Marianne Pawson and The Chester Revival 1882
‘And upon this rock I will I will build my church;
and the gates of hell shall not (did not) prevail against it (Mathew 16:18)’ (KJV)
The early days of the Salvation Army in Chester (as in other parts of the country) were not dissimilar to those of the early church when ‘the church was added to daily’ (Acts 2:47) and ‘multitudes were brought into the kingdom of God’ (Acts 5:14).
As you read through the following account I am sure that there will soon come a realisation that what God did in Chester in the 1880’s was nothing less than a ‘revival,’ with many thousands coming to faith through the witness and preaching of ‘The Army’ and also with it, in some parts of the city, such as Handbridge and Saltney a complete transformation of parts of their communities (see ‘The effect on the life of Chester’).
Although Chester has experienced times of revival in the past, such as during the visits of John Wesley during the Methodist Revival in the 18th Century, and later on in the 1859 Revival, I do believe that what God did through the work of the Salvation Army was unparalleled during the whole of the Christian history of Chester.
This, I trust, will be a real encouragement for people who have a desire to see God move in these days in Chester. I think it is important, therefore, for us to try and understand what they had that brought so much blessing, what lessons we can learn, and if we are able in some way apply those lessons to our situation today.
It would be a mistake of course to try and copy what they did in the 1880’s, since they served a very different generation to what we have today. We need to know how God would have us reach our own generation. However, there were certain things that they had, which I believe we can learn from today, such as: -
A great fervency and valour which made them the fearless warriors of Christ that they were.
Being very much on ‘the offensive’ with regard to their Christian witness and preaching, unlike ‘the defensive’ position that we are more accustomed to in these days. New converts, for example, were immediately expected to witness to their new-found faith and were often placed in the front rank of a march on a Sunday morning following their conversion, and marched to their neighbourhood for an open-air to be
held in order for them to testify of their conversion. They knew that it could be costly for them but they were prepared to pay whatever price was necessary to reach the people.
An expectancy that people would come to Christ through the witness and preaching of their workers and if that didn’t happen, unless they could show that they had encountered some opposition, such as in the Chester riots, then they were liable to be dismissed (see Appendix 3).
They considered that the various denominations of their day didn’t wage war against ‘sin and evil’ with sufficient vigour and were accordingly determined to carry ‘blood and fire’ into their localities (see Appendix 4 - ‘The Rock Ferry Corps’).
As quoted in Appendix 3 ‘The rapid rise of the Salvation Army’ - ‘the ordinary methods of the religious denominations of their day were eclipsed by the tireless activities of the agents of the Army, who pushed their ‘war’ at all times and seasons - noonday meetings for operatives and tradesmen, meetings every evening in each of their buildings and in the open-air, and the adoption of every conceivable method of attracting a congregation.’
A prayer life that was very different to what we are accustomed to today, sometimes holding all-night prayer meetings.
I trust that the following account will be an inspiration to everyone who reads it but that with it will also come a realisation that what God has done in the past He is more than able to do again. We may have changed, but God certainly hasn’t. He is ‘the same yesterday, today and forever.’ (Hebrews 13:8). Maybe, as in the days of our Lord when he told his disciples that ‘the fields were white unto harvest’ it will also be so today, that we can expect to see a ‘revival’ once again in our city and region, and we should, therefore, pray that He will send out labourers into His harvest. (John 4:35)
‘The Zulu Queen’
Marianne Pawson (nee Faulconbridge) was born in Coventry around 1859, but when she was 2 years old her father left the family to go abroad. He didn’t return until 10 years later and then only for a short period after which she never saw him again. It was left to her mother, therefore, to bring her up on a very small income, so life was very much a struggle during her childhood years. Her mother was a Christian who attended a Baptist Chapel and also held a prayer meeting in her front room on Sunday afternoons for elderly and infirm neighbours who couldn’t attend a place of worship.
Even with a Christian upbringing Marianne didn’t accept the Lord into her life until she was 14 years of age. Shortly afterwards, however, she had a remarkable vision in which was impressed upon her the promise ‘Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.’ Her mother, when told of this, recognized that God had spoken to her daughter. At the age of 17 her mother died, but shortly beforehand she said to Marianne, "I am going to be with Jesus. I want you to promise me that you will be good. God has a great work for you to do for Him. Watch for it, and, when it comes, do it faithfully." Shortly afterwards, on her way to the Baptist Church one Sunday morning, she had an encounter with The Christian Mission in the Coventry Theatre Royal, which at first she strongly disapproved of, but a thought came into her mind ‘This is the work that God showed your mother you were to do!’ which made her tremble.
