I’m sure we have all had to put up with annoying disturbances at some point in our lives; last year an inconsiderate neighbour chose to party hard until the wee hours as she celebrated her 40th birthday. At about 4 in the morning I was obliged to ask her guests (she had retired to bed) to turn the music off.
I might have expected it from a student house but not a group of middle aged professionals.
If you live in a big city (like London or Paris, or New York) you are likely to be disturbed by the sound of traffic, railways, the sirens of emergency vehicles, and the refuse collectors. These are the normal everyday sounds of urban living however, and we get used to them or accept them as necessary. It is quite different then if someone sets up a band outside your house and plays music incessantly for hours on end.
This was the scenario that brought a vet to seek help from Mr Shiel at Westminster Police court in June 1889.
The vet (described only as a ‘gentleman’, his name not being recorded in the newspaper report) lived in Turk’s Row, Chelsea where he ran ‘an infirmary for horses and dogs’. He told the magistrate that a ‘band of Salvationists’ (meaning the Salvation Army) had congregated outside his property on several occasions recently to perform.
‘There were’, he explained, ‘at least 20 persons singing to a tambourine accompaniment’ and he had called the police after they refused to stop. A policeman had intervened and ‘begged the people to go further off’ but they refused. Instead they just continued making more of their ‘hideous’ noise than they had previously.
The poor vet described how he had told the group’s leader that his wife was ‘lying dangerously ill’ having had complications in her pregnancy. He just wanted her to be able to rest but the officer in charge of the Salvation Army band refused to believe him, and called him a liar.
He asked for a summons to bring the ‘Army’ to court.
Mr Sheil was sympathetic but not very helpful. Couldn’t the police have done more, he asked? ‘They have no power’, the vet replied, or at least ‘they don’t like to interfere’. Had an (often Italian) organ grinder stood opposite his house the police would have happily taken them away, but not, it seems, the men and women of the ‘Sally Army’, however disruptive they were being.
The magistrate would not grant a summons and instead suggested the applicant visit the ‘headquarters of this so-called Salvation Army, and see, in the name of religion, they will continue to disturb a person who is ill’. In other words, challenge their Christian principles and beliefs rather than apply the same rules to them as would have applied to itinerate street musicians.
If it seems hypercritical to us it certainly did to the vet. He left court muttering that ‘he did not see why he should not have a summons, and that the he considered the law ought to protect him’.
It is very hard not to agree with him. Once again it is a case of one rule for some, and another for others.
Today of course the Salvation Army is a well respected charity organization with branches all over the world; in the late 1880s it was an embryonic and divisive group which found itself in court quite frequently on charges of disturbing the peace or obstructing the streets. How times change eh?
[from The Standard, Wednesday 26 June, 1889]
For an interesting blog post on the involvement of Black Britons in the Salvation Army see Jeffrey Green’s post here
For other stories from me about the Salvation Army see these related posts: