Apr 102014


Today is the birthday (1829) of William Booth, a British Methodist preacher who founded The Salvation Army and became its first General (1878–1912). William Booth was born in Sneinton, Nottingham, the second son of five children born to Samuel Booth and his second wife, Mary Moss. Booth’s father was relatively wealthy by the standards of the time, but during William’s childhood, the family descended into poverty. In 1842, Samuel Booth, who could no longer afford his son’s school fees, apprenticed the 13-year-old William Booth to a pawnbroker. Samuel Booth died on 23 September 1843.

Two years into his apprenticeship Booth converted to Methodism. He then read extensively and trained himself in writing and in speech, becoming a Methodist lay preacher. Booth was encouraged to be an evangelist primarily through his best friend, Will Sansom. Sansom and Booth both began in the 1840s to preach to the poor of Nottingham, and Booth would probably have remained as Sansom’s partner in his new Mission Ministry, as Sansom called it, had Sansom not died of tuberculosis, in 1849.

When his apprenticeship ended in 1848, Booth was unemployed and spent a year looking in vain for work. In 1849, he reluctantly left his family and moved to London, where he again found work with a pawnbroker. He tried to continue lay preaching in London, but the small amount of preaching work that came his way frustrated him, and so he resigned as a lay preacher and took to open-air evangelizing in the streets and on Kennington Common.

In 1851, Booth joined the Reformers (Methodist Reform Church), and on 10 April 1852, his 23rd birthday, he left pawnbroking and became a full-time preacher at their headquarters at Binfield Chapel in Clapham. William styled his preaching after the U.S. revivalist James Caughey, who had made frequent visits to England and preached at the church in Nottingham where Booth was a member, Broad Street Chapel. Just over a month after he started full-time preaching, on 15 May 1852, Booth became formally engaged to Catherine Mumford. In November 1853, Booth was invited to become the Reformers’ minister at Spalding, in Lincolnshire. Booth married Catherine Mumford on 16 June 1855 at Stockwell Green Congregational Church in London. Their wedding was very simple, as they wanted to use their time and money for his ministry. Even on their honeymoon Booth was asked to speak at meetings.


Though Booth became a prominent Methodist evangelist, he was unhappy that the annual conference of the denomination kept assigning him to a pastorate, the duties of which he had to neglect to respond to the frequent requests that he conduct evangelistic campaigns. At the Liverpool conference in 1861, after having spent three years at Gateshead, his request to be freed for evangelism full-time was refused yet again, and Booth resigned from the ministry of the Methodist New Connexion. In consequence he was barred from campaigning in Methodist congregations, so he became an independent evangelist. His doctrine remained much the same, though. He never moved very far from basic Methodist beliefs.

In 1865 Booth was in the East End of London, preaching to crowds of people in the streets. Outside The Blind Beggar public house some missioners heard him speaking and were so impressed by his preaching that they invited him to lead a series of meetings they were holding in a large tent.  The tent was set up on an old Quaker burial ground on Mile End Waste in Whitechapel. The first of these meetings was held on 2 July 1865.

Booth soon realized he had found his destiny, and later in 1865 he and his wife Catherine opened ‘The Christian Revival Society’ in the East End of London, where they held meetings every evening and on Sundays, preaching to the poorest and most needy, including alcoholics, criminals and prostitutes. The Christian Revival Society was later renamed The Christian Mission. Slowly The Christian Mission began to grow but the work was difficult and his wife wrote that he 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.” He held evening in an old warehouse where boys threw stones and fireworks through the window. He continued however, and also opened “Food for the Million Shops,” that is, soup kitchens, apparently shrugging off the constant derision.

The name The Salvation Army developed from an incident in May 1878. Booth was dictating a letter to his secretary George Scott Railton and said, “We are a volunteer army.” When his son Bramwell Booth heard his father say this he said, “Volunteer, I’m no volunteer, I’m a regular!” William instructed Railton to cross out the word “volunteer” and substitute the word “salvation.” The Salvation Army was modeled after the military, with its own flag (battle colors) and its own music, often with Christian words to popular and folk tunes sung in the pubs. Booth and the other soldiers in “God’s Army” would wear the Army’s own uniform, “putting on the armour,” for meetings and ministry work. He became the general and his other ministers were given appropriate ranks as officers. Other members became soldiers.

Though the early years were lean ones, with the need of money to help the poor an ever growing issue, Booth and The Salvation Army persevered. In the early 1880s, operations were extended to other countries, notably the United States, France, Switzerland, Sweden and others, including to most of the countries of the British Empire: Australia, Canada, India, Cape Colony, New Zealand, Jamaica, etc.

