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Friday, 24 June 2011

Hanley Citadel Corps. Early Days & Rodney Smith by Mike Farrow

The Salvation Army opened fire in Stoke on Trent on 11 November 1881. Major William Fawcett, a Divisional Officer in Birmingham, was appointed to commence the work and meetings were held in Batty's Circus (now the site of the main Post Office) which seated about two thousand five hundred people. How long the Major was in Stoke on Trent is uncertain for the first Corps Officers are listed as Captain Cordrey and Lieutenant Topham for one month. On 31 December 1881 Captain Rodney "Gipsy" Smith took command.

Rodney 'Gipsy' Smith
Local tradition has it that when he arrived at Etruria Station, and saw the smoke and sulphur from the steel works and pot banks (a local term for pottery works), he thought the General had sent him to the nearest bottomless pit. Again local tradition has it that when Gipsy Smith entered the Circus, about eighty people were scattered about the place, they were singing "I need thee, Oh I need thee" to which the Gypsy is supposed to have remarked `They certainly need somebody, they look like jam scattered on a shelf".

Next morning, he met his two Lieutenants in the market square for an open air meeting. They sang to the music provided by the Gypsy on his concertina. People threw them coppers thinking they were out of work labourers - not one of the Gypsy's most successful open airs.

It is reported that collections during the first month paid the Gas Bill and nothing else, so the General allowed the Fry family to visit for a few days. The War Cry of 2 February 1882 reports "Hanley. Captain Gypsy Smith has had an awful struggle at this town with prejudice..." but things were happening. The War Cry of 23 February reports that God was visiting Hanley in a wonderful way, with people walking seven or eight miles to get converted. It would seem that the work grew slowly, then in March 1882 the Gypsy made a fateful decision. He decided to invite Alderman Boulton, Mayor of Burslem, to chair a meeting. In turn he invited his many friends and local dignitaries to accompany him. This was the turning point to the work of the Salvation Army in Hanley and also marks the beginning of the end of Captain Rodney "Gypsy" Smith's career as a Salvation Army Officer.

The Staffordshire Sentinel issue of 30 March 1882 carries an advertisement for the weekend of 1 and 2 April 1882, concerning the visit of the Founder to Hanley to review the troops and to present the colours to the 167th Corps of the Salvation Army. Unfortunately the report on the visit in the Staffordshire Sentinel is almost impossible to read. The visit seems to have been very successful but the storm clouds were soon to gather.

In July 1882 Captain Rodney "Gypsy" Smith and Lieutenants Billingsley and Harkness received farewell orders. The Staffordshire Sentinel for Tuesday 25 July 1882 carries a lengthy report of a Salvation Army Tea meeting which took place in the covered market in Hardey the previous day. During the course of this meeting, the Lieutenants were presented with silver watches, Mrs Smith and Miss Smith were each presented with a purse containing £3 and Captain Rodney "Gipsy" Smith was presented with the infamous gold watch.

The Staffordshire Sentinel of 14 August 1882 carried a lengthy article headlined

It would seem that Major Fawcett came from Birmingham to make inquiries into the matter. The whole situation was laid before him, and after he had communicated with London, a telegram was received ordering the Lieutenants to proceed to London, on condition that they returned the watches to the donors, and not as had previously been stated to the Army. According to the newspaper reports Gypsy Smith was never asked to return the watch but had been dismissed without even being asked for an explanation. The report goes on to state that Gypsy Smith had received a communication from Bramwell Booth which, after referring to the reported receipt of a gold watch, proceeded "Having chosen to set his (the "General's") wishes at defiance, and also to do so in the most public meaning possible, he can only conclude that you have resolved to leave the Army. Any how it is clear that neither you nor your sister can work in it any longer as officers, and the General directs me to say that we have arranged for the appointment of officers to succeed you at Hanley".

The report continues by saying that neither this or any other letter from London contained the slightest recognition of past services rendered by Gypsy Smith, and that in his reply to that letter he had acknowledged receipt of the watch and added, "As to it being received in premeditated defiance of the "General' or the Army that is altogether untrue. I need not say how sorry we all are in reference to the steps taken in this matter. You know I love the Army and its teachings. But, as you wish, I shall farewell on Sunday. But I reserve the right to say that you have turned us out of the Army because we have received the presentations. I can hold the world at defiance as regards my moral religious life. If I leave you, I do so with a clear conscience and a clean heart. Of course my sister and myself hold ourselves open to work for God wherever there is an opening."

