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Saturday, 9 November 2013

The Salvation Army Open Fire in Bristol

Some leading members of the body calling themselves the "Salvation Army," arriving in Bristol on Saturday, commenced their campaign with a quiet service yesterday morning in the circular wooden building erected some years ago in the Backfields, behind the Full Moon Hotel, St, Paul's, by Pablo Fanque for his circus company, and now re-christened the "Salvation Circus." The contingent at present appears to be a very small one, numbering some half-a-dozen prominent brethren, who, however, were followed from St. Philip's by a considerable number of persons.

There was a large attendance, and those who had come from mere curiosity did not find very much to satisfy any thirst for novelty, even "Lieutenant" Carver failing to bring his "Hallelujah cornet," as expressed to the assemblage in an apology for its being accidentally left at home. There was, therefore, no accompanying music, but the singing was led by the leaders of the army, "Capt." Taberer (who incidentally conveyed to the audience that he was formerly known as "Drunken George" before his conversion), the lady announced in the bills as "Happy Sally," another lady, Lieut. Carver, and Brothers Shrewd, Joseph, and Brain, of Newport. These, with two children, occupied prominent seats on one side of the circus, and the assemblage took the rows of seats around the building and the sittings specially arranged across the circus ring, Hymns from the "Salvation Song-book," by Wm. Smith, and set to popular tunes, were sung, the last lines being repeated again and again as a refrain or chorus.

After the singing, "Capt." Taberer read a portion of Scripture, freely commenting upon it as he read, and also giving scraps of information, amongst which was the fact that they sometimes had two speakers, sometimes five, ten, twenty, or one hundred at one meeting. Sighting some persons at the door-way, he told them they would not be allowed to stand there. There was plenty of room inside, and they intended to begin as they would go on. Brother Smith, who said he had come from Newport, gave a short address, and in the course of an appeal to well-deserving sinners, he referred to St. Paul's captivity, but did not know when he was dragged through the streets whether he had an umbrella. "Captain" Taberer thanked God that he had one. Brother Smith, continuing, said that the Christian’s life was a life that devils looked at and trembled. Remarking that they were a rough lot, without learnedly written sermons, be said they had not been to college — but they had been to Calvary. "Captain" Taberer, continuing his running comments, said at Hull, where they had been, there was a publican who, next door to them, used to sell eight barrels of beer is week, but when they left he only sold three. They could not help that, and if that man wanted some work to do he could find some for him — to sweep up the Salvation circus.

He further explained that they always closed the service at twelve o'clock, so that people might have time to go home to dinner — if they had any — and come back again. If they had no dinner, he would be happy for them to go home with him, and he would divide his own among them. The remark elicited applause, which the speaker deprecated, as that was now the House of God, and what used to be done when the horses ran round there could not be done now. It took his mind back to the time of the public house, the singing room, and the concert hall. He and his wife had some difficulty in getting lodgings in Bristol, but they had taken an empty house, where they only had two chairs for themselves and one for a brother, and if anyone would come home to dinner with them he would sit on the floor.

After singing a hymn to the stirring tune of "Hold the Fort," “Lieut." Carver next spoke, and informing the assemblage that he was no preacher, he said whenever he took a text he generally left it, and "it was ten to one he never got near it again." The Salvation Army was going on; it had been stoned, kicked, and hooted, and some of the members of it had been put in prison, but it would continue to grow. Their object was to make an onslaught upon the devil and sin, and they hoped to have a hundred houses of prayer in Bristol before long, in homes that were now as black and filthy as hell could make them. "Capt." Taberer said he had been asked how long the Salvation Army were going to stay here, but he would say that when he left there would be someone else to carry on the work; in fact, they would stay there till the Lord burnt Bristol down, as He would one clay.

There was another service in the afternoon, and an Open-air meeting in the Horsefair, at which the proceedings were not unmixed with levity, but there was no actual disturbance. The leaders followed by a large crowd walked to the Circus for the evening proceedings, at the opening of which there was considerable shouting, clapping of hands, laughter, and hissing, which the promoters of the gathering suppressed, and they also induced several persons entering the place with their hats on to uncover. About 2,000 persons assembled, and the ingress and exit of many persons, with stamping etc. proved a disturbing element. The hymns, to secular tunes, with refrain or chorus, proved something more than quaint, and provoked laughter, which there was some difficulty in suppressing. While a brother was giving out one verse someone in the audience attempted a line of the chorus, but the "Captain" reminded the audience that they could not do it, and they must listen to the leaders first. In the course of his remarks he said they had not got a banner or many soldiers yet, but they expected to have some before a month was over. Several persons, including the lady styled "Happy Sally," spoke, their vehement appeals and demonstrative gesticulations now and then provoking ridicule. Two of the company sang a duet, and during the proceedings six or seven persons went round the audience with collecting boxes.

This report of The Salvation Army opening fire in Bristol was published in the Bristol Mercury, 23rd August 1880.

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