Often the beginnings in other countries occurred through the “salvationist” activities of soldiers who had emigrated. With some initial success they would contact London to send officers to organize the cause. In Argentina, a non-salvationist wrote to Booth saying that there were thousands of British people there who needed salvation. I find it slightly odd that the writer should emphasize the British immigrants, as needing salvation more than Argentinos; it’s worth a smile in hindsight. The four officers sent in 1890 found that the British were scattered all over the rural areas, mostly in the south in La Pampa and Patagonia, working as sheep farmers. But the missionaries started ministry in English and Spanish, and the work spread throughout the country – initially following the railroad development, since the British in charge of building the railroads were usually sympathetic to the movement.  (As a small aside, this harks back to my post on Brunel yesterday. British engineers were in the forefront of railroad development in South America because of Brunel’s work).


During his lifetime, Booth established Army work in 58 countries and colonies, traveling extensively and holding salvation meetings. He regularly published a magazine and was the author of a number of books; he also composed several songs. His book In Darkest England and the Way Out not only became a best-seller after its 1890 release, it set the foundation for the Army’s modern social welfare approach.


He proposed a strategy to apply the Christian Gospel and work ethic to the problems. His book speaks of abolishing vice and poverty by establishing homes for the homeless, farm communities where the urban poor can be trained in agriculture, training centers for prospective emigrants, homes for prostitutes and released prisoners, aid for the poor, and help for alcoholics. He also laid down schemes for lawyers, banks, clinics, industrial schools and even a seaside resort for the poor. He adamantly affirmed that if the state fails to meet its social obligations it was the task of each Christian to step into the breach.

Booth was always an evangelist and never departed from his ministry of conversion. In his introduction he writes:

I have no intention to depart in the smallest degree from the main principles on which I have acted in the past. My only hope for the permanent deliverance of mankind from misery, either in this world or the next, is the regeneration or remaking of the individual by the power of the Holy Ghost through Jesus Christ. But in providing for the relief of temporal misery I reckon that I am only making it easy where it is now difficult, and possible where it is now all but impossible, for men and women to find their way to the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.


William Booth was 83 years old when he died (or, in Salvationist parlance, was Promoted to Glory) at his home in Hadley Wood, London. At the three day lying in state at Clapton Congress Hall 150,000 people filed past his casket. On 27 August 1912 Booth’s funeral service was held at London’s Olympia where 40,000 people attended, including Queen Mary, who sat almost unrecognized far to the rear of the great hall.

The following day Booth’s funeral procession set out from International Headquarters. As it moved off 10,000 uniformed Salvationists fell in behind. Forty Salvation Army bands played the ‘Dead March’ from Handel’s Saul as the vast procession set off. He was buried with his wife Catherine Booth in the main London burial ground for 19th century non-conformist ministers and tutors, the non-denominational Abney Park Cemetery in Stoke Newington.

The Salvation Army came under a lot of criticism in Booth’s lifetime, and has continued to have a mixed reception for a variety of reasons – mostly concerning its vast wealth and moral stances.  But I will bypass this topic here. You can look it up if you are interested.  I have many friends who are Salvation Army officers and they are all hard working decent people, laboring to do good in the world.  They all play brass instruments, of course, which is mostly how I know them.  My son played trumpet at Salvation Army kettles for years.  So here’s a little tribute to Salvation Army brass (for the musicians in the audience – Salvation Army bands normally use the cornet rather than the trumpet, including sometimes the Eb soprano):

I was surprised to discover the relationship between the Salvation Army and doughnuts.  Here’s a video to explain with some good vintage footage:

It’s only 44 seconds long, but if you cannot view it, essentially, “Salvation Army lassies” became legendary in WW I, and again in WW II, for giving free doughnuts and coffee to soldiers.   They chose doughnuts because field kitchens generally did not have ovens to bake cakes or cookies.


Here is a recipe taken directly from a Salvation Army website: http://salvationarmynorth.org/about-us/history/original-salvation-army-donut-recipe-video/.  You might want to substitute something healthier for the tub of lard, although lard is superior for frying.  If it were me I wouldn’t let them cool either.  Fresh doughnuts straight from the fryer are unbeatable.  It’s easy to halve the recipe if 48 are too many for you.

Salvation Army Lassies’ Donut Recipe

Yield: 4 dozen donuts


5 C flour
2 C sugar
5 tsp. baking powder
1 ‘saltspoon’ salt
2 eggs
1 ¾ C milk
1 Tub lard


Combine all ingredients (except for lard) to make dough.

Thoroughly knead dough, roll smooth, and cut into rings that are less than 1/4 inch thick. (When finding items to cut out donut circles, be creative. Salvation Army Donut Girls used whatever they could find, from baking powder cans to coffee percolator tubes.)

Drop the rings into the lard, making sure the fat is hot enough to brown the donuts gradually. Turn the donuts slowly several times.

When browned, remove donuts and allow excess fat to drip off.

Dust with powdered sugar. Let cool and enjoy.

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