth quoting, because it sums up the man:

xxxxxWhile women weep, as they do now, I’ll fight; while little children go hungry, as they do now, I’ll fight; while men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do now, I’ll fight; while there is a drunkard left, while there is a poor lost girl on the streets, while there remains one dark soul without the light of God, I’ll fight - I’ll fight to the very end.

xxxxxHe died thee months later.

xxxxxUntilxher death in 1890 Booth was immensely helped and inspired by his devoted wife Catherine, whom he married in 1855. A remarkable and deeply religious woman, she became a public preacher herself in 1860, and gained a reputation as an inspiring speaker and an outstanding social worker. Indeed, without her support, strength and determination there may not have been a Salvation Army. They had eight children and they also played a part in the movement. Their eldest son, William Bramwell, took over the movement on his father’s death; their second son, Ballington, became commander of the Army in Australia and later the United States; and their daughter Evangeline was the Army’s fourth general in the 1930s.

xxxxxIncidentally, it so happened that the words of the well known hymn Onward Christian Soldiers first appeared in The Church Times in 1865, the year Booth established his Christian Mission. Written by the eccentric Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould, then curate at Horbury, Yorkshire, it was later put to music by the English composer Arthur Sullivan in 1871. ……


xxxxx…… During his travelling across the world Booth stayed for a while in Palestine. It is said that when visiting the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem he knelt down to kiss a leper’s hand. The story might be well be apocryphal, but it is in keeping with the man. ……

xxxxx…… WhenxBooth was working in the East End there was a company making matches called Bryant and May. A substance used in the manufacture, a yellow phosphorus, was highly toxic and the fumes it gave off caused sickness and sometimes death amongst the women workers. When the company refused to substitute this substance for a harmless version - red phosphorus - because it was more expensive, the Army opened its own factory in 1891, used the harmless substance, and gave the “matchgirls” twice the current wage. So successful was this enterprise that in 1901 Bryant and May was eventually forced to stop using the toxic material.


Thomas Barnardo


xxxxxThe fiery English evangelist William Booth came to London in 1849 to preach the gospel in the streets of East London. He became a full-time Methodist minister in 1852, but after nine years working in different parts of England, left the ministry and returned to London to continue his evangelical work. But along with his powerful preaching on street corners and mission halls went a deep compassion for the plight of the city’s poor, the squalor and misery of their lives. In 1865 he set up a Church Mission to help feed and house those caught in the poverty trap. Then in 1878 he changed the name to The Salvation Army and this idea - an army of God fighting evil - caught the public’s imagination. After a few years of opposition, thousands flocked to his banner, and during the 1880s the movement spread to the Continent, the United States and many countries in the British Empire. By his death, the Army was operating in 58 countries, helping the homeless and the hungry. Today that figure is over 80, and membership is two and a half million strong. Booth set out his ideas of social reform in his book In Darkest England, published in 1890, and this proposed a number of advanced welfare schemes to combat the “squalor, starvation and vice” that lay at the heart of Victorian society. In his work he was greatly assisted by his devoted wife Catherine, whom he married in 1855.

xxxxxA young evangelist named Thomas John Barnardo (1845-1905) gave support to William Booth during his early days as a preacher in the East End of London. A medical student from Dublin, he aimed to work as a missionary in China, but changed his mind when, like Booth, he discovered the miserable, squalid conditions suffered by the poor in this part of the capital. He was particularly moved by the plight of thousands of children living and begging on the streets, cold, hungry and without hope. He set himself the task of setting up homes where these youngsters could be clothed, fed and trained in domestic and industrial skills. With the help of donations and the generosity of wealthy philanthropists, by the end of his life there were almost 100 “Dr. Barnardo Homes” in the country, some 4,000 children had been placed in foster care, and 18,000 had been sent to start a new life in Canada and Australia. In addition, he set up centres for special needs, such as a home for physically and mentally handicapped children, and a hospital for the very sick. It is estimated that during his lifetime he “rescued” no fewer than 60,000 children.

xxxxxAmong those who gave support to William Booth during his early days as a preacher was a young man named Thomas John Barnardo (1845-1905), a medical student from Dublin. A member of the Plymouth Brethren, a Protestant evangelical movement, he came to London in 1866 and spent some time preaching the gospel in the streets and pubs of the city’s East End. When a cholera epidemic broke out later in the year he worked amongst the sick and came to see the suffering of the people at first hand. Like Booth he was appalled at the miserable, squalid lives led by the poor, and he was especially touched by the plight of the thousands of children who were forced to beg and sleep on the streets, cold, hungry and without hope. Indeed, he was so moved by what he saw that he abandoned his plans to become a medical missionary in China and devoted his life to the care of needy children in what Booth called “Darkest England”. By the time of his death he had raised sufficient funds to establish close on a hundred “Dr. Barnardo Homes” for the care and training of destitute children, placed 4,000 in foster care, and sent 18,000 to start fresh lives in Canada and Australia. It is estimated that in these various ways he “rescued” no fewer than 60,000 children during his life time.

xxxxxA resourceful, determined young man, he developed various ways to make money - not all of them as above board as they might have been -, but the bulk of his funds came from donations and wealthy philanthropists, among whom were the Earl of Shaftsbury, the Earl of Cairns, the banker Robert Barclay, and a Peterborough millionaire named George A. Cox. He established his first “ragged” (charity) school in an old stable in Limehouse in 1867, and then the following year, with financial help beginning to come in, he opened his first home in Stepney Causeway with separate units for boys and girls. Over the next thirty years there followed a range of buildings, bought or rented, to meet the needs of children of varying ages and different needs. For example, he bought the Edinburgh Castle pub (a “Gin Palace” in Limehouse) in 1872, converting it into a coffee house and mission church, made use of derelict warehouses to provide schools and meeting places, and in 1876 opened a Girls’ Village Home at Barkingside, Essex, a unique enterprise which eventually housed 1,500 children in rural surroundings. He had established 50 London orphanages by 1878, and four years later he began his emigration programme by sending 51 boys to Canada. This idea was seen as successful, but, outside of the charity, doubts were raised about certain aspects of the scheme.

xxxxxThe main aim of these homes was to feed, clothe and educate, and to provide basic training in domestic and industrial skills. However, throughout their time in care emphasis was placed on religious instruction, and the welfare programme extended to specialised centres, such as rescue homes for girls in danger, a hospital for the very sick, homes for children with physical and learning difficulties, and a convalescent home by the sea. The width and diversity of these undertakings was almost bound to involve criticism of one kind or another. At various times Barnardo was accused of “kidnapping”, cruelty and financial malpractice, but arbitration cleared him of all the major charges.

xxxxxHe married Syrie Elmslie in 1873, and she was an immense help and comfort to him. They had seven children but three did not survive infancy. When Barnardo suddenly died of a heart attack in 1905, his funeral brought much of London to a standstill, so large were the crowds that lined the streets to pay him homage. After resting for four days at the People’s Mission Church at Edinburgh Castle (the former pub), his body was taken to Barkingside, Essex, and buried in the grounds of The Village Home.


xxxxxIncidentally, it was in the early seventies that an 11-year old boy nicknamed “Carrots” was turned away from the home in Stepney Causeway because the shelter was full. Two days later he was found curled up inside a barrel, dead from exposure and lack of food. From then onwards an ever open-door policy was adopted. All homes bore the sign - the motto - “No Destitute Child Ever Refused Admission”. ……

xxxxx…… On the way to its resting place Barnardo’s coffin was taken on the London Underground for part of the journey. The only other coffin to be transported on the Tube was that of the British prime minister William Ewart Gladstone when on its way to a state funeral at Westminster Abbey. …..

xxxxx…… At his death the charity was in debt to the tune of £249,000, but this was met by a national memorial fund, and the organization was then put on a firm financial footing. ……

xxxxx…… It would seem that Barnardo’s magnificent work for deprived children might never have been. According to one account, when he was two years old he was declared dead from diphtheria, and it was only when the undertaker was putting his body into the coffin that he detected a trace of life! …...

xxxxx…… Thexwidespread poverty in London at this time was highlighted in 1872 by the publication of London: A Pilgrimage, a book of 160 engravings produced by the brilliant French illustrator Gustave Doré (1832-1883). He was a painter, etcher and sculptor who specialised in wood engravings of scenes from the Bible and literature. His highly imaginative and original style made him one of the greatest illustrators of the 19th century. He produced over 900 illustrated books, including works by Rabelais, Milton, Dante, Cervantes, Balzac, Poe and Lord Byron, and at the height of his career had more than forty woodcutters working for him. He also contributed to the Journal pour Rire in Paris, and the London Illustrated News. His engravings of London depict in dramatic form the poverty of the common people and the appalling conditions under which they lived. The engraving here is a scene from the borough of Houndsditch. ……

xxxxx…… Andxit was later, in 1886, that a successful English businessman named Charles Booth (1840-1916) - no relation to William Booth -, believing that social reformers were exaggerating the level of poverty in London, conducted his own research. He found to his dismay, in fact, that over one third of the population in the East End of the city were living in abject poverty. The report he then wrote, entitled Life and Labour of the People in London, provided a detailed study of working class life throughout the city. It eventually ran to seventeen volumes, included a map to show the varying levels of the poverty in the capital, and was not completed until 1903. This marathon survey played a major part in persuading the government to bring in relief measures in the early years of the 20th century. ……

xxxxx…… Itxwas in these closing years of the 19th century that the American religious leader Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910) founded the Church of Christian Science in Boston, Massachusetts. Formed in 1879 and based on Christian teaching, it laid emphasis upon divine healing as practised by Jesus Christ. Born in New Hampshire, at the age of 45 Eddy made a remarkable recovery from a serious fall after reading a passage from the New Testament, and this confirmed her faith in divine healing. The “textbook” of her faith was published in 1875 under the title Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. Today it is said that there are about 3,000 churches or societies at work in more than 50 countries.