The history of the Salvation Army began in 1865, when William Booth established an evangelical and philanthropic organisation to preach salvation from sins and propagate purity of life among the poor and destitute people of London's East End. William Booth and his wife Catherine Mumford Booth, who grew up in the most turbulent time of the Industrial Revolution, believed that evangelical work among the poor must be accompanied by well-organised social relief work.

Theological Roots

The Salvation Army, founded by William and Catherine Booth, aimed to continue the tradition of socially committed evangelicalism which dated back to John Wesley's Methodism and American revivalism propagated by James Caughey. Booths' dogma was John Wesley's Arminian theology of “free salvation for all men and full salvation from all sin.” (Murdoch 2)

The Christian Mission (1865-1878)

In early 1865, William and Catherine Booth received invitations to preach in London. William began preaching outside the public house in Whitechapel Road called The Blind Beggar, trying to save the souls of people that were not particularly welcomed by the established churches. In late 1865, the Booths founded the Christian Revival Association, an independent religious association, which was soon renamed the East London Christian Mission. It was organised after the Wesleyan tradition. In 1867, the Christian Mission acquired the Eastern Star, a run-down beer shop, for 120 pounds, and turned it into its first headquarters known as the People's Mission Hall, which began to perform two functions: religious and social. It housed people for all-night prayer vigils, known as the Midnight Meeting movement, and also sold cheap food to the needy. (Rappaport 101-2)

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Left: General William Booth. Right: Mrs. Catherine Booth both by George Edward Wade.

The East London Christian Mission, which operated as a charitable religious movement, was one of some 500 Christian missions established in the East London slum areas, but it soon began to distinguish itself by its unconventional social work, setting a number of mission stations across East London with the aim to spread the salvation message and to feed and shelter the destitute. In 1870, Catherine Booth started a social scheme called “Food for the Million” aimed at helping the poor and destitute. The Mission set up five outlets in East London, which were administered by Bramwell Booth and James Flawn. Hot soup was always available day and night and a modest dinner of three courses could be bought for sixpence, but due to insufficient funding this scheme had failed by 1874. (Inglis 197)

During its first years, the Christian Mission, restricted by a system of commissions and conferences, showed a slow progress in East London because it lacked funds, a firm doctrine, a stable organisational basis and devoted assistant evangelists, who could effectively address the unchurched working-class masses. When revivalist preaching produced a relatively little effect among the East End's, “heathens” as they were called by the Booths, a new strategy was devised. The Mission began to use new methods of approaching the attention of slum dwellers through militant language, uniforms, popular music, and a Victorian love of public spectacle.

Since theatres could not operate on Sundays, William Booth decided to hire one for the Mission's Sunday services. His first choice was the Oriental Theatre (Queen's Theatre) in Poplar, which offered music-hall entertainment and had a capacity of 800 people. Next Booth hired the Effingham Theatre, which was described as one of the “dingiest and gloomiest places of amusement in London,” but it could accommodate 3000 people. Booth's Sunday services were announced by sensational advertisements like: “Change of performance, ” or “Wanted 3000 men to fill the Effingham Theatre. The Rev. William Booth will preach in this theatre on Sunday next evening.” (Bennett 22) Booth attracted an audience of 2000 which listened to his preaching with great interest. His strategy was to combine serious preaching with popular entertainment, like that in music-halls.

William Booth and his wife Catherine adhered to the idea of militant or aggressive Christianity, and they believed that autocratic leadership was more effective in spreading evangelisation to uneducated and unchurched working-class masses than traditional forms of pastoral care. In 1870, William Booth assumed the position General Superintendent of the Christian Mission and became “the undisputed leader of the organization.” (Bennett 45) The popularity of the Christian Mission was growing steadily, particularly outside London, in spite of difficulties and opposition, and by 1878 it had 30 stations and 36 missioners in various locations across the United Kingdom. As Pamela J. Walker has written,

The Christian Mission was part of a broad evangelical missionary effort to reach the urban working class. Its theology drew on Methodism, American revivalism, and the holiness movement. William Booth's open air preaching was similar to the work that had been done by evangelicals for decades. The Mission, however, differed from other home missions. The authority it granted women, its emphasis on holiness theology and revivalist methods, its growing independence, and its strict hierarchical structure were all features that sharply distinguished it from its contemporaries. The Christian Mission was created in the midst of the working-class communities it aimed to transform. It fashioned an evangelical practice from the geography and culture of the working-class communities it strived to convert. [42]

The Birth of the Salvation Army

In 1878, when William Booth was dictating a letter to his secretary George Scott Railton, he used a phrase “The Christian Mission is a Volunteer Army.” His teenage son Bramwell heard it and said: “ Volunteer, I’m not a volunteer, I’m a regular or nothing!” (Gariepy 9) This prompted William Booth to substitute the word “Salvation Army” for the “Volunteer Army,” which became the new name of the Christian Mission. The last of the Christian Mission conferences, held in August, 1878, adopted unanimously the new military programme of the Salvation Army.

Uniforms, Flags and Tambourines

The Salvation Army developed its new image by emulating the structure and conduct of a military organisation. In the Christian Mission the male evangelists wore modest frock coats, tall hats and black ties. Women evangelists wore plain dresses, jackets and plain Quaker-type bonnets which protected them from being hit by a disrespectful mob that not infrequently threw at them cow manure, bad eggs, or stones. Women also wore brooches with an S letter. After the Mission became the Salvation Army, a type of uniform, modelled on Victorian military garb, was adopted.

In the 1880s, the Salvation Army, which resembled a quasi-military organisation, began to establish its mission stations all over Britain and also overseas. These mission stations were called “corps.” Their members wore distinctive quasi-military uniforms, had ranks ranging from “ Cadet” (a candidate for ministry), through “Lieutenant” and “Captain” to the highest one “ General” vested in William Booth. Rank-and-file members were called “soldiers” and new converts were “captives.”

Salvationists used military vocabulary to describe their religious practices. For example, revival meetings were “sieges,” places of worhip were “citadels” or “outposts,” daily Bible readings were called “rations.” Birth was referred to as the “arrival of reinforcements, ” and death was “promotion to glory” (Taiz 20). These military metaphors seemed to be more appealing to the masses than traditional preaching.

The first flag of the Salvation Army, designed by Catherine Booth, was presented to Coventry Corps in 1878. Initially, it was crimson with a navy-blue border, which symbolised holiness, and a yellow sun in the middle, which was later replaced by a star, that signified the fiery baptism with the Holy Ghost. The motto written on the star, 'Blood and Fire', stands for the blood of Christ and the Fire of the Holy Ghost. According to a contemporary estimate, at the close of the year 1878 the Salvation Army had 81 corps and 127 officers, of whom 101 had been converted at its own meetings. (Briggs 700)

Thanks to these transformations the Salvation Army became stronger, better organised and more effective. The Army's unconventional evangelistic and social activity, which was manifested by lively processions with banners, cornets and tambourines, appealed to the working-classes more than traditional preaching.

The Salvation Army was a neighborhood religion. It invented a battle plan that was especially suited to urban working-class geography and cultural life. Religious words were sung to music-hall tunes; circus posters and theater announcements were copied so closely that observers often failed to distinguish them; preachers imitated the idiom of street vendors; and congregations were encouraged to shout out responses to the preacher, much as they might in the music halls. Salvationists culled techniques from contemporary advertising and revivalism. Their military language aptly expressed Salvationists' command to do battle with the enemy. The Army regarded pubs, music halls, sports, and betting as its principal rivals, yet its ability to use popular leisure activities as its inspiration was a major facet in its success. [Walker 2]

The Social Wing of the Salvation Army

According to Norman H. Murdoch, “by 1886 the Salvation Army's growth had come to a halt in England — much as the Christian Mission's growth had ceased in East London by 1874” (113) — mostly because William Booth primarily preached the need for salvation, i.e. redemption from sin and its effects, but overlooked social work among the poor and destitute.

