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Friday, 24 June 2011

The Salvation Army in Chepstow by Rob K. Brettle

On 6 February 1882 a small group from the Salvation Army marched through Chepstow singing hymns. The Chepstow Weekly Advertiser tells us that the leader, Miss Denning, was "carrying and playing a tambourine." Miss Denning preached and then they went to the 'headquarters' based in the Bible Christian Chapel, "followed by a crowd of young fellows and girls, with an admixture of several disorderly persons, who yelled and hooted, until the police had to interfere."

The work did not take hold and that summer they removed to Devauden, a small village to the north-west of Chepstow, because there was, apparently, strong support there. The Salvationists also caused annoyance to others by "beating tea-trays and other percussion instruments." However Miss Denning, it was said, appeared to be "very much appreciated by some of the inhabitants." It is not known where they met in Devauden but it is likely to have been a cottage ministry, and whilst the closure date is not known it is unlikely that the work continued for long.

Major Thomas Sowerby, the Bristol Divisional Commander, however extolled the troops in the War Cry of 11 November 1882, saying that he was "anxious to plant the Army Banner in ... Chepstow ... and every other town and village in the Division". His call to arms was answered from an unlikely corner.

William Powell went to the Training Home as a Cadet, but was, according to the War Cry of 18 April 1883, "found wanting" and told to go back home, and "by constant living prove his fitness for promotion". Instead of doing that he commenced his own version of the Salvation Army - the Bath Salvation Army which established itself in Bath, Bacup, Clitheroe and Chepstow.

The invasion of Chepstow was in December 1882 - one month after Major Sowerby's plea - with `Captain' William Powell personally in charge. The 7 April 1883 edition of the Chepstow Weekly Advertiser. carried a full report of the activities of ""the Bath Salvation Army". "Declaration of war" was first made in tents pitched in the Butter Market, moving one month later to the Hotel de Chili (now the Castle Hotel) in Bridge Street. The Hotel de Chili was so named because the proprietor, Benjamin Evans, had once traded in South America.

The reason for the article in the Chepstow Weekly Advertiser was that 'Captain' Powell was due to appear before the Magistrates in Bath because of the large number of attacks on his Army from rogues - and, in some measure, due to the tactics of the "Bath Salvation Army" themselves!

On 2 April 1883 an Affiliation Order was made against 'Captain' Powell and the number of members in Chepstow fell to about half a dozen. 'Captain' Powell accused the magistrate of being biased - because he was Roman Catholic - and appealed to a higher court. Whilst the appeal was being pursued, the Rev. M. Baxter, president of the '*gospel temperance army", took over the Chepstow command. After Powell's successful appeal, he returned to Chepstow only to find that Rev. Baxter was unwilling to give up the 'barracks' at the Hotel de Chili. According to the AdvertiseL supporters of Baxter came down from Monmouth on Monday 28 May "'in a fish cart".

William Powell came back to Chepstow the following June and, in the words of the Advertiser, "disbanded the garrison, evacuated the fortress and spiked the guns (i.e. locked the doors)". His Army owed £20 for rent but was unable to pay, so Benjamin Evans resumed the license. After that eventful few months in 1883 there was nothing until the War Cry of 26 March 1921 reported the "new opening" in Chepstow, with Captain Prior and Lieutenant Fisher as the officers. They used a building in Bridge Street - which was also used by other organisations. Unfortunately it no longer exists, and the work ceased sometime in the late 1930s/early 1940s.

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