Victorian London - Charities - Salvation Army

   The Salvation Army originated in the east of London in 1865, claims (Christmas 1888) to have 7107 officers, 2587 corps, and 653 outposts, established in 33 countries or colonies; and so rapid is its growth, that 1423 officers and 325 corps have been added in the past 12 months. Of this grand total a full proportion are situated in our district, where they have services and marches every week. In their slum work and in the provision of "food and shelter for the homeless and starving poor" the needs of East London are specially considered, and in East London is to be found one of the homes established by the Army in connection with their rescue work. Of the slum officers it is said that "they live amongst the people in the darkest and most wretched courts and alleys. They nurse the sick, care for the dying, visit the lodging-houses, hold meetings continually, and by their self-sacrificing lives win hundreds of poor outcasts for Christ."
    No one who has attended the services, studied the faces, and listened to the spoken words, can doubt the earnest and genuine character of the enthusiasm which finds in them its expression. The Army claims to be, and is, "a force of converted men and women, who intend to make all men yield or at least listen to the claims of God to their love and service." Its members hold in single faith, and with a very passionate conviction, what are known as the truths of Christianity, and desire that all men should be forced to hear of Salvation. They carry on their flag the motto "Blood and Fire," which is explained to mean "the precious Blood of Christ's atonement by which only we are saved, and the Holy Spirit who sanctifies, energizes, and comforts the true soldiers of God." It is pointed out that the doctrines they preach are "just those which are deemed essential by all orthodox people of God. Utter ruin through the fall; Salvation alone from first to last, through the atonement of Christ by the Holy Spirit; the Great Day of Judgment, with its reward of Heaven for ever for the righteous, and Hell for ever for the wicked." And they add to this a belief that "it is possible for God to create in man a dean heart," granting him thus a sort of present and earthly Salvation. To these doctrines and principles the orthodox can have no objection. Those who give an objective value at all to the "truths of Christianity," can hardly find fault with the very vivid language which is only a consequence of very vivid belief. Nor will those who seek mental peace in every shade of subjective value which can be attached to the same ideas, recognize anything unfavourable to the Salvation Army in the simplicity with which the orthodox doctrines are expressed. So far the Army occupies a very strong position. Justified as to its faith, is it also justified by its work?
    If the student of these matters turns his eyes from those conducting the service to those for whom it is conducted, he sees for the most part blank indifference. Some may "come to scoff and stay to pray," but scoffers are in truth more hopeful than those -- and they are the great bulk of every audience of which I have ever made one -- who look in to see what is going on; enjoying the hymns perhaps, but taking the whole service as a diversion. I have said that I do not think the people of East London irreligious in spirit, and also that doctrinal discussion is almost a passion with them; but I do not think the Salvation Army supplies what they want in either one direction or the other. The design of the Army to "make all men yield, or at least listen," will be disappointed in East London. On the other hand, they will find recruits there, as everywhere else in England, to swell the comparatively small band of men and women who form the actual Army of General Booth, and who may find their own salvation while seeking vainly to bring salvation to others. Not by this road (if I am right) will religion be brought to the mass of the English people.
    In rescue work I should suppose that the methods pursued would touch many, but I should need better evidence than any I have seen to convince me that of those touched many would be permanently affected by the heightened emotions and excitement which are so unsparingly used. On the other hand, something more than their own salvation must result from lives of devotion such as are in truth led by these modern soldiers of the cross.
    The ultimate results of providing food and shelter at uncommercial prices can hardly be other than evil, but even this is mitigated by the evident honesty of the effort and the nave desire shown to make it as little demoralizing as possible. Much of the same sort of thing is being done broadcast amongst the poor of the East End by many agencies; and the more of it, the more solid and sodden will the poverty become with which we have to deal.

Charles Booth, Life and Labour of the People in London, 1903

THE CONGRESS HALL, CLAPTON.

This structure, in Lynscott Road, Clapton, is the largest in the United Kingdom owned by the Salvation Army, and is held in peculiar estimation by Salvationists in consequence of its association with the training, carried on in adjoining buildings, of young men and women as officers of the Salvation Army in all parts of the world. Before "General" Booth secured the property it was occupied by the London Orphan Asylum, now at Watford. In place of a small chapel, which stood between the two wings, he erected the Congress Hall, which was inaugurated in May, 1882, and has a seating capacity of 4,500. It is open every evening in the week, and all day on Sundays, and is used for many of the special gatherings of the Army.

source: The Queen's London, 1896