In the mid 1880s, the Salvation Army developed new strategies which aimed to deal with the poverty and squalor of urban slums. Street preaching, home meetings, prayer groups and Bible study were supplemented by social action. Francis S. Smith, who was for some time a Salvation Army commissioner in the United States, and William Thomas Stead, one of the most distinguished Victorian journalists and a dedicated supporter of the Salvation Army (later a Titanic victim), contributed to the rise of the Social Wing of the Salvation Army. They argued convincingly that the Army should not concentrate on pure evangelism only, but must be involved more actively in social work in order to win converts from the lower classes. William Booth quickly understood these arguments and he endorsed the new strategy which was to involve the Salvation Army in Christian social reform.

Smith and Stead helped Booth to write In Darkest England and the Way Out (1890), an important manifesto, which proposed social and welfare schemes aimed to eradicate poverty, squalor and unemployment in congested urban areas through organised labour exchanges, food distribution networks, co-operative workshops and farms, and emigration of surplus labour to the British colonies.

The Salvation Army magazine, All the World from 1893, reported that in the period from November 1, 1892, to October 1st, 1893, the Social Wing of the Salvation Army provided 3,886,896 meals, 1,094,078 men were sheltered, 1,987 passed through Elevators (work establishments), 267 were provided with situation, 159 passed to Farm Colony and 180 men from Prison-Gate Home were sent to situations (477). Besides, the Salvation Army promoted job creation schemes by encouraging local authorities to employ unemployed people in roadwork and tree-planting on public roads.

In 1893, the Army also expressed 'great interest' in the formation of a Government Labour Department, which would gather statistics and information about vacant jobs. By 1900, the Salvation Army had opened its own labour exchange in London to help poor people find jobs. However, it was not until 1909 that Parliament passed a law which provided for the establishment of nationalised labour exchanges. The social ministry of the Salvation Army became one of its most valuable assets in the last decade of Victorian Britain.

In Darkest England

Booth's book, In Darkest England and the Way Out, made a shocking comparison between darkest Africa and contemporary England. The General pointed out that of the thirty-one million population of Great Britain, three million people lived in what he called “darkest England.” Next he described his ideas how to apply the Christian faith to an industrialised society. The book became an instant bestseller “selling roughly 115,000 copies within the first few months after its publication ” (Robert Haggard 73). Almost immediately Booth received sympathetic responses not only from common readers but also from wealthy individuals, who promised to make substantial donations.

The title of Booth's book alludes to Henry Morton Stanley’s famous travel narrative, In Darkest Africa (1890). The general message of the book was that the subhumane living conditions in English urban slums were not different from those in Africa.

As there is a darkest Africa is there not also a darkest England? Civilization, which can breed its own barbarians, does it not also breed its own pygmies? May we not find a parallel at our own doors, and discover within a stone's throw of our cathedrals and palaces similar horrors to those which Stanley has found existing in the great Equatorial forest? [18]

Booth wanted the general public to fully realise that England was still a divided nation, and the divide between the rich and the poor threatened the spiritual and economic development of the nation.

The Equatorial Forest traversed by Stanley resembles that Darkest England of which I have to speak, alike in its vast extent – both stretch, in Stanley's phrase, “as far as from Plymouth to Peterhead;” its monotonous darkness, its malaria and its gloom, its dwarfish de-humanized inhabitants, the slavery to which they are subjected, their privations and their misery. That which sickens the stoutest heart, and causes many of our bravest and best to fold their hands in despair, is the apparent impossibility of doing more than merely to peck at the outside of the endless tangle of monotonous undergrowth; to let light into it, to make a road clear through it, that shall not be immediately choked up by the ooze of the morass and the luxuriant parasitical growth of the forest — who dare hope for that? At present, alas, it would seem as though no one dares even to hope! It is the great Slough of Despond of our time. [19 ]

The book provided shocking facts and statistics about England's poor, the majority of whom were homeless, jobless and starving. Booth estimated that one tenth of Britain's population, which he called the 'submerged tenth', lived in abject poverty and destitution. Shocked by the ugliness, misery and the grinding deprivation of slum dwellers, under the influence of his wife and collaborators William Booth devised a social relief programme to remedy the moral, spiritual and physical destitution of the poor. It was expressed succinctly by the slogan “soup, soap and salvation,” which served as the ideological basis of the Salvation Army.

