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Monday, 20 June 2011

Weston-super-Mare and the Salvation Army by Glenn K. Horridge

The history of the Salvation Army is one of dedicated men and women taking the Gospel message onto the streets regardless of the opposition. Several buildings, towns and cities are important to this history but foremost amongst them is Weston-super-Mare. Indeed it is arguable that events in Weston-super-Mare furthered not only the Army's cause but significantly contributed to English law.

The Salvation Army invaded Weston-super-Mare in June 1881. The Weston Mercury of 25 June was shocked by the event:

Weston-super-Mare has hitherto been renowned for the quietude of its Sundays that here residents and visitors may attend the respective places of worship without fear of molestation, or having their thoughts disturbed by the hilarious conduct of excursionists. I regret to say, however, that Weston is now subject to all the inconveniences that might be experienced even if Sunday excursions were run, by the singular proceedings of what 1 believe is designated a "detachment of the Salvation Army" - the procession Sunday evening last causing considerable confusion in the public streets, whilst a large number of peaceful inhabitants - including several ladies - were inconvenienced by the great and unceremonious crowd that followed in the wake of the Army.

From this enthusiastic and very typical start the Army paraded itself not only on Sundays but also on other evenings. Numerous reports in The Weston Mercury over the coming months testified to the disruption caused by the marches. However, there is no doubt that many people were becoming converted.

Singing, weeping and praying appeared to dominate the meetings with drill sessions taking place every day - in the afternoon for the saints and in the evening for the sinners. The War Cry reported the grand work being done and certainly by mid August 1881, a second corps had been established in the Iron Room, Orchard Street. Here the excesses of Salvationism were evident. The Weston Mercury of 22 August noted that the Corps was a nuisance with:

... the "soldiers" - male and female, with doors and gates barred and made secure continuing their religious revelry until after three o'clock on Saturday morning, making night hideous with their shouts, groans and discordant sounds.

Captain Sarah Dexter had by now taken charge of the work at Weston from the original leaders, Brother and Sister Hare. She occasionally had help from visiting officers and some privates from Bristol and although the Army was rarely allowed to stop anywhere but the beach, there were frequent processions. On one particular special event Captain Dexter stood on a cart on the beach and protected by a constable from the rowdies and even ""the little knots of would-be swells who came to puff their smoke in our very faces", the Army had a great time. (A visiting senior officer did however note that the soldiers needed a little more regulation in terms of dress and conduct). The Army then marched to the Temperance Hall which could not hold all those wanting to get in.

In early November 1881 the first soldier of Weston to die was buried with "military honours". Some 200 soldiers followed the new officers, Captain and Mrs Beatty, on Emily Taylor's funeral procession along the High Street and the Bristol Road singing ""Who will be the next to follow Jesus" and "My Rest is in Heaven". By the time the funeral procession reached the Cemetery The Weston Mercury of 12 November estimated that there were about 2,000 people present. After the Parish Priest conducted the internment, the Army officers both addressed the crowds exhorting them to find Jesus.

1882 was perhaps the most interesting and important year for the Salvation Army in Weston. Early in February Mrs Catherine Booth and Colonel Colville conducted meetings at the Assembly Rooms. They were supported by various figures such as "Gypsy Lass", (the sister of Gipsy Smith) and had a great day. Solos, readings, sermons and an appeal for the new training barracks at Clapton made up the morning meeting on this Wednesday. In the evening, despite charges for admission of 2 shillings, 1 shilling, and 6 pennies, the Assembly Rooms were full well before the time to start. The Captain's daughter led the singing and then at half-past seven the Rev. Fisher and Colonel Colville escorted Mrs General Booth to the platform. She was dressed in plain dark clothes and a "Hallelujah bonnet". The local paper reported that she spoke with "pure pathos ... (and) ... with a good command of the language".

During 1881 and 1882 general opposition to the Salvation Army was increasing. In the small towns of the south of England this was often characterised by extreme violence, sometimes well organised and often with the support of the brewery trade and (at least tacitly) the town authorities. The Weston Mercury of 25 March 1882 records a group who included former converts using a banner inscribed "Skeleton Army" and adorned with the death's-head and crossed bones. Their discordant music was the worst clash until the preceding Wednesday evening when Salvationists and Skeletons rushed to take possession of the York Street barracks. An instrument and a window were destroyed. The next evening the Police had to intervene when privates rushed to protect their drum and drummer. The Police moved the crowd on but soon blood flowed, the banners of both regiments were destroyed and there was a "free fight".

