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Sunday, 26 June 2011

The Salvation Army in Four Cotswold Towns by Rob K. Brettle

As some of you will know, I have spent a number of years researching into the history of the Salvation Army m Bristol and its hinterland That work is continuing, albeit at arm length since I now live in Manchester. One of my earlier avenues of research included the South Cotswolds, and before 1 decided to concentrate more on the immediate vicinity of Bristol, I had accumulated an amount of information on these towns. You will recall in the last Journal an article on the Salvation Army in Chepstow. Well today, I shall talk on the Salvation Army in the four towns which surround Westonbirt, namely Chipping Sodbury, Sherston, Tetbury and Wotton-under-Edge. It may be that later m the day, if you fancy a lazy journey home, you might be able to visit these towns yourself and discover first hand some of the history of the Salvation Army.

In the 1880s the Salvation Army expanded like wildfire, with even some of the smallest communities boasting a Salvation Army corps. In the Bristol area the ministry was to those employed in industries, in coal mining, and, in the case of New Passage corps, to navvies working on the Severn Tunnel. In the South Cotswolds there were some light industries and mills, but the Army also had a mission to agricultural workers, as did the other churches of the day. Indeed, just down the road from here is the tiny village of Didmarton, and at one point this village boasted a methodist chapel, a baptist chapel, two Church of England churches and a Salvation Army corps. If you were to drive through it today, you would scarcely believe it.

Well, what of the Salvation Army in our four towns. I shall take each town in order and tell you something of their Army history


Chipping Sodbury is a market town in the South Gloucestershire arm Today it is engulfed by the Yate new town, but in 1880s it was an important local centre for the villages surrounding it It was a rich market town, built on the wealth of the wool trade. The Salvation Army came here in 1882, initially as an outpost of Bristol Citadel, where they took up residence in the old Quakers chapel. If you were to walk through the market place towards Yate, on the right hand side is a small turning called Brook Street. If you were to go down this lane, on the right hand side is an ornate building which is the former Quakers chapel, and where the Salvation Army met In later years it became a Jehovah's Witnesses hall, and is now a private house. The outpost eventually became a corps in its own right and had, itself, outposts in Yate (then a tiny village) and in Acton Lane. Whilst me and Glenn have found the location of the Acton Lane outpost, the one in Yate is described in the listing called "The Buildings We Use of 1883, as "an outhouse!' - and it would probably be like hunting for a needle in a haystack to pin point exactly which outhouse was used.

In 1884 Chipping Sodbury corps collected the grand total of £9 4s 4d during the Christmas period, as reported in the War Cry of 4th July 1885.

The Army, however, failed to take a great hold on the town and the corps closed in late 1885 or early 1886. There was a legacy nonetheless. In "Bristol Busy Bees - the Annual Report for the 5th. year of the work in the Bristol Division - there is a tale about two Salvationists
Traveling in a carriage on the Midland Railway were five passengers, two Salvationists in full uniform, a clergymam and two young men, one of whom. entered into conversation with the clergyman, and after taking on a few general subjects suddenly noted our comrades, turning the conversation on the Salvation Army.

'The Salvation Army has done nothing at Chipping Sodbury and have left there!'
"Yes", replied the clergyman, "I suppose it will die a natural death everywhere."

When the train reached Chipping Sodbury station both the young man and the clergyman got out of the carriage, and the other young man arose to get out when the Salvationists accosted him.

"Are you saved?'
'Yes, I am a Wesleyan Local preacher'
"Where were you saved?"
'Through the Salvation Army.'
So that although the Salvation Army had been obliged to leave the town because they had no hall, yet we had left behind us results. We have there today a Sergeant who was once the greatest drunkard and poacher in the town. Hallelujah.

... or to give the town its proper name, Sherston Magna.

The work in Sherston began in 1883 as an outpost of the Chippenham corps. Sherston is an attractive small town. Little is known of the work in this town, save that the War Cry of July 1885 gave a list of some 19 members, one of whom was William Evans. William Evans was the paternal grandfather of Cilla Liddington who has been engaged in writing the history of the town. Here is an extract of a letter she wrote to me:

'When I read your letter I was delighted to find my paternal grandfather William Evans was mentioned, also his brother Henry Evans. 1 believe that the other Evans' mentioned were his cousins. Apparently his sister Elizabeth was also a member, she later married into the Clarke family who owned the Tannery where the meetings were held.

