Following a visit to Southsea Citadel by Colonel Brindley Boon, who during the weekend recounted some tales from the past, local Salvationist Len Mason researched Mrs. Booth’s initial thirteen week campaign at Portsmouth through reports in the Christian Mission magazine. Len kindly gave me all his research which I checked and added to by researching the local papers where the campaign was covered in detail.
The local paper reports provide a balance to the reporting in Salvationist publications. It has been interesting to note the differing attitudes the local papers held with regard to the Salvation Army. Generally the Army was looked upon with amused affection. Unlike other south coast towns opposition to the Army was only sporadic and not in any way encouraged or organised. The reason for this could be that before adopting the more aggressive evangelising tactics as the Salvation Army, the Christian Mission had been known and accepted in the town for a number of years. It had been supported and organised from the outset by respectable businessmen. It also had supporters in the highest social circles and two Salvationists had been town councillors. There were also a number of policemen who were Salvationists so generally the local force supported the Army.
Although most of the articles have been found in the local news and court report sections it has been important to read the papers more widely. The Army functioned in a social setting and the papers indicated the important issues of the day locally, nationally and internationally.
Primary sources are also important for checking information offered as factual in other documents. The date of Mrs. Booth’s first service was given wrongly in the Christian Mission Magazine and this date has erroneously been used in the official histories of the Army, on memorials in Portsmouth, other publications and first day covers.
The 1881 census also provides important information. When names of Salvationists are known it is simple then to find their age, marital status, place of birth, employment and even who their neighbours were as it has been comprehensively indexed. The census returns from other years are useful but not as easy to access.
Recently I have found that the Creed registers for the local workhouse lists the denomination of the inmate. Consequently it has been possible to find details of individuals and families who registered themselves on admission as Salvationists.
In some respects it was fortunate that the Corps History Book for Portsmouth Citadel was destroyed in the Blitz. After the war the older corps folk pooled their memories and wrote an account of the corps from Mrs. Booth’s first campaign to the destruction of the Citadel. Although not totally accurate it has been a treasury of information.
I was also fortunate that a number of Salvationist families had links back to the Christian Mission and early Salvation Army days. Again not always accurate but none the less fascinating are the stories that have been handed down through families. When visiting people I always take notes and have found that even the smallest pieces of information have later linked to others and have turned out to be of value. It is interesting here to note that the present CSM at Portsmouth Citadel is a direct descendant of one of Mrs. Booth’s first helpers at Portsmouth.
In writing up my research I have presented it as a chronology of source material linked by other factual information. I would prefer the reader to have the opportunity to assess the material without the influence of my own suppositions. I have, at times, found myself making erroneous assumptions and when factual information has been found that contradicts the assumption the temptation has been to doubt the veracity of the information and not my own supposition.
So far I have produced three spiral bound A4 books complete with index and illustrations. The first, ‘This Is A Dreadfully Wicked Place,’ covers the Christian Mission, 1873-1879. The title comes from a description of Portsmouth in a letter from Mrs. Booth to her friend Mrs. Billups. The second, ‘Under The Gospel Tree,’ covers the period from the adoption of the Salvation Army title and methods to the establishment of the Southsea corps, 1879-1883. The Hardyesque title comes from the name of the open-air stand used by the Missioners and Salvation Army until the 1960s. Street preachers had stood under the tree in Edinburgh Road even before its adoption by the Missioners. Although the tree was removed before the turn of the century the name persisted. On a visit to Portsmouth Railton wrote that he had found the Salvationists under the Gospel Tree.
The third book, ‘Still Thrashing The Devil,’ covers the years 1883-1884. These years were a time of rapid expansion for the Army in Portsmouth. Salvationist activities were regularly covered in the press and in the War Cry. Subsequently, as the town folk became more familiar with the Army, the coverage declined. As the Army expanded less column space became available in the War Cry. Consequently these are the years where most information is available. The title comes from a corps officer’s report to the War Cry. The research for a fourth book to cover 1885-1889 is near completion.
While I was still at college my maternal grandmother died. My grandfather and I, when going through her effects, found a large collection of photographs, the majority of which were of Portsmouth Citadel Corps. My grandmother had gone into training in 1914 and many of the corps folk gave her a photo as a keepsake. The officer at the time, Adjutant Bobby Edwards, had also had most of the corps sections photographed. My grandfather helped to name many of the people depicted but I needed to visit other elderly corps folk to name the remainder. They in turn gave or loaned me their photos to copy and this provided me with the basis of an extensive collection of photographs linking the Christian Mission days to the present.
In 1998 the Portsmouth City Museum offered Portsmouth Citadel a gallery to mount an exhibition celebrating 125 years of service to the community. The exhibition was named Christ In The Community. I was asked to help and was able to draw on my research and photograph collection. However, corps folk contributed an amount of new material that I had not seen before particularly in the area of memorabilia. The photo chosen for the exhibition poster showed Fred and Alice Whiting with their young daughter and all three in uniform. Mrs. Whiting holds the cymbals that she played in the band during the 1880s. Her granddaughter was able to loan me the same cymbals for the exhibition. Another interesting item of memorabilia was a souvenir of the Founder’s funeral which I had found amongst my grandmother’s photos. It resembles a printed paper serviette. It has details of the Founder’s life and factual information about the Army. It is a miracle that it has survived. The museum kindly had it conserved and framed. After the exhibition closed, Marilyn Leggett who organised the exhibition produced a book of photographs under the title Christ In The Community.
Last year I produced an exhibition for Southsea Citadel as part of their outreach to the community week. For visiting school parties I produced worksheets aimed at Key Stage 1 and 2 pupils. I also produced an exhibition for Portsmouth North’s Corps Anniversary weekend.
The research has also helped people researching their family history. As an example, after a call from the Heritage Centre I was able to link a gentleman in Belgium with his cousin in Portsmouth. From this link I was fortunate to get a copy of a photograph from the 1890s of a Portsmouth Salvationist, Jane Elliott. When Charles Preece was researching the life of Mother Shepherd for the book Woman of the Valleys I was able to provide information on her posting to Portsmouth.
A Portsmouth authoress, Julia O’Sullivan, who writes under the pen name Julia Bryant, wanted to create a Salvationist character for her book The Restless Tide. Julia gets ideas for her books from interviewing local people. She realised how important the Slum Post in Portsea had been to the people of that community. Brigadier Daisy Candy was the model for the officer in the novel and due to this officer’s influence the main character is saved during a meeting at Portsmouth Citadel and eventually marries a Salvationist.
Over the years I have collected numerous Salvation Army books. Two have a particular relevance to Portsmouth. Violet Beckett’s Worthy Citizen recounts the life of J. E. Smith who was the first Salvationist Lord Mayor in the country. As a young man he disturbed the meetings at Portsea but after his conversion became Bandmaster and Treasurer at Southsea Citadel. In Captain Ted Of The Salvation Army Railton tells the story of Edward Irons, the dynamic young evangelist who sadly drowned at Southsea at the time when the Christian Mission was beginning to emerge as the Salvation Army. The importance of this rare book is that it contains extracts from Ted’s letters and diaries. The reader gains an insight into Ted’s thoughts and concerns as he leads the corps at Portsmouth through difficult yet exciting times.
I have found this research to be fascinating and absorbing. I sometimes feel that I know more about Portsmouth in the 1880s than the present day. It is gives a sense of connection to think that many of the people who have helped me are the descendants of the Salvationists my great-grandfather met when he joined the corps at Southsea in the late 1880s.