The farewell meeting seems to have been a riotous affair. The Corps Treasurer publicly announced his resignation, on the grounds that he could not hold office in harmony with his convictions considering the treatment that Captain Smith had received. The collection boxes were returned almost empty, some of them even being thrown on to the Platform. It would seem that many others felt the same way as the Treasurer, for the Corps split in two. It would seem that there were over five hundred soldiers on the roll, but after these events only three hundred remained.

Captain Annie Lockwood and Lieutenant Hawker Jones took command, and the Staffordshire Sentinel of 15 August 1882 reports that their Welcome Meeting was another riotous affair. Further reports give accounts of Gypsy Smith's movements which include reports of packed gatherings in Burslem and Stoke Town Halls. He was also requested to open stations in Hanley and Burslem by one speaker who was sure that in a district like the Potteries there was a open field for him and one where he would meet with support. The Imperial Circus, Glass Street, Hanley was rented and Gipsy Smith attracted large crowds.

For 22 August 1882 there is a report of "THE NEW RELIGIOUS MOVEMENT IN HANLEY'. It would seem that a meeting of gentlemen and ex-Salvation Army soldiers had taken place at Mr. Baker's Coffee House, High Street, Hanley, to determine what course should be adopted with a view to retaining the services of Gypsy Smith and his sister for the town and the district. It would seem that a committee was formed known as "Captain Gypsy Smith's Committee".

The Staffordshire Sentinel, Tuesday 29 August 1882 carries a further report of the new Movement's meeting in which one speaker holds up a copy of the War Cry 22 August 1882 edition, and states: that a detestable lie has been published, to the effect that there has been a great victory in Hanley. Well, there has been a great victory perhaps. It was not however in the Tontine Street Circus, but in the Imperial Circus, and in further remarks the speaker preferred the charge of jealousy on the part of Bramwell Booth as against the power obtained over the people by Gypsy Smith.

The War Cry of 22 August 1882 does carry a report of a great victory at Hanley. The report of the first Sunday reads, "Glorious time here yesterday. One hundred and fifty two at 7 o'clock. Grand march around the town. Salvation was sung and blown through the instruments, people ran in all directions. We took the enemy by surprise, and Hallelujah! We felt we could dance for joy. Precious time inside, Circus half full. Half past two we began again, went in for Salvation; many wept and we felt God was indeed with us in mighty power. Night Circus packed in every part soon after six; hundreds standing, thirty five souls; offerings good. We are bound to win, God is here."

Following on from this the War Cry tells that in 1879 at Bolton, something similar had occurred with Gypsy Smith, when he had taken the Opera House for three weeks. That after this he had confessed to having backslidden and misrepresenting the General, was forgiven, and promised never to do any injury to the Army again. Since then the General had never ceased to show him and his sister every mark of kindness and confidence.

Colonel Robert Sandall, writing in the History of The Salvation Army, Volume 2 says, this episode "'was important only in this, that it settled once for all that the regulation forbidding officers to receive presents would be enforced. The Gypsy found a more suitable environment for his inborn and characteristic restiveness under discipline in freelance evangelism in which he was eminently successful". It would seem that sooner rather than later there would have come a parting of the ways.

It would appear that those who left the Army formed themselves into The Salvation Mission. The Staffordshire Sentinel of 29 September 1882 carries a report of the Presentation of Colours to the Burslem Corps. It would seem that Gypsy Smith was present on this occasion, but whether he headed up this new Movement is unclear. The History of Staffordshire (Vol. 8) records that The Salvation Mission registered a room for worship in Corporation Street, Burslem in 1883, but it had ceased to be used by 1884. Also that The Salvation Mission registered a Mission Hall for worship in 1884, in Moorland Road, Burslem, but this had ceased to be used by 1896. A room was also registered for worship by The Salvation Mission, in Boothen, Stoke in 1892 but the registration was cancelled in 1922. Today nothing remains of The Salvation Mission.

The Salvation Army today has seven corps operating in the Stoke on Trent area and one hostel for men.

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