Monday, 24 April 2017

Salvation Army Heritage Centre

William Booth College,
Champion Park,
Camberwell, London SE5 8BQ

Thursday 21 April 2017

Firstly apologies for the break in service due to a combination of health and holidays coming together with both bloggers otherwise occupied, but we are now back in business though struggling with our remaining museums – many of which have limited opening times or require visits by appointment rather than just turning up…

Jo was nursing a  cold so Linda decided to visit the Salvation Army Heritage Centre which she had not known existed ( not on the LIST you see) until she spotted the notice from the bus – William Booth College lying on a couple of regularly used bus routes  (185 and 176) and opposite Denmark Hill station. Roger kindly took the photos, learning the lesson we had known for some time that photography through glass does not work well…

Any similarity between the College and Battersea Power station or Cambridge University Library is due to the hand of the architect Giles Gilbert Scott, whose design this is. William Booth’s son Bramwell had it built in his father’s memory  and it opened on the centenary of his birth. We  were told you could visit it in more detail during London’s Open House events but the bits we saw today – entrance hall, lift and landing – were excellent examples of Twenties civic architecture. The Museum is on the third floor adjacent to the Library and Archives.
Just inside the museum is a ‘mutoscope’  (a flip book of photos so not quite film) showing the Booth funeral.

As you might expect, the Museum starts with a focus on William Booth, born 1829, and whose observations of the Pawnbroking business made him aware of social injustice. He was already a member of the Methodists (no surprise after our visit to John Wesley’s Chapel) and on his move to London spent time along the Whitechapel Road as an itinerant and very evangelical preacher initially for the Methodists but eventually breaking away from that movement via the Reformed Methodists to the start of The Christian Mission in 1865 which later came to be called the Salvation Army. By this time William had met and married Catherine Mumford, like himself originally from the East Midlands. Unusually for the time Catherine was a preacher also and was very robust about the equal role of women in the church; she was also good at fund raising amongst the richer of the congregation while William preached to the poor. She had also brought with her strong non-conformist views about the evils of drink so abstinence became one of the tenets of the Salvation Army. Tea was always on offer.

Because of this the early meetings and preachers met fierce opposition from the brewing industry in particular and the exhibition has several displays devoted to the opposition ‘skeleton army’ as it was known and posters for and against are shown. However prosecutions for unlawful assembly proved unsuccessful.   
Many of the early meetings were outdoors but as time went on buildings were found – places of worship generally known as ‘halls’.

Music plays a large role for the Salvation Army and there is a significant area devoted to the different instruments (they had their own factory which did not close until 1972) mainly brass of course as this is what sounds best out on the streets. Originally they played the Methodist hymns, but soon developed a repertoire and compositions of their own. Rather sweetly they had a 1960s guitar and vocal group called The Joystrings,  who had hits and appeared on Top of the Pops. They played in uniform which looks very quaint now but even the early Beatles wore matching suits and went through a pseudo military phase before ‘Give Peace a Chance’ took over..

For me the most significant positive of the Salvation Army was their commitment and sometimes pioneering approach to social work – yes it was very paternalistic and I’m sure the homeless they took in hated being preached at to ‘take the pledge’ but their approach was founded on good principles. William opined that  no-one would be receptive to God on an empty stomach and that philosophy has prevailed. They diversified into all aspects of social work from Aids work to Family Finding and tracing. 

At a very early point in their working with different communities they recognised what was then known as the  'White Slave Trade'  (what we would now call Child Sexual Exploitation)  and two of the officers were even prosecuted as they tried to expose to the government what was going on by ‘purchasing ‘ a 12/13 year old from her mother…

This work continues today as they offer help and support to victims of ‘modern slavery’  alongside continuing work with the Homeless. In 1891 they bought Hadleigh Farm in Essex to offer ongoing employment to men who had passed through their shelters, and this had both a dairy and a brickworks. Today it has diversified into having a Rare Breeds centre and a venue for mountain biking (? Essex?).

From social work it was a small step to an emergency response  role and the photographic display has numerous examples of the Salvations Army’s presence  at many of the key disasters of the last century. Their role, which they also carried out during both world wars, was to offer tea and support not only to the victims, but also to the emergency services who can frequently suffer from the after effects of working in such intense environments.  Staff are trained for such eventualities and though coming out of a mobile canteen they have appropriate training and counselling skills.

Like most of the evangelical religious groups the  Salvation  Army sent missionaries abroad and the movement is now established in over 120 countries worldwide – not surprisingly most strongly in the ‘old dominions’ of Australia and New Zealand. I was pleased to see that when they present at an overseas emergency the Salvation Army ‘uniform’ is reduced to a shield on a T-shirt  for hotter countries.Attempts were made to adapt to lcoal cultures - as in these Chinese fans..

Like many longstanding voluntary organisations we often take their work for granted and forget that it is grounded in a frim philosophy and belief and worship system. I tend to think the quasi-military

 set up of generals and captains sits rather strangely with some of their work  but is I suppose well embedded in the institution which is the Salvation Army and which this little neatly presented museum well explains. 

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