Salvation Army History :

The Founder - William Booth
The Army Mother - Catherine Booth
In Darkest England and the Way Out
Opposition and Persecution
A Volunteer Army?
The Army's Uniform
Contacting the Army's Heritage Centre

The Founder - William Booth

William Booth was born in Nottingham in 1829. At the age of 13 he was sent to work as an apprentice in a pawnbroker's shop to help support his mother and sisters. He did not enjoy his job but it made him only too aware of the poverty in which people lived and how they suffered humiliation and degradation because of it. During his teenage years he became a Christian and spent much of his spare time trying to persuade other people to become Christians too.

When his apprenticeship was completed he moved to London, again to work in the pawnbroking trade. He joined up with the local Methodist Church and later decided to become a minister.

After his marriage to Catherine Mumford in 1855 he spent several years as a Methodist minister, travelling all around the country, preaching and sharing God's word to all who would listen. Yet he felt that God wanted more from him, that he should be doing more to reach ordinary people. He returned to London with his family, having resigned his position as a Methodist minister.

One day in 1865 he found himself in the East End of London, preaching to crowds of people in the streets. Outside the Blind Beggar pub some missioners heard him speaking and were so impressed by his powerful preaching that they asked him to lead a series of meetings they were holding in a large tent.

The tent was situated on an old Quaker burial ground on Mile End waste in Whitechapel. The date for the first meeting was set for 2 July, 1865. To the poor and wretched of London's East End, Booth brought the good news of Jesus Christ and his love for all men. Booth soon realised he had found his destiny. He formed his own movement which he called 'The Christian Mission'. Slowly the mission began to grow but the work was hard and Booth would 'stumble home night after night haggard with fatigue, often his clothes were torn and bloody bandages swathed his head where a stone had struck', wrote his wife. Evening meetings were held in an old warehouse where urchins threw stones and fireworks through the window. Outposts were eventually established and in time attracted converts, yet the results remained discouraging-this was just another of the 500 charitable and religious groups trying to help in the East End. It was not until 18 78 when The Christian Mission changed its name to The Salvation Army that things began to happen. The impetus changed. The idea of an Army fighting sin caught the imagination of the people and the Army began to grow rapidly. Booth's fiery sermons and sharp imagery drove the message home and more and more people found themselves willing to leave their past behind and start a new life as a soldier in The Salvation Army.

Inevitably, the military spirit of the movement meant that The Salvation Army soon spread abroad. By the time Booth was 'promoted to Glory' in 1912 the Army was at work in 58 countries.

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The Army Mother - Catherine Booth

Catherine Mumford was born in Ashbourne, Derby, on 17 January 1829. From an early age she was a serious and sensitive girl. She had a strong Christian upbringing and by the age of 12 had read her Bible through eight times! But it was not until she was 16, after much struggling, that she was really converted. In her hymn book she read the words, 'My God I am Thine, what a comfort Divine', and realised the truth of this statement for herself.

At 14 she was seriously ill and spent a great deal of time in bed. But she kept herself busy, and was especially concerned about the problems of alcohol. She wrote articles for a magazine which encouraged people not to drink.

She met William when he came to preach at her church. They soon fell in love and became engaged. During three years of engagement, Catherine was a constant support to William in his tiring work of preaching, through her letters.

At last on 16 June 1855, they were married. Unlike most weddings, theirs was very simple with no great expense. They wanted to use all their time and money for God.

Even on their honeymoon, William found himself asked to speak at meetings. Together they accepted this challenge of being used by God before even thinking of themselves.

At Brighouse, Catherine first began to help in the work of the church. She was extremely nervous, but found the courage to speak in children's meetings. She enjoyed working with young people. However it was unheard of for women to speak in adult meetings.

Catherine was convinced that women had an equal right to speak. At Gateshead, when the opportunity was given for public testimony, she went forward to speak! It was the beginning of a tremendous ministry, for people were greatly challenged by her preaching.

Catherine found the courage to speak to people in their homes, and especially to alcoholics whom she helped to make a new start in life. Often she held cottage meetings for converts.

She was also a mother with a growing family of eight children and was dedicated to giving them a firm Christian knowledge. Two of them became Generals of The Salvation Army.

In 1865 when the work of The Christian Mission began William preached to the poor and ragged, and Catherine spoke to the wealthy, gaining support for their financially demanding work. In time she began to hold her own campaigns.

When William Booth became known as the General, Catherine was known as the 'Army Mother'. She was behind many of the changes in the new movement, designing a flag, bonnets for the ladies and contributing to the Army's ideas on many important issues and matters of belief.

When she died in 1890 it was a great loss. Her life had been a challenge to thousands who remembered her as an untiring soldier in God's Army.