Booth's social engineering scheme had some affinity with that proposed earlier by Thomas Carlyle. Both of these Victorian sages were concerned with the moral and material conditions in England. Booth included extracts from Carlyle's Past and Present in Darkest England. In writing his book Booth also drew on the social ideas of Cobbett, Disraeli, Ruskin, Morris, among others. Booth's treatise was aimed at revealing the economic, social, and moral problems of poverty, squalor, homelessness and unemployment in England at the end of the Victorian era. He then presented a number of proposals for a great reconstruction of the nation by eliminating squalor, poverty, destitution and vice from congested slum districts.

His welfare scheme proposed the establishment of homes for orphaned children, rescue centres for women and girls who were affected by prostitution and sex trafficking, rehabilitation centres for alcoholics and ex-prisoners. Besides, he planned to organise a Poor Man's Banker Service, which would make small loans to labourers who wanted to buy tools or start a trade, and a Poor Man's Lawyer Service, as well as establishments for industrial labour of unemployed, co-operative farms, and oversea colonies for people who could not find steady employment in England. Booth's programme was founded on both evangelical philanthropy and imperial ideology. His intention was to revitalise England's redundant labour within Britain's imperial expansion.

Booth drew attention to the Salvation Army by advocating a rather simple proposal. If private donors agreed to contribute L100,000, he would establish a number of city workshops and farm colonies to elevate the moral and material condition of the London poor. Within the workshops and colonies, the poor would be required to submit to strict discipline and moral supervision. They were also expected to take their work seriously. Those who graduated from one of the city workshops would be transferred to a farm colony in England; later, after they had proven themselves as farm laborers, they would be allowed to migrate overseas, either to a Salvation Army farm colony in Canada or Australia or to a homestead of their own. Pursuant to these goals, the Salvation Army purchased a one-thousand-acre estate in Essex for mixed farming and brick manufacture in 1891. By 1893, the Salvation Army had organized five city colonies in London providing work for 2,700 people — a match factory, a creche-knitting factory, a book-binding factory, a laundry, and a text-making and needlework factory; the Salvation Army also sponsored eighteen labor bureaux and a registry office for unemployed domestic servants. Although seemingly quite expensive, many people believed that Booth's program would be cost effective over time, particularly in comparison with the Poor Law. [Haggard 72]

In Darkest England provoked a relatively positive response. “Few books upon their first appearance have received so much attention, ” wrote an enthusiastic donor in the Contemporary Review, who himself gave 1,500 pounds for the Social Wing schemes (Inglis 204) After the publication of Booth's book the number of individual philanthropists, who aided the General with money and moral support, grew considerably. Many of Booth's ideas were implemented during his life, others were put into action in the 20th century when the state welfare system began to operate.

Rescue Shelters

The Salvation Army ran different types of shelters for men and women in London and other locations in Britain as well as overseas. The cheapest one was the penny sit-up shelter. Its inmates were allowed to sit on a bench in a heated spacious hall all night long. However, they could not lie down and sleep on the bench. If an inmate could spare another penny, he could get a rope put across the bench and was allowed to sleep hanging over the rope. The inmates were woken up abruptly early at daybreak because the rope was cut, and they had to leave the shelter which was then cleaned and ventilated. Another type of shelter, which cost four-penny, was called a 'coffin house' because homeless people could sleep in wooden boxes which looked like coffins. The package included hot breakfast in the morning. In some shelters soup and bread were also on offer.

In the 1890s the Salvation Army started again the soup for the poor scheme. In 1896, the Salvation Army distributed 3.2 million meals, provided lodgings for 1.3 million, and found employment for 12,000 men. By 1890, it had provided a substantial amount of charitable relief through its twelve food depots, sixteen night shelters, thirteen refuges for women, and numerous soup kitchens. The Salvation Army also held annual clothing and blanket drives, sold life insurance, and owned a savings bank during the 1880s. [Henry R. Haggard 72]

The first night shelter for men was opened in 1888 at 21 West India Dock Road in Limehouse. Next shelters were opened at 61A St John's Square, Clerkenwell; 272 Whitechapel Road, Whitechapel; and at 83 Horseferry Road, Westminster. Some of the shelter occupants could hope to get employment in factories, which Salvationists called, Elevators, because they were to elevate the moral character and the self-respect and capacity of the destitute people. They were trained in carpentering, brushmaking firewood, baskets, paper sorting, tinwork, shoemaking, matchmaking. Others could be sent to the large farm at Hadleigh, where they were trained in agricultural jobs. The farm at Hadleigh-on-Thames, which contained 1,500 acres, trained men in agriculture, joinery, and making of bricks and shoes. About 1,200 men served as colonists during a year. Of these more than 300 were discharged because they were unwilling to work or were irreformable drunkers. (Briggs 709) The Salvation Army also made efforts to secure occupation for them in the British Dominions.

Rehabilitation of Prostitutes

In 1881, a Whitechapel Salvationist Elizabeth Cottrill began to take to her home at 1 Christmas Street women who had fallen into prostitution, or who were homeless, destitute and vulnerable. Her house soon became overcrowded and another house was rented in nearby Hanbury Street for the fallen women. Each woman who entered the Hanbury Street Shelter had to put a penny through a little hatchway to receive in return a mugful of hot, strong, well-sweetened tea, with a slice of bread spread with dripping. Women ate and drank, sewed, knitted, talked, and waited for the evening service in the big hall. They could wash their dirty clothes in the wash-house. For threepence, they could get supper, bed and breakfast. At nine they had to go to bed. Their bedsteads were wooden boxes, placed close side by side. Bedding consisted of seaweed and a large leather sheet with a strap round the neck to prevent its slipping off. The rule of the Shelter was: bed at nine, rise at six, and all out by eight. Attached to the woman's Shelter was a place for mothers and their babies.

In the mid 1880s, Bramwell Booth and his wife Florence Soper Booth, joined Josephine Butler, a social reformer and feminist, and the journalist Thomas Stead in their campaign against the white slave trade. Bramwell Booth, together with W.T. Stead, exposed trafficking of young girls for prostitution. In July 1885, the Pall Mall Gazette published a series of articles, “The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon, ” which described how its editor, W. T. Stead, arranged for the purchase of thirteen-year old Eliza Armstrong for five pounds from her alcoholic mother, with the mother’s full consent that the girl would be put in a brothel. (Bartley 88) Although Stead's investigative journalism was controversial, the articles created a wide public outcry. Catherine and William Booth sent a petition to the House of Commons in support of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, which in the course of 17 days received 393,000 signatures. Ultimately, Parliament passed the Criminal Law Amendment Act in 1885, which raised the age of consent from 13 to 16. (Berwinkle 105)

In the same year, William Booth proposed in the Salvation Army weekly newspaper War Cry a “New National Scheme for the Deliverance of Unprotected Girls and the Rescue of the Fallen.” ” Bramwell and his wife established in London an office for women who were victims of sexual exploitation and formed volunteer Midnight Rescue Brigades to search for streetwalkers in “Cellar, Gutter, and Garret,” offering them Army's homes of refuge.


William and Catherine Booth were committed to temperance throughout all their lives. They castigated excessive drinking and prostitution as the root of all evil. In 1853, Catherine Booth heard the American temperance crusader, John Bartolomew Gough (1818-1886) at Exeter Hall in London. She was inspired by his arguments and devised a temperance campaign of house-to-house visitation, which she later implemented within the framework of the Salvation Army's social rescue work. By the 1880s Catherine Booth made the Salvation Army “the world's largest abstinence society.” (Mumford 30)

The Salvation Army ran several homes for “inebriates,” this term referred to people addicted to alcohol, morphine and laudanum. Hillsborough House Inebriates' Home located on Rookwood Road, London, accommodated female patients, who were first admitted free of charge, but in the late 1890s they were expected to contribute 10s. per week towards the cost of their maintenance. Patients usually stayed in the Home for twelve months, or for a shorter period. When the cure was completed, they were returned to their husbands if they were married, and some unmarried patients were sent out to positions, such as servants or nurses, on condition that the authorities of the Home gave them a satisfactory opinion.

Match Girls Strike

Many workers (mostly women), who were employed in the matchmaking industry suffered from necrosis, or “ phossy-jaw,” which affected workers who dipped the sticks into the phosphorus paste. Young women, who were carrying boxes of poisonous matches on their heads, were bald by age 15. In 1891, the Booths started a campaign against Bryant and May's match factory in London. William Booth bought a derelict factory in Old Ford, London and fitted it with machinery and employed workers to manufacture safety matches. Booth’s match boxes carried the inscription: “Lights in Darkest England. ” Soon his competitors decided to produce safety matches, which did not cause necrosis.

Labour Emigration

In Darkest England William Booth conceived the idea of overseas colonies for English surplus labour. The earliest recorded emigration occurred as early as 1882, when the Salvation Army participated in recruitment of women emigrants for Australia. Then, in 1885, a regular series of notices appeared in the Army's magazines advertising emigration to Australia, South Africa, and Canada. The first emigration ship sailed with 1,000 people from Liverpool for Canada in 1905. By the summer of 1908, more than 36,000 migrants had travelled to the British Dominions under the auspices of the Army.


At the outset, the Booths established an independent Christian organisation with virtually no money and no property. In the mid 1860s they began their missionary work with financial help from nondenominational evangelical societies. (Murdoch 170) The Christian Mission received some funding from the Evangelization Society and a few dedicated private donors. In 1867, Booth set up a Council of ten prominent philanthropists to assist him in the work of the Mission and conceived a more effective fundrising plan. By the early autumn 1869, he had raised 1,300 pounds, with another 1,600 pounds promised, 2,900 pounds altogether. (Bennett 37) This money was spent on the purchase of the People's Market, which was converted to the People's Mission Hall in 1870.

In the same year Booth dissolved the Council and set up a Conference, which consisted of the Booths themselves and evangelists in charge of various Mission stations. The financial situation of Booth's organisation was still bad and debts were not cleared until 1872. In April 1870, The Christian Mission Magazine called for donations and voluntary offerings to keep the Mission going. The Soup Kitchens, run by the Mission between 1870 and 1874, which offered cheap meals to the poor, did not bring substantial revenue to cover the debts of the Mission.

In order to carry his social ministry William Booth was completely dependent on the funds donated by the general public and organisations. The first balance sheet of the Salvation Army for the year ended 30th September 1879 shows total receipts of 7,194 pounds, of which 4,723 pounds (59%) was received from “outside sources.” (Irvine 14) During the next decade receipts of the Salvation Army exceeded 18,750,000 pounds. This was due, amongst others, to a more effective fundraising under the control of Bramwell Booth.

In September 1886, when the first “Self-Denying Week” was organised, the Salvation Army started a programme of a systematic small financial contributions as well as large donations, gifts and legacies. Additionally, William Booth decided that each corps must be responsible for raising their own funds. At the end of 1888, Booth requested the Home Secretary to provide funds for the Salvation Army in the annual amount of 15,000 pounds to improve the inhumane conditions of the “ vast numbers of men and women” in East London slums. The request was rejected, but Booth managed to raise 102,559 pounds from individual philanthropists to start implementing this scheme. (Irvine 17) By the end of the Victorian era, the Salvation Army had been widely recognised as an important Christian social relief organisation and developed effective fundraising techniques which helped it extend its social work in Britain and overseas. All donations collected from individuals and the amount donated were publicised in the annual reports.

Overseas Activities


Confession of an Indian. [Click on image to enlarge it and to obtain more imformation.]

In 1880, the Salvation Army opened its missions in the United States, in the following year in Australia; in 1882 in Canada; in 1887 in Jamaica; in 1898 in Barbados; and in 1901 in Trinidad. By the end of the century, the Salvation Army established its posts in several European countries, India, South Africa, and South America. In the 1890s, the Salvation Army had some 45,00 officers in Britain and 10,000 worldwide.

