When William Booth founded his Christian mission in Whitechapel in 1865 it was just just another example of nineteenth-century evangelical religious fervour. It was not until 1878 that he, with inspiration from his son, Bramwell, came up with the concept of an ‘army’ to give the movement a distinct and lasting mission. The Salvation Army grew from a small congregation in the East End to a worldwide movement promoting its own brand of aggressive Christianity served with a large helping of brass band music and singing.
In its early days, however, it would be fair to say that many people found it an unpalatable mixture of ‘rough music’ and rather un-English lay preaching. For some it was a welcome and much needed force for good, while for others it was a subject ripe for ridicule. This contrast is played out in a court case heard by the sitting magistrate at Clerkenwell Police Court in 1881, just a few years after Booth’s Army took to the streets.
As a Salvation Army band marched along Victoria Road in Islington one Sunday afternoon in early May, supported by about 100 ‘cadets’, ‘privates’, lieutenants’, and ‘captains’ John Roswell and others in the watching crowd hooted and poured derision on them. This was an ‘army’ in name only, and it aped the uniforms of Victoria’s finest, which may well have upset those who had served under the colours or who had sons or brothers, or husbands fighting for the Queen overseas.
As three of the young Salvation Army ‘cadets’ (those training for ministry) passed by the crowd they were pelted with rotten fish and mud. Two of the cadets managed to identify those they thought responsible and on the following Wednesday John Rosewell was brought in front of the magistrate to answer a charge of assault.
His accusers were William Powell and Daniel Baugh. Baugh also alleged that when he remonstrated with Rosewell the youngster attacked him, beating him across the back with a stick. He was helpless, he insisted, to defend himself.
This brought about laughter in the courtroom because Daniel was a man mountain, whilst the defendant was a small lad, about half his size. He had pointed Rosewell out to a police inspector but the police could find no corroborating evidence against him. He was accused of throwing mud but had no mud on his hands or his clothes.
So, there was a case of disputed identification which would ultimately undermine the case against John Rosewell but the magistrate then demonstrated his own dislike of the Salvation Army and its activities.
It was a Sunday, Mr Ricketts asked, and you were singing songs?
Songs such as “My Grandfather’s clock”, “The Old Armchair”, and “Jim Crow” he continued. The cadets looked confused. Amid more laughter they told him that they were ‘singing the songs of Zion, set to tunes for showing people the direct road to the Captain above’.
Did they work?, the magistrate asked. No, they marched and sang and were rewarded with lodgings and food for doing the ‘Master’s work’.
The justice didn’t like this at all:
‘Then I suppose these processions, these popular songs on a Sunday, and all this turning of religion into a mockery, is done solely for the purpose of getting money?’ he alleged.
It was to raise money for their work, for the mission and the Salvation hall protested the cadets, but to little effect. The magistrate, as a follower of a more traditional form of ‘sober’ worship clearly had little time for General Booth and his followers. He dismissed the charge against Rosewell (as unproven) and grumbled that ‘scenes like those caused by the Salvation Army were likely to lead to riot and tumult’.
Widely disliked in the late 1800s the Army changed tack and started to provide social welfare as well as evangelism and popular music. It survived the critics and the brickbats and now claims to have 1.5 million members across the world.
[from The Standard), Wednesday, May 04, 1881]