The Salvation Army in the Working-Class Slum – Chloe Marriott

The Salvation Army: Work in the Slums‘, Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 10 February 1887, p. 6.

William Booth’s Salvation Army, which was established in 1865, grew significantly in size and importance in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, turning it into the organisation that it is today.  It now helps approximately 2500 people a year back into employment and assists in reuniting around 2000 families a year. [1] During the latter half of the nineteenth century  newspaper editors, and other magazines turned their focus on to the working-class slum inhabitants; one such newspaper was the Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette.  This newspaper, along with many others, wrote articles on the experiences of Salvation Army volunteers in the slums, what the organisation stood for and how it was helping Britain’s working class citizens.

“The lecturer briefly alluded to the midnight rescue work in which she had been engaged, and then giving thrilling narratives of her experience in the slums, told how she had witnessed two boys of six years being trained to fight amidst an approving crowds of slum inhabitants.”[2]

The newspaper article gives an account of the experiences of the lecturer, who  had entered the slums of London on behalf of the Salvation Army, and what she had seen.  The Salvation Army was one of the most significant organisations of the period and was successful in helping those people who needed poor relief.[3] William Booth claimed that ‘3000 girls, taken from darkness and shame of the streets, are safely sheltered in our rescue homes each year’. [4] Booth highlighted the importance of the Salvation Army by emphasising the number of people that they were reaching.  The Salvation Army was a Nonconformist organisation and tried to ensure all slum-dwellers were attended to the best way that they could.  Due to the popularity of the Salvation Army during this time period, its success and impact has been the source of great debate amongst historians. Pamela Walker has argued that the organisation put itself  at the very heart of working-class life by taking different approaches to other organisations, such as The Church Army. [5]  This alone set The Salvation Army apart from other organisations. In the early twentieth century, St John Ervine claimed that the Salvation Army was the most significant product of the Victorian period as it applied all the right elements of Romanticism.[6]   The range of the Salvation Army’s duties and activities was impressive:

“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.”[7]

The Salvation Army was taking on large amounts of work because they were attempting to cater for the needs of everyone they could.  Walker describes how the Salvation Army operated by entering into urban working-class towns where they sang in music halls and public houses trying to win over the hearts and minds of the inhabitants.[8]  The organisation invented a battle plan which would suit working class geography and cultural life.[9]  They had to target the right audiences in a way that they would not cause offence.  For these people living in the slums it was demeaning for people of higher classes to come into where they live and help them in a way that they were not used to.  The middle and upper class volunteers had to gain the trust from the slum inhabitants in order for them to get their message across.

1890 salvation army burton on trent
1890 Burton- On Trent Salvation Army Band

Henry Pelling has argued that the desertion of churchgoing within the working class was not as widespread as is commonly perceived.[10]  This is shown in this article on the Salvation Army. While their had been some hostility – ‘the people in the alleys and courts will go to no place of worship, they will not even go to the Salvation Army Barracks’ – once the people living in the slums accepted the ‘kind acts of mercy’ from the Salvation Army, they  opened up and allowed them to help. [11]

Furthermore,  Hugh Mcleod takes the approach that the working class slum inhabitants did not fully reject religion; they just had their own individual beliefs that they chose to live by.[12] The work of civilisation, which was furthered by the work of the churches, also required the assistance of powerful allies such as school attendance officers and the police in order to allow the state to be a civilising power. This was needed in order to allow the churches to positively have an influence over the working classes.[13]

During the latter part of the nineteenth century, an influx of organisations entered the slums in order to try and diminish poverty.  A strong se1919 salvation army peace tea party burton on trent.jpgnse of gender segregation can be seen within these organisations and the historiography on the subject of slums suggests women were more involved in voluntary work with charities than men.  Ellen Ross suggests that more women than their male philanthropic counterparts were heavily involved with relief work in the slums, with an estimated half a million women going into the slums to volunteer.[14]  Missionaries and church lay workers led the way in the 1860s. Both men and women Anglican or Nonconformist missionaries took their own ideals into the slums. [15]  The presence of middle-class women  in the slum districts was unmistakeable in both religious and secular affairs; not only did these women aid those who needed relief but were also able to see for themselves what the newspaper articles were discussing.  These poorest districts exerted a ‘magnetic pull’ on the middle and upper class men and women who wanted to help with the poor and witness first-hand what life in the slum was like.[16]

This article about the Salvation Army  helps us to understand the relationship between gender, working-class life and religion in the late nineteenth century.  Many different organisations ventured into the slums and many of them, particularly the Salvation Army, succeeded in making changes. Overall, the Salvation Army refashioned gender roles by giving women an equal opportunity to help the poor, and were ultimately successful in spreading their message to those men and women who were rarely found in chapels and churches.[17]

salvation army 1935 swadlincote band

Chloe Marriott

[2] Anon., ‘The Salvation Army: Work in the Slums’,  Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 10 February 1887, p. 6.
[4] Booth, William Bramwell , ‘Notes on the Salvation Army Social Work’ (The Darkest England scheme in 1896) LSE Selected Pamphlets, 1896.
[5] Walker, P., Pulling the Devil’s Kingdom Down: The Salvation Army in Victorian Britain, (California: University of California Press, 2001), p. 1
[6] St John Ervine., Gods Soldier: General William Booth (London, 1934), p. 189.
[7] Date
accessed: 26th November 2015.
[8] Walker, Pulling the Devil’s Kingdom Down, p. 2
[9] Walker, Pulling the Devil’s Kingdom Down, p. 2
[10] Pelling, H., Religion and the Nineteenth-Century British Working Class. Available online:
[11] Anon., ‘The Salvation Army: Work in the Slums’,  Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 10 February 1887, p. 6.
[12] McLeod, H., Religion and the Working Class in Nineteenth-Century Britain (London: Macmillan, 1984), p. 11
[13] Ross, E., Slum Travelers: Ladies and London Poverty, 1860- 1920. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007) p1
[14] Clark, G. K., The Making of Victorian England (London: Methuen, 1962), p. 195.
[15] Ross, Slum Travelers, p.3.
[16] Healey, E., Lady Unknown: The life of Angela Burdett- Courtts. (London: Sedgwick and Jackson, 1978), pp. 64- 69.
[17] Walker, Pulling the Devil’s Kingdom Down, p.2.


One thought on “The Salvation Army in the Working-Class Slum – Chloe Marriott

  1. Interesting, after brain injury I am slowly trying to return to my research on Irish women in Salvation Army and discuss gender divisions too. If you interested pm me n I will send you my published links old but original. Thanks enjoyed this


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