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In Darkest England

Illustration of William Booth preaching

The Salvation Army's Origins in London

A former Methodist minister, William Booth, founded The Salvation Army in the slums of London during 1865.

Booth wanted to make the church more accessible to the whole community at a time when many poor and working class people were excluded from the churches.

Originally known as the Christian Mission, the name 'The Salvation Army' was adopted in 1878 and since then the organisation's structure has been based on military lines.

Initially Booth's Mission intended to gather the poverty stricken multitudes of London's East End and link them up with existing churches. However, such people were regarded as outcasts and not welcomed by the wealthy and respectable church members of the day. As a result, Booth was forced to provide a more permanent organisation for the ongoing spiritual care of his converts.

Booth's concern for the destitute masses of England was not only spiritual; the more he learned of the plight of the thousands spurned by Britain's industrial revolution, the more determined he was to see lasting social change.

From the Army's earliest days, various social programs grew up alongside the mission's spiritual ministry, including food shops, shelters, and homes for 'fallen' girls. These were just the first elements in a broad scheme. In the early 1890s, Booth published In Darkest England - and the Way Out. Soon Booth opened labour exchange services, which would place thousands of unemployed persons in jobs. Discovering that some 9,000 people dropped from sight in London each year, he established a missing persons bureau.

Booth dreamt of a farm colony where the unemployed could be given honest labour and pleasant surroundings. He wanted to establish a poor man's bank, he offered legal aid to the destitute; and he envisaged an emigration scheme that would develop a new overseas colony.

During the 1890s, the Army established an employment bureau and helped find jobs for the unemployed. Work was also provided at Salvation Army salvage depots and rescue farms.

From this began a social service network that continues today in over 120 countries.

In Darkest England

Salvation Army founder William Booth's controversial blueprint for the welfare system in 1890 is still influential in the United Kingdom's delivery of government welfare today.

In 1890, Booth's controversial book, In Darkest England and The Way Out, was published in which he presented his plans for a program to help the poor and needy. His ideas were summarised in what he termed 'The Cab-Horse Charter' which read, "when a horse is down he is helped up, and while he lives he has food, shelter and work".

Booth realised that this meagre standard was absolutely unattainable by millions of people in Britain yet the fact remained that cab horses were treated to a better standard of living than many people.

He appealed to the public for £100,000 to start his scheme and a further £30,000 per year to maintain the program.

Despite a lack of immediate funds Booth decided to put his plan into action. The first thing to be set up was a labour bureau to help people find work. He purchased a farm where men could be trained in certain types of work and at the same time gain some self-respect, because often when men had been unemployed for some years their confidence needed to be restored.

From this farm colony, men could be further helped through emigration to an overseas colony, where labourers were few. Whole families could be helped to a much better standard of living.

Other projects included a missing persons bureau to help find missing relatives and reunite families, more hostels for the homeless and a poor mans bank which could make small loans to workers who could buy tools or set up in a trade.

Booth's book sold 200,000 copies within the first year. Nine years after publication The Salvation Army had served 27 million cheap meals, lodged 11 million homeless people, traced 18,000 missing people and found jobs for 9,000 unemployed people.

Booth's book was used as a blueprint for the present day welfare state in the United Kingdom when it was set up by the government in 1948. Many of Booth's ideas were incorporated into the welfare state system.

Read about The Salvation Army's history in Australia, and you will see Booth's ideas reflected in the early social programs, many of which continue today.

For further information

Although out of print, the text of In Darkest England is available online as part of the Project Gutenberg initiative:

http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/475

For more information, visit The Salvation Army Heritage site

  • Contact The Salvation Army Heritage Centre in Sydney on (02) 9502 0424
    or the Melbourne Heritage Centre 
  • Contact your nearest Salvationist Supplies to find out about further publications
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