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In Darkest England and the Way Out

The plight of the poor in the 1880s was caused by the administration of the Poor Law. The State accepted responsibility for providing shelter and food for every man, woman and child who was destitute but they fulfilled this responsibility in such a way that poverty became a stigma. Those temporarily without a home were provided with shelter at a casual ward. There they were made to pick oakum or break stones-the traditional task of prisoners. The necessity to complete the required task caused great strain on those who were often weak with hunger. The principle seemed to be to make life for the poor so intolerable that they would seek employment more diligently. The fact that most of the paupers would have liked nothing more than a secure job escaped the notice of the authorities. Only those with nothing left but the clothes they wore were allowed a place in the workhouse. It was a dubious honour-the conditions there brought many to despair.

In 1891 Booth's controversial book, In Darkest England and The Way Out was published. In it he presented his plans for a programme which helped the poor and needy. His ideas were summarised in what he termed 'The Cab-Horse Charter' which read 'when a horse is down he is helped up, and while he lives he has food, shelter and work'. Booth realised that this meagre standard was absolutely unattainable by millions of people in Britain yet the fact remained that cab horses were treated to a better standard of living than many people.

He appealed to the public for £100,000 to start his scheme and a further £30,000 per year to maintain the programme.

Despite a lack of immediate funds Booth decided to put his plan into action. The first thing to be set up was a labour bureau to help people find work. He purchased a farm where men could be trained in certain types of work and at the same time gain some self-respect, because often when men had been unemployed for some years their confidence needed to be restored.

From this farm colony, men could be further helped through emigration to an overseas colony, where labourers were few. Whole families could be helped to a much better standard of living.

Other projects included a missing persons bureau to help find missing relatives and reunite families, more hostels for the homeless and a poor man's bank which could make small loans to workers who could buy tools or set up in a trade.

Booth's book sold 200,000 copies within the first year. Nine years after publication The Salvation Army had served 27 million cheap meals, lodged 11 million homeless people, traced 18,000 missing people and found jobs for 9,000 unemployed people.

Booth's book was used as a blue-print for the present day welfare state when it was set up by the government in 1948. Many of Booth's ideas were incorporated into the welfare state system.

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Opposition and Persecution

Despite its rapid increase in numbers and growing success, The Salvation Army provoked brutal and determined opposition, attracting many enemies. Pub and brothel owners were particularly angered when many of their former customers were converted in Booth's Army. Their profits fell rapidly and business suffered. Many persuaded their friends to join 'The Skeleton Army' whose main ambition was to get rid of The Salvation Army at any cost.

Many people condemned Booth's outlandish methods, pointing accusingly at the rough criminal characters who, when reformed, became staunch supporters of the new movement. They strongly disapproved of these ruffians' attending church and Booth was hated by many because of his bizarre and unfamiliar ways.

Since The Salvation Army was born in the open air, Salvationists continued to work to the maxim that if the sinful did not come to them then they must take the gospel message into the streets. Many towns and villages were soon aware of the Army's presence when Salvationists marched out in procession with flags and banners waving. The sight often incited the protesters' anger and they took the opportunity for violent attack.

All over the country Salvationists were faced with angry mobs who used ammunition in the form of dead rats and cats, tar, rocks, rotten vegetables and even burning coals and sulphur to show their hatred of the new movement. In one year alone (1882) 669 Salvationists were brutally attacked.

The police, in many cases, did very little to help. The policy of peace at any price issued by the Home Office meant the police intervened as little as possible. The processions were not illegal, they were told, but if the peace of the town was endangered then they should try to prevent disturbances. Many Salvationists found themselves in prison on trumped-up charges made by vindictive police and magistrates. But more serious were the Salvationists who were killed because of their faith. Mrs Susannah Beatty became the Army's first martyr after being pelted with rocks, viciously kicked in the stomach and left for dead in a dark alleyway.

Gradually, however, when people began to see the value of the Army's work and the beneficial effect on the lives of those who responded to the gospel message, attitudes changed.

Now active in all five continents The Salvation Army has gained universal respect and loyalty. Persecution has been replaced with friendly banter and the Army is held in high esteem by people from all walks of life.

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A Volunteer Army?

William Booth's original aim had been to send his converts along to the established churches of the day. Nowhere in his plans was there an intention to commence another Christian church. But he soon found that many of his converts would not go to church as they were not made welcome. They could not afford a special Sunday suit and many of the regular church-goers were appalled when these shabbily dressed, evil-smelling people came to join them in worship. The poor soon got the message that they were not wanted and did not return.

Booth decided he would have to do something about the situation, and as a result formed the East London Christian Mission (later 'The Christian Mission'). The mission began to grow but very slowly. It lacked the impetus needed to attract and hold people's attention. But Booth's faith in God remained undaunted.

