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t is hard to credit now, but the Salvation Army's marches, with banners, brass bands and tambourines, caused "widespread civil disturbances" and even outright riots in the towns where they made their presence felt: "Up and down the country were anti-Salvationist riots from about 1882 onwards, particularly in the South of England, though no region escaped wholly unscathed. Sheffield was badly hit. Even the West Country, despite its Methodist traditions, was very hostile to the Salvationists" (Hare 222). Torquay in Devon, which was among the more conservative seaside resorts, made determined efforts to repel what some saw as little short of an "invasion" (see Kneale 80; Murdoch 575): matters reached such a point that the authorities there were given a mandate to fine and imprison those who joined in the sect's Sunday marches — and they acted upon it.

"They Kept On Marching," a folksong performed by The Legendary Ten Seconds, written by Ian Churchward, and sung by Jules Jones, added here by kind permission. [Link to lyrics.]

The matter was raised in parliament. The following is an excerpt from a House of Commons Debate of 20 March 1888, recorded in Hansard (vol 323 cc1788-90 1788-90):

MR. JAMES STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton) asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department, Whether he has had under consideration the case of a number of members of the Salvation Army, ratepayers and inhabitants of Torquay, at present suffering imprisonment for marching in procession with music on various Sundays to their place of worship; whether the offence of these men is any offence at Common Law, or whether it is an offence created by a clause of "The Torquay Harbour and District Act, 1886;" whether he has received a Memorial from these men, stating — "We have been accustomed to witness and take part in such marches ever since the Salvation Army was established in this town six years ago, and we were never threatened with punishment for so doing till the enactment of the Torquay Harbour and District Act;" whether they further stated that — "We never heard of any proposal to insert in the said Act a clause prohibiting such marches, and do not believe that any notice of such clause was given to the ratepayers before the passing of the Act;" and that — "In marching with music to our place of worship we act from a conscientious conviction of our duty to God, and to those who are by such marches only induced to attend our place of worship, and who would, were such marches discontinued, attend no place of worship at all;" and, whether he will take steps to mitigate the sentence passed on these men [note: in the centre of those shown below is a young woman, the daughter of the Salvation Army's founder, William Booth, and his wife Catherine. The young woman's name is written as Eva (short for Evangeline) Booth].

"Prosecuted and Imprisoned for Marching on Sunday
in an orderly musical procession, Torquay, 1888.
Reproduced by kind permission of the Salvation
Army International Heritage Centre. [Click on all the images for more information.]

THE SECRETARY OF STATE (Mr. MATTHEWS) (Birmingham, E.): Yes, Sir; this case has been under my consideration. The offence was against the Torquay Harbour Act, 1886, s. 38. I have received a Memorial containing the words quoted. There have been for two years past numerous prosecutions in Torquay under the section referred to. In the earlier cases the summonses were withdrawn, on the understanding that the offence would not be repeated. In later cases fines have been imposed, the magistrates conceiving that they were bound to enforce the law, while the defendants conceived that it is their conscientious duty to disobey it. In the case under consideration the defendants were sentenced to pay fines, and went to prison in default of payment — nine of them for a fortnight, which will end on Thursday next, and six, who had been previously convicted of the same offence, for a month. These sentences were within the jurisdiction of the magistrates, and do not appear to have been excessive. There is, moreover, a right of appeal, which has not been exercised. Much as I regret that the defendants should have placed themselves in collision with the law, I do not feel justified in interfering with the sentences.

MR. HENRY H. FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.) asked whether, when this Act (which was a private Act) was passed, the attention of the House was called by the Committee to which the Bill was referred specially to this new legislation. He asked this Question, because for some years he had the honour of being a Member of the Committee to which Police and Sanitary Bills were referred, and they declined to insert what were called the Salvation Army Clauses. When the subsequent Committee reversed that judgment, was the attention of the House called to the point?

MR. MATTHEWS: Of that I am not aware. I looked this morning at the proceedings of the Committee. I think Lord Basing was Chairman on that particular Bill. The clause, as originally proposed, was different in form to that which the Memorialists alluded to. It was a clause giving the Local Board power to prohibit processions on any day, and also power to permit them. The Committee refused to allow the clause in that shape, saying that they had well considered the subject on the Hastings Bill; and they consequently gave the Local Board the clause absolutely prohibiting noisy processions on Sundays. Whether it was brought to the attention of the House specially I do not know.

MR. BARRAN (York, W.R., Otley) inquired, whether the Act of Parliament in question applied to the Sunday parades of Volunteers with their bands?

MR. MATTHEWS: I think there is a clause which specially exempts bodies of a military character.

Left: The Salvation Army's Lt-Colonel Roberts published an account of his experience of spending one month in prison for participating in a parade. Photo kindly provided by Ian Churchward of The Legendary Ten Seconds. Right: Plaque commemorating the passing of the 1888 Amendment Act in 1888, on display in Torquay Harbour. Photo © Ian Churchward

During this unlikely conflict, "[o]ver a hundred were eventually prosecuted and imprisoned and, over the months, the Army was reinforced by bandsmen from Exeter, Newton Abbot, Crediton, Barnstaple and Ilfracombe. In a cat-and-mouse game, the police responded with surveillance, infiltration, intimidation, and, according to reports, the occasional violent assault" ("The Torquay War of 1888"). At last, the Torquay Harbour and District Act was duly repealed by an Amendment Act of 1888. But at any rate, by then the problem was beginning to fade. As the extent of hostility towards the militant aspect of the Salvationists became clear, William Booth turned more towards social service as a means of conversion, and the Salvation Army gradually evolved into the kind of charitable organisation that we know today. — Jacqueline Banerjee

Links to related material


Kneale, James. In "The Battle of Torquay: The Late Victorian Resort as Social Experiment." Coastal Cultures of the Long Nineteenth Century. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2018. 79-97.

Hansard (questions about the Torquay Harbour and District Act, 1866). Web. 5 November 2022.

Hare, Chris. “The Skeleton Army and the Bonfire Boys, Worthing, 1884.” Folklore 99, no. 2 (1988): 221–31.

Murdoch, Norman H. “Salvation Army Disturbances in Liverpool, England, 1879-1887.” Journal of Social History 25, no. 3 (1992): 575–93.

"The Torquay War of 1888." We Are South Devon. 10 November 2022.

Selected Further Reading

Barnes, Cyril J. William Booth and His Army of Peace. Amersham, England: Hulton Educational, 1975.

Benge, Janet, Geoff Benge. William Booth: Soup, Soap, and Salvation. Seattle: YWAM Publishing, 2002.

Horridge, Glenn K. The Salvation Army, Origins and Early Days: 1865–1900. Godalming: Ammonite Books, 1993.

Inglis, K.S. Churches and the Working Classes in Victorian England. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1963.

Walker, Pamela J. Pulling the Devil's Kingdom Down: The Salvation Army in Victorian Britain. Berkeley, CA.: University of California Press, 2001.

Winston, Diane. Red–Hot and Righteous: The Urban Religion of The Salvation Army. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1999).

Online Sources

The Salvation Army International Heritage Centre, London

Created 5 November 2022