Opposition and Recognition

The unconventional activity of the Salvation Army began to provoke opposition. Many denominations, including the om1.html Church, regarded William Booth's open-air evangelism with suspicion because it allowed women to preach. The politician Lord Shaftesbury condemned the activities of the Salvation Army and described William Booth as the “Antichrist. ” (Gariepy 31) The magazine Punch called him “Field Marshal Von Booth. ” (Benge 164) Apart from that, the Army “soldiers” were initially often persecuted by authorities and mobs.

From the outset the activity of the Salvation Army stirred controversy and resentment in some circles. Critics described Booth's social schemes as totally utopian and impractical. They also put into question the honesty of the General and his family and accused him of authoritarianism. Thomas Huxley, natural scientist and agnostic, wrote twelve letters to The Times in which he tried to discourage people from giving Booth money for his scheme. He described Booth's venture as “autocratic socialism masked by its theological exterior. ” (7) Charles Bradlaugh, a political activist and atheist, is said to have died muttering: “General Booth's accounts, General Booth's accounts.” (Inglis 208)

Many people did not like the Salvation Army parades with loud singing and shouting. Brewers feared that the temperance actions would diminish alcohol consumption. Owners of drink stores organised gangs of thugs, who called themselves the Skeleton Army to disrupt the activities of the Salvation Army. They followed Salvationists' processions carrying skull and crossbones banners and dirty dishcloths on broom handles. Their intention was to mock the practices of The Salvation Army. Meetings were also disrupted by loud jeering, stone and rat throwing. The most violent disturbances against the Salvation Army occurred in 1882, when 56 buildings were attacked and 669 Salvationists were brutally assaulted in provincial towns such as Honiton, Frome, Salisbury and Chester. (Swift 186, 193) However, in spite of violence and persecution, some 500,000 people were on and off under the ministry of the Salvation Army in Britain in the last quarter of the 19th century.

However, the Salvation Army began to gain powerful supporters too. Winston Churchill, who was then the Undersecretary of State, agreed with Booth's social ideas. Cardinal Manning, the Head of the Catholic Church in Britain, wrote a letter to General Booth sympathising with him in his efforts to ameliorate the condition of the London poor. (The Mercury, Nov. 7, 1890 ) Charles Spurgeon, a Particular Baptist preacher, known as the 'Prince of Preachers', also expressed his support for the General. He wrote: “Five thousand extra policemen could not fill [the Salvation Army's] place in the repression of crime and disorder. ” (Benge 165)

Gradually, the Salvation Army began to earn respect from both the lower and upper strata of society. Although Queen Victoria never gave her official patronage to the activities of the Salvation Army, she sent Catherine Booth the following message in 1882: “Her Majesty learns with much satisfaction that you have, with other members of your Society, been successful in your efforts to win many thousands to the ways of temperance, virtue, and religion. ” (Walsh 185) Towards the end of the Victorian era the Salvation Army became widely recognised as the champion of the poor and destitute.

By the end of the Victorian Era the social work of the Salvation Army had become officially recognised. In 1902, Booth was invited to attend the coronation of King Edward VII, and in 1907 he received an honorary doctorate from Oxford University. A number of religious leaders expressed support to the social work of the Salvation Army, and Robert William Dale, a Congregationalist church leader, said that “the Salvation Army was a new instrument for social and moral reform. ” (Inglis 205)


The Salvation Army grew from an obscure Christian Mission, established in East London in 1865, into an effective international organisation with numerous and varied social programmes. By the end of the Victorian era it had become one of the most successful Christian social relief organisations which was not only engaged in street preaching but also in a variety of social services for the poor, destitute and homeless. Its programmes, such as rescue homes for sexually-abused women and rehabilitation centres for alcoholics, drug addicts, juvenile delinquents, and ex-prisoners, anticipated similar welfare programmes in the twentieth century. Although the Salvation Army generally revealed conservative attitudes towards a liberal society, and its members often lived in self-imposed cultural isolation, it nevertheless supported first-wave Christian feminism by allowing women to preach and carry out social work. The spiritual and social ministry of the Salvation Army stirred the social conscience of many Victorians and contributed significantly to a number of welfare reforms in Britain and elsewhere.

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Last modified 11 April 2013