At the Police Court it was considered how best to avoid loss of life. The question was whether or not to appoint special constables or prohibit the processions. On the sworn evidence of three ratepayers that violence was likely to occur unless the processions were stopped, two justices of the Peace (Gore Munbee and Thomas Mullins) chose the latter course "...prohibiting any assemblage likely to cause a breach of the peace." Regardless of this a procession of the White and Blue Ribbons Gospel Temperance Armies marched and some violence did ensue.

Captain Beatty had been personally served with a copy of the proclamation prohibiting assemblies and appeared to acquiesce. However he did point out that having reported the matter to Headquarters in London, he must abide by their decision. Perhaps, reported The Weston Mercury of 1 April, he was mindful of "...the remark made by Mrs. Booth in her recent address at Weston-super-Mare ... (that).."Their officers must succeed, or else they were sent back to their shoemaking."" Although many people turned out to see the Saturday parade of the Army, none took place. However the Sunday morning parade did occur. Although there was no music or singing, there was a jeering crowd who became more excited when the police were sighted at the end of Magdala Buildings. Police Sergeant Sticklan stopped the procession and encouraged Captain Beatty to desist. Upon his refusal he was arrested as were two others who took his place, Thomas Bowden, a carpenter and William Henry Mullins, a plasterer. Two other men called Weeks, a grocer's assistant, and Ralfs, an ironmonger's assistant then took the lead. There was no afternoon parade and five hours after their incarceration, perhaps much due to an apparently general feeling of pity that Captain Beatty had been ordered by Headquarters to break the law, the three were released on bail.

Great local interest was created by the hearing of charges against the three men and the case was deferred for 48 hours at the request of the Salvation Army. The Rev. Russell (Baptist Minister), the Rev. Fisher (Church of England) and Mr Shorney (Town Commissioner) gave surety that the three men would appear. Police Superintendent Gillbanks gave evidence and the defence was carried out by Mr T Sutherst, a London solicitor. The three defendants were found guilty and bound over with a heavy financial surety to keep the peace. It was stated that the surety could not be found although in reality it was by now becoming the practice of the Army to have its officers imprisoned so as to gain the maximum publicity and hopefully redress what they perceived to be a wrong in not allowing freedom of procession. The three men were sent by carriage to Axbridge and next day were removed to Shepton Mallet Gaol to begin their three month sentence. An all night prayer meeting at the Barracks had soldiers praying for amongst other things the smiting of the magistrates and also the prison doors to fly open.

Two female officers quickly took command of the work at Weston and almost immediately after the arrest of Captain Beatty, restarted processions. Lizzie Moore and Fanny Smart and others were merely cautioned, perhaps because the Army's solicitor had made it plain that he was appealing to the Queen's Bench on the whole question of the legality of stopping processions in the first place. A few days after their arrest, the three prisoners were freed after bail was found. Over 3,000 people welcomed them home and The War C proclaimed the Captain "Our jail-bird for Jesus."

On 13 June 1882 the case of Beatty v. Gillbanks was heard before Mr justice Field and Mr justice Cave of the Queen's Bench. A month earlier in the House of Lords, another member of the Queen's Bench, Lord Chief Justice Coleridge, declared during a debate on the Salvation Army:

"...that every Englishman had an absolute and unqualified right to go about his business and perform legal acts with the protection of the law; and he apprehended that walking through the streets in order and in procession, even if accompanied by music and the singing of hymns, was an absolutely lawful act, an act in the doing of which every subject had a right to be protected. (Hansard Vol. 269. 821-2).
The prosecution evidence relied on the fact that the Army had disregarded a notice issued by the Magistrates not to have processions and were therefore the guilty party. Of this and certainly being aware of his colleague's speech, Mr Justice Cave remarked:

"So that other men's violence deprives men of their rights and renders what is peaceable unlawful."
After a five day hearing, the Bench found for the Salvation Army with the judgment clearing the way for the Army to march in the street. The case had taken three months to be heard because the Magistrates had delayed by refusing to answer and provide an explanation. By 1885 four other Salvation Army cases had reached the Queen's Bench due to Magistrates in other towns attempting to defeat the Army, essentially by claiming that the Beatty v. Gillbanks ruling did not cover their particular variation of the law. This plus the various attempts to introduce anti-Army clauses in Local Town Acts ensured that the Army's solicitors were kept busy. However the importance to the Army and to the nation's laws of the Gillbanks v. Beatty case cannot be overestimated and the case is still noted in many seminal legal texts.

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