Early one morning in May 1878 Booth summoned his son, Bramwell, and his good friend, George Railton, to read the proofs of the Christian Mission's Annual Report. Its preliminary statement read:


Bramwell strongly objected to this statement, saying he was not a volunteer for he felt compelled by God to do what he had to do. There was also the suggestion that the members could be compared with the 'Volunteers' who were part-time soldiers in Queen Victoria's forces-and the source of much ridicule and mockery. In a moment of inspiration Booth crossed out the word 'Volunteer' and wrote 'Salvation'. Thus, The Salvation Army was born.

The new name appealed to Booth's followers who had become increasingly militant. Numbers grew rapidly as members called themselves soldiers or referred to themselves as Booth's 'lieutenants' or 'captains'. The Army's newspaper became The War Cry and prayers became 'knee drill'. Booth himself was known by his followers as 'General'. Uniform was introduced, a flag was designed and the military spirit soon spread overseas changing the lives of men and women all over the world. Although an Army with military terms, The Salvation Army is a Christian army of peace offering hope and new life to those who will accept Jesus into their lives. Now at work in over 100 countries it continues to fight sin and evil in the lives of men, its only 'weapons' the love of God and his message of peace to all mankind.

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The Army's Uniform

In 1878 when the Christian Mission became in reality, the newly named Salvation Army, the familiar trappings of The Great Salvation War began to appear. Military terms became standard -church halls became corps; giving in the offering was called 'firing a cartridge'. Flags, badges, brass bands and uniforms were added, together with a military style rank system for its staff. According to years of service, position and level of responsibility in the organisation, trimmings worn on the uniform indicated rank.

Even without a religious motivation, the wearing of military ceremonial uniforms was widely popular among the working class men in the late 19th century in Britain.

At first these marching Salvationists were anything but uniform, dressed in an odd assortment of clothing and headgear. It took almost two years to standardise Salvation Army uniform, but by the beginning of 1880 a standard navy blue serge uniform was introduced for both men and women. Men wore a high neck tunic with a stiff collar over a scarlet jersey. Their headgear was a military cap with a red band, on which the words The Salvation Army had been worked in gold letters. Women wore long navy skirts, closefitting high neck tunics with white lace-edge collar. The large black straw bonnet was Catherine Booth's idea. Cheap, durable, protective and solidly unworldly, the bonnet with its red band and huge ribbon bow became a well known symbol of The Great Salvation War.

The men however, continued for much longer to display individual preferment in headgear. Pith helmets, toppers, derbies, sailor hat and discarded military band helmets proudly appeared adorned with a Salvation Army hatband until 1891, when Headquarters finally brought the troops under regulation caps-one hatband for officers, another for soldiers.

The great majority of pioneer Salvationists were proud of their uniforms because of the great crusade for which the uniform stood. Partly because of pride and because of economic necessity (officers and soldiers have always had to purchase their own uniforms and in 1890 a uniform would cost on average, three weeks' salary) many Salvationists wore their uniforms on any occasion where formal clothes would be expected. Weddings, funerals, family portraits, visiting relatives and town hall meetings would be some of the occasions one might expect to see the uniform.

In many countries where The Salvation Army commenced work, a specialised tailoring department was set up to ensure standardisation of uniforms at a reasonable cost.

Up until recently women continued to wear a smaller version of the Victorian bonnet, however most countries around the world are now adopting the less-expensive felt bowlerstyle hat. The high-collar tunics are also being replaced by an open-neck jacket using terylene as well as wool. (Today the cost of a uniform is an average weekly salary.)

According to culture and climate different uniforms may be worn in different countries. White, grey, beige, safari type with shorts or perhaps a sari with a Salvation Army sash.

Not all Salvation Army members wear a uniform. It is a personal choice to do so, but the reason for wearing it remains unchanged. It stands for:

A commitment in the war against evil.

As a personal testimony to the wearer's own Christian faith and practice.

And signifies the availability of the Salvationist to anyone needing a helping hand and listening ear.

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The Salvation Army International Heritage Centre

Further information about Salvation Army history can be obtained from the International Heritage Centre:

Tel: [44] (0171) 387-1656

E-mail: Heritage@SalvationArmy.org


As from 05 July 1999, The Heritage Centre at Judd St. is officially closed and will be relocating to 101 Queen Victoria St. London EC4P 4EP.

Telephone numbers and e-mail address will remain the same. All research work has now been suspended and will not resume until re-opening - which is estimated to be mid October 1999.

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© 2004 THE SALVATION ARMY CORPS TUSTIN RANCH   :   10200 PIONEER ROAD, TUSTIN, CA 92782   :   714.832.7100