If you were to go into Sherston, you would find a T-junction at the centre of the town, just past the shop. The turning off goes downhill past a Methodist chapel, which incidentally was once a Primitive Methodist chapel, and a likely home for the Salvationists of Sherston when the work there ceased, and at the bottom of the hill is a brook with a little bridge over it Just prior to the brook on the left-hand side, is a big house, and attached to the house is the Tannery where the Salvation Army held their services in the town.


The War Cry of 9th. December 1882 reported the grand opening of Wotton-under-Edge corps. It reads like this:

"We made an attack on this town on Sunday morning: petitions were sent up the King of kings on behalf of those who were rebelling against Him that a Fort should be opened there. Knee drill at seven a.m., when a few soldiers of the Cross got prepared for the day's warfare. At the same time there were coming along from Stroud and Chipping Sodbury who were praying and believing for a mighty time.

"Here they are, was the first sound, as the Stroud Brass Band went to the front The music seemed to act like magic on the people, everyone wondering what was up as they march around the town to a large open green. Then the first shot was fired m the name of the King Jesus; everyone listening with an attention as Sergeant Simpson (who is a native of the town) of the second Stroud. corps, told the won~ way m which God had changed him from a drunken, hell-deserving sinner, to a happy soldier bound. for Glory ...

"Grand march to the M Inside at eleven o'clock, good meeting, perfect order, deep convictions. Time for rations.

"Again at 2pm another march.. Open-air meeting in another part of the town, many listened, as one another spoke of Jesus and his love. Another march around the town filling the air with Salvation music; inside at three, the old mill packed to the door...'

They must have been exhausted after all that marching! The mill in question was the Britannia Mill, in Pounds Grove. It is listed in the Salvation Soldiers Handbook of 1884 as "Cloth Mill'. It was apparently called the Britannia Mill because either prior to the Army's residence, or just after, it was let to the Britannia Lodge of Oddfellows.

In 1885, the Salvationists moved to their own hall in Old Town. The Wotton-under-Edge Historical Society provided me with various references to the work of the Army m the town. In Presley's Almanac for 1886 and 1888, there is an announcement of the Salvation Army services at the Barracks, Old Town, on Sundays at 1lam, 3pm and 6pm, with weekday services every evening at 8pm, The Monthly Illustrated Journal for October 1888 reported, under the heading of Harvest, that 'characteristic thanksgiving services were also held at the Salvation Army barracks. The barracks eventually became the Parish Hall, and the building is now owned by the British Legion. It is apparently a red brick building on the left of Old Town as you go down the hill towards the War Memorial. The Army's work continued in Wotton-under-Edge until the turn of the century, the last mention being in 1908.


Of the four towns, Tetbury is the largest, and it also had a Salvation Army corps the most recently, as late as the 1940s. The Army came to the town in 1884. In the 1885 War Cry there was the customary listing of soldiers who collected during the previous Christmas period. I wrote to the History of Tetbury society enclosing this list of names, and was pleased they were able to identify a good number. Amongst the names identified were William Bignell, an agricultural labourer, who lived with his wife and four children m Harper Street, now known as West Street. Mrs Eileen Cooley was the wife of Isaac Cooley who had a grocer's on the corner of Church Street and Church Lane. Brother Fisher was either William, Fisher or his son Frederick, who ran an outfitter's, just up from the Cooleys. Mrs Millard was the wife of Aaron Millard who was had a general store in the Market Place, and John Smith was a 22 year old labourer. Clearly the Army attracted both labourers and shop keepers in Tetbury.

There was a sensation in 1885, as a Salvationist was charged with rape, and a very fall report appeared in the Tetbury Advertiser. Thankfully the Salvationist m question, one William Smith, was acquitted, and he himself complained at me of his trials that the charges were trumped up on account of him being in the Army.

The Army hall at this time was in "The Chipping, but the exact location has not been established. The work in the Chipping ceased in the 1890s, but the Army returned to Tetury in the 1920s when they erected a former military hut from the First World War at the junction of Cottons Lane and West Street. This, unsurprisingly, became known to the general populace at the "Sally Anne Hut, a name still used even when it became a play group centre in the 1950s.

In her book, -The Cotswolds at War, June Lewis alludes to the friendliness of the Salvationists of Tethury towards the evacuees from London, and from another source it transpires at most evenings were spent round the fireside in the Hut, sipping tea and munching buns. Unfortunately the hut is no longer with us, a rather large house having been constructed on the site.

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