In Yeovil since 1882
In June 1865, William and Katherine Booth founded the Christian Mission in the East End of London. Under Booth's leadership, so-called 'Mission Stations' were opened along Whitechapel Road and as well as engaging in evangelism, Booth's new converts began to care for the poor and needy. The work also began to be expanded to towns outside of London. In 1878 the Christian Mission changed its name to the Salvation Army. In 1884 the Salvation Army opened a women's rescue home in Whitechapel, thus beginning their era of social work. Today the Salvation Army is currently the largest provider of social care in the UK after the government. It is an evangelical part of the universal Christian Church.
The Yeovil Corps of the Salvation Army was founded in 1882 following the appearance of a poster in the town announcing "The Salvation Army will open fire in the Cattle Market on Sunday 28th of May 1882 at 10am. Everybody welcome. Major Davey in command, assisted by Captain Crocker".
However there was much disquiet in the town and serious and frequent 'riots' erupted in the streets throughout September and October 1882. A mob of hundreds, branded the 'Skeleton Army' (see below), used stones and rotten eggs as ammunition against the Salvation Army and serious scuffles broke out on several occasions as outlined by the newspaper reports in the Gallery below. In fact this type of local protest 'riot' were common across the country at this time, not just in Yeovil.
The Borough Council refused permission for outdoor meetings to be held and, further, refused to allow any of their properties to be used for the purpose. Many Salvationists were prosecuted for obstruction when they held their meetings outside, such as in the Borough. As a consequence the former Western Gazette offices on the corner of Lower Middle Street and Newton Road, seen in the photograph below, later became the new Salvation Army Temple as a short-term measure.
In the 'Homeland Handbook' of 1906 it was noted that the Salvation Army "have barracks in Vincent Street."
In December 1920 a new site was acquired for the purpose of building a new hall and a building fund was launched in October 1924. Building of the hall commenced at the beginning of 1925 with a stone-laying ceremony held on 23 January 1932. The New Halls, in Southville, were opened on Saturday, 18 June 1932 and the Yeovil Corps marched from the Old Hall in Lower Middle Street to the New Hall. At 3pm former Yeovil mayor Henry Stiby, by this time in his ninetieth year and just two years before his death, turned the key in the door to officially open the New Halls.
In 1950 the Salvation Army hall was earmarked by the Corporation for use as a rest centre and a centre for the care of the homeless in the case of a civil emergency - that is, the outbreak of another war.
The Skeleton Army
The Skeleton Army was a diffuse group, particularly in Southern England, that opposed and disrupted The Salvation Army's marches against alcohol in the late 19th century.
Clashes between the two groups led to the deaths (albeit not in Yeovil, where blood was shed more than once) of several Salvationists and injuries to many others.
The 'Skeletons' recognised each other by various insignia used to distinguish themselves. Skeletons used banners with skulls and crossbones; sometimes there were two coffins and a statement like, "Blood and Thunder" (mocking the Salvation Army's war cry "Blood and Fire") or the three Bs: “Beef”, “Beer” and “Bacca” – again mocking the Salvation Army's three S's – "Soup", "Soap" and "Salvation". Banners also had pictures of monkeys, rats and the devil.
Several techniques were employed by the 'Skeletons' to disrupt Salvation Army meetings and marches; these included throwing rocks and dead rats, marching while loudly playing musical instruments or shouting, and physically assaulting Salvation Army members at their meetings.
This report from the Leicester Chronicle's edition of 9 September 1882 outlines the controversy caused by the founding of the Yeovil Corps of the Salvation Army.
The 'riots' against the Salvation Army continued through the month of September as outlined in this report from the 23 September 1882 edition of the Leicester Chronicle.
The 'riots' continued into October and the news began spreading far and wide - this report is from the 3 October 1882 edition of the Belfast Telegraph.
The following week the Portsmouth Evening News reported the continuation of disturbances in its edition of 10 October 1882.
.... and then members of the Salvation Army were prosecuted for causing an obstruction in the Borough, as reported in the 24 October 1882 edition of the Western Daily Press.
.... and this was the report from the 21 October 1882 edition of the Portsmouth Evening News.
From my collection
A postcard of the Yeovil band of the Salvation Army dating to around 1908.
A postcard of the Yeovil band of the Salvation Army dating to around 1915.
Courtesy of George Hallett
By 1918, the date of this Rendell photograph, the former Western Gazette offices were being used as a Salvation Army Temple. Note the gasometer dominating the view into town.
From my collection
Two ladies of the Yeovil Corps of the Salvation Army, photographed by FG Christopher probably around 1910.
Another photograph by Walter Rendell of about the same date showing Yeovil members of the Salvation Army.
Former Mayor Henry Stiby, accompanied by Alderman WE Tucker, performing the official opening of the new Salvation Army Hall in Southville at 3pm Saturday, 18 June 1932.
The Yeovil Salvation Army Temple Band, photographed in 1950.
The Salvation Army Halls in Southville. Photographed in 2013.