Marianne joins the Salvation Army
Yielding to the inner voice she applied to be a Christian Mission member, but she determined that she never speak in public. However, a few nights after being accepted as a member, she was asked to give a word of testimony to which she replied that she couldn’t possibly do that. However, the acute discomfort that followed her refusal caused her to pray that God would help her to say a few words at the next meeting, and she went to the meeting determined to try.
The building, a former dancing saloon seated about 500 people, so she stood on a chair, which was the only way to be heard and gave her testimony. Soon after this she dreamt that she was an evangelist and speaking to the people. She woke herself up by crying aloud "Do give yourselves to Jesus." She found that she was out of bed, standing in her room. Her comfort was that nobody knew how God was dealing with her. For ‘oh, I never could’ was her response to the vivid dream.
A few months later in 1878, the Christian Mission changed its name to ‘Soldiers of The Salvation Army,’ with William Booth as their General and it was arranged for the General and Mrs Booth to visit Coventry. The founder entered the town at the head of the Thirty-fifth (Coventry) Corps with a procession numbering over 5000 people.
Marianne was ‘wonderfully taken’ with the preaching of the distinguished speakers. On Sunday night she was invited to have tea with the General at the Quarters, with a number of other young women. Mr Booth spoke about the needs of the expanding work and the wonderful opening it offered to those who felt that God had called them to win souls. When the others had gone the General asked Marianne if she ever felt that she should dedicate herself to the service of the Mission. She replied that she didn’t think that she was able to do this, but asked him if he had somewhere that she could be trained for this. He replied that if God had called her He would enable her to do it. Kneeling in prayer that night she promised God that, empty though she felt, she would go and do what she could.
Her appointment as an evangelist
In October 1878, when still only 19 years of age, Marianne was appointed as No. 2 Evangelist in Manchester. She was asked to preach the first Sunday, but she declined and said that she had told the General that she couldn’t preach, but that he had sent her anyway. Also with encountering great difficulty with the ‘rough elements’ disturbing the meeting she at one stage decided to return home and actually had her bags packed. However, she then felt that she was running away from her calling and she fell on her knees and asked God to help her and she wouldn’t turn back. So she persevered and after 4 months she was asked to go the Seaham Harbour as No. 1 Evangelist. At first she said that she couldn’t do it, but she again relented, knowing that she would have to go.
In early 1879 she arrived at Seaham Harbour, six miles from Sunderland. After a while the town was stirred by the conversion of two notorious drunkards, a husband and wife. Great crowds began to attend the open-air meetings. The Theatre Royal was crowded to its utmost limits and people were being converted every night. After 3 months the General paid her a surprise visit, to ask how she was doing. After a time of prayer together, he told her that he was going to send her to Salisbury. So to Salisbury she went, accompanied by a young woman, whom she selected as her assistant.
Whilst in Salisbury there were so many converts that the publicans, finding their customers diminishing, became annoyed and offered free drinks to anyone who could disturb their meetings. This they did so successfully that the police superintendent placed a ban on the open-air meetings because of the disturbances they were causing in the market place. Marianne was accordingly told to send a telegram to Mr Booth to insist on the open-air meetings being discontinued. His reply, however, was that they should go forward with no retreating, which they did. The superintendent, therefore, said that he could no longer offer them protection, which accordingly made things very difficult for them, putting them at the mercy of those who were opposing them.
One dark night a small group of hooligans dragged Marianne away from her supporters into the thick of the hostile crowd where she was brutally treated, but mercifully a policeman appeared waving a truncheon, and her persecutors quickly dispersed. Further attacks followed, but they persevered. At one time they wondered if the Salvation Army should leave the town, but following a well attended all night prayer meeting they determined to continue.
The Zulu Queen
It was at Salisbury that she acquired the nickname ‘The Zulu Queen.’ According to the tribute given to her in The War Cry dated 2nd June 1943 (entitled ‘Salute to the Brave’) the Zulus were in the news at the time of the riots and a prosecuting counsel, in a burst of eloquence, referred to the Salisbury Salvationists as ‘worse than Zulus.’ Pointing to the Captain he added, ‘and there stands the Queen of those Zulus.’ The local newspaper took up the expression, and other papers copied. At first this concerned her, but Bramwell Booth told her that she would never lose the title, which proved to be true. Rather than deter people, however, it aroused curiosity in people who wanted to see what it was all about. Further attacks on Marianne left her quite badly injured, so in December 1879 she received orders to move to Ebby Vale in Monmouthshire where she stayed for 11 months.
In November 1880 she was moved to Derby and later to Manchester. Here at Manchester, Lily Downing, a well-known professional singer was converted and was to become one of her most useful converts. The mere announcement that she was to sing would fill the Salvation Army Temple. She also became an active worker, leading a prayer meeting before the Sunday evening open-air meeting.
Her arrival at Chester
And so, early in 1882 Marianne came to Chester, which was to become the scene of perhaps her worst battles and greatest triumphs of her ministry. The activities of the Salvation Army in Chester were boosted by General Booth’s visit in early March 1882, when large crowds watched the Salvationists, replete with brass band, process from Chester Railway Station to the city centre. He addressed the crowded Salvationist meetings in the Pavilion Rink during the weekend.
The following extract is from the section devoted to her time in Chester from the biography of her life ‘Marianne Pawson, the Zulu Queen’ by Ruth Tracy.
‘George Taberner and his wife, who had opened the Corps (in December 1881), were greatly overwrought and had collapsed. Captain Faulconbridge, who knew of the violent opposition they had faced, found herself ordered in for the weekend. She was told to take two men and a good woman. The good woman she chose was Lily Downing.
In great trepidation, but more afraid of saying no, than of facing fresh roughness, Marianne went, and had a splendid time and many conversions. The two brothers who had accompanied her left on Sunday night, charged her solemnly to return the next day, for they saw that Chester Corps was bent on keeping her.
She returned, but within a week came Farewell Orders and appointment to Chester. Marianne started alone. The skating rink (located near the railway station), holding 2000 people was packed for every meeting. The Sunday night crowds became greater and greater, so she held two meetings, letting the first audience out by one door and the second in by another. The overflow often held up passers-by, causing some to lose the last train from the nearby station. This led to loud complaints. One man, jammed in the crowd, lost his train and found himself borne into The Army’s second meeting; he listened and was converted.
Later on an old circus, holding 3,000 people, in another part of the town, was hired. Lily Downing, on a visit to the Captain, was making herself so indispensable that she stayed on. Soon she was commissioned a Captain and became Marianne’s No. 2. But even the two Captains could not control the growing work alone, so Headquarters sent five Lieutenants! Soul saving continued gloriously. The town, including churches, and authorities, favoured The Army. ¹
The Chester Riots ²
A heavyweight prize-fighter, known as Jack, was saved at the skating rink. The Captain would put a special trophy in the front rank on the Sunday following his capture, and march to his home neighbourhood for a morning open air meeting. Off the broad thoroughfare called Boughton, along which they must march, were some streets, which harboured a company of dangerous men. Jack had been one of their set, and his friends were furious at losing him. They collected dead cats, mice and rats, bags of chalk, lime and soot, and quantities of refuse, which they wrapped in paper bags and kept until The Army should appear. A town councillor heard of these preparations and begged the Captain not to enter this evil locality, declaring that it would be madness to go, to which she responded that it would be unthinkable not to go, as that would destroy their power in the future. He told her, therefore, that he would have to go with them.
So (on 26th March 1882) they went and Jack testified in his own street to which the neighbours cried "Well done, Jack! You stick it!" As they formed up to march away, Marianne warned Jack that they would have trouble on their way back, and asked him to promise that whatever happened that he wouldn’t fight. He replied that he wouldn’t if they didn’t touch any of them. Marianne said to him that that wouldn’t do, as he needed to remember that he had given himself to God and that he wanted to do God’s will and that if he felt that he must fight, to go indoors and stay at home. Jack stood in deep thought and then promised that he would go with them and that if God helped him he wouldn’t fight.
The only alternative way to the Hall was a long detour via Hoole Lane Bridge. The enemy had considered this and gathered there in great strength, ready to sweep The Army into the canal. But the captain chose the direct route. As the march, about one hundred strong, swept up Boughton, the waiting mob descended upon them. A bag of soot and lime burst on Captain Downing’s bonnet, smothering both leaders, and all ranks got their share of the filthy garbage. But they kept on marching. At one corner a brother was dragged out of the march and treated badly. His comrades halted until he had been rescued, and by this time all the stored ammunition was exhausted. Unfortunately, however, Seller Street, into which they had just turned, was being remade with broken granite. Quickly the women of the opposition gathered aprons full of these stones, enabling their men to pelt the Salvationists.
A serious assault
The crowd that had waited on the bridge, mad to find they had been eluded, now came rushing down the canal side and joined the seething, stone throwing mob that pursued The Army along Seller Street. Most of the Soldiers were young and inexperienced and hung their heads as they walked. Noticing this as she turned round, and fearing that they would be seriously injured if struck on the back of their necks, the Captain commanded them to hold their heads up. One of the cowards, seeing the face of the tall Captain as she walked backward those few steps, aimed at her head, and the sharp stone struck her brow with terrible force. She fell to the ground, and the march broke into a scene of confusion and dismay.
So dense and unmanageable was the crowd surrounding the fallen Captain, that she bled dangerously before a doctor could reach her to bind up the gaping wound. She had recovered consciousness and was in agony as she was carried into Treasurer Lawson’s house, nearby. Night and day for six weeks Lily Downing nursed the injured Captain, and to that loving care she owed her life. Flowers and dainties, none of which she could touch, poured in for the invalid from all directions. Inquiries and letters of sympathy were equally numerous. But the drink-inflamed rioters kept up their violence for a week, attacking every house in which they knew or thought Salvationists lived.
Finally, the mayor kept all public houses shut for a whole Sunday; thus the people grew sober and peace was restored. Twenty of the assailants had been caught and were kept in prison until the Captain could appear in court. But she was far too ill, and at the Founder’s request they were bound over.
While still in Chester, Marianne met some of those released men, who grasped her hand and said how sorry they were. Years later she received letters of regret from other assailants, whose consciences God had awakened, including one from a man, in Liverpool, who asked her forgiveness who had since then been saved. Needless to say she had never felt vengeful; she pitied her persecutors intensely, and assured this man of the forgiveness that had been his already at the time.
Her miraculous recovery
Marianne’s six weeks dangerous illness included a dark day when the partly healed wound broke into erysipelas and the doctor gave her only twenty four hours to live. People who loved her, including the police, wept in the streets. But she received a promise that she would not die, and God raised her up again. The doctor on seeing her exclaimed "this is the Lord’s doing and it is marvellous in our eyes!"
Six weeks later, two thousand people sat down to a Thanksgiving Tea. Still very weak, Marianne returned to work, though quite unequal to controlling all that had been set on foot. By her request another Captain was sent to take charge of the Corps at the circus, while she carried on at the rink with Captain Downing and one Lieutenant. The chief constable declared that he believed every Protestant church in Chester had gained new members from the Army’s Converts.
The injury to Marianne’s head continued to cause her considerable pain. She still wore, too, a burdensome surgical support contrived to relieve her shoulder, injured at Salisbury. To draw breath without it, while standing or sitting, meant fierce pain; yet its weight and rigidity made her unutterably tired. One day, while on her morning round of visitation she suddenly stopped and said to Captain Downing that God has just told her to go into the house and take off her support and that he would help her to do without it. This she did and it was a great relief when it was removed. She found to her immense comfort that she could do as well without the support though she had been assured that it must never be taken off.
Many converts were counted and many tears shed on her last Sunday evening at Chester. On the Monday, at the tremendous send off at the railway station, the Bandsmen were too moved to play. But to the Captain, Farewell Orders were law; she loved and trusted the General utterly, sure that he was guided by God.’
The effect on the life of Chester ³
The following extract from ‘The War Cry’ dated 2/6/1882, gives some idea of the effect that the work of the Salvation Army had in Chester in those early days:
‘The work has been blessed in a special way in the suburbs of Handbridge and Saltney. Within the present generation it has been known mainly as the residence of a colony of hard-drinking, hard-fighting, hard-swearing salmon fishermen. Until the advent of The Salvation Army they were, as one of them says, going "In the Ruck to the Devil!" They always go together. Now they have joined The Army in a body, the change can hardly be described. The public houses and the police courts know them no longer, and instead of swearing and ribald songs, which people on the banks had to protect themselves from by closing their windows, now "it is Heaven below!"
A Christian gentleman described how he was taking his accustomed walk along the riverbank, when he heard some singing in the distance. As he approached he recognised words which filled him with gladness. The fishermen, while waiting for the tide, were singing and making melody; the scene was contagious. He hurried up and sat down on the bank, and with an encouraging word, joined in the hymn they were singing. What a change! Then it’s so real. It enters into men’s every day life. They don’t put off their religion with their Sunday clothes. If it’s good on the Sunday, it’s good all the week.
The Saltney Iron workers are of this opinion too. Night after night, they assemble with their Handbridge fellow-workers at the "Old May Pole." Night after night, the banner is hoisted there. May 1882 has witnessed warm work at that spot, so well known in connection with much that is unreal and unsatisfactory. It’s a touching sight to see these stalwart men, six or eight abreast, marching to the Circus led by two Hallelujah Lasses.’
The Chester Corps is presently located in St Anne Street, Chester.
From Chester Marianne moved to Oldham for eight months, then to Bradford for only two months before coming to Liverpool in October 1883, where she and Lily Downing were to be for four months of fruitful service and then on to Glasgow.
The pain of the injuries that Marianne sustained at Salisbury and Chester wore out her strength until she became seriously ill. The doctor recommended complete rest, but Marianne felt that rather than become a financial burden to the Army, she should resign. However, the General wouldn’t hear of it and said that she could rest as long as she needed. So she committed herself to the Lord and said that if God would take the pain away from her head and shoulder then she would write for a new Corps that very week. Immediately every bit of pain left her, pain from which she had not been free for four years, and an indescribable joy replaced her fear. She accordingly wrote to the General asking for a new Corps and so in January 1885 she and Lily were given a new assignment, this time in Rock Ferry, Wirral.
Rock Ferry 4
Marianne and Lily received a very warm welcome at Rock Ferry, particularly as people had learned of her great exploits in different parts of the country. Also because she had been healed, there was an expectation that she could also heal. Accordingly a man who suffered greatly from gout, sent to ask her to pray for his healing. Somewhat nervously she did pray for him and to her surprise the man was healed and kept well from that day onwards.
There were two notable conversions at Rock Ferry, which I have recounted as follows from the biography of her life:
‘Among the converts at Rock Ferry was a drunken woman who came to a weeknight meeting, dirty and dilapidated, but showing by dress and speech that she was from a good home. The Officers took her to their Quarters and when cleansed and sobered, she told her story. Her husband was a prosperous tradesman and they had three grown up children, but her drinking habits had seriously damaged his business. Two years previously he had put her into lodgings, allowing her enough to live; but all the money had been spent on drink, and at last she had been ejected. Her husband would never believe in her again, she felt, remembering her numerous new starts and failures. But the Officers and the woman prayed about it. The next morning they set off for the husband’s shop, which Marianne entered alone. Husband and son listened politely to her story, and the husband, though sceptical, said he would see his wife that evening at the Quarters. When told that she was just outside, he was taken aback, but in the Captain’s presence, he talked matters over with her and agreed to her staying at home. She never went back to the drink, and her husband felt that he could not thank The Army enough.
Another memorable convert was a clever violinist who played in public houses for drink and yet more drinks. One night he came to the Army Hall, and handing his fiddle to the Captain said that he wanted her to take it and let it be played for God and that it had done enough for the Devil. He was told that the fiddle was no use to The Army without himself. He replied that he was too bad, but after sitting through the meeting he lurched forward to the Penitent Form, bawling and swearing even while he asked God to save him! One or two folk strongly disapproved, but Marianne reasoned that Jesus called not the righteous but sinners, and who could foresee what God was going to do for this one? In half an hour he rose, a saved man. One of the Soldiers escorted him home, but his wife gave him a very poor reception. Early the next morning however the Captain was warmly congratulating the woman on her changed husband. She was still sceptical, however, but Marianne told her that he was truly saved and going to live a new life, and he did, in fact turn out to be one of the most remarkable of her converts, using his musical gifts for the glory of God.
Among the many people who were sent for training for Officership by Marianne were Commandant Charlie Harrison and his wife whose home was in Rock Ferry.’
Her marriage to Staff-Captain Pawson
While at Stockport Marianne met Staff-Captain Pawson, an auditor with the Salvation Army, who knew at once that she was the one woman in the world for him. In her heart, too, something woke as she welcomed him, though she was unaware that he, in his forties, was unmarried. Accordingly, after receiving the General’s blessing, they were married in October 1888, in Stockport. In becoming Mrs Staff-Captain Pawson, Marianne didn’t cease to become the ‘Zulu Queen.’ At Wood Green and Weston-Super-Mare, between which places most of her married years were divided, she was remembered as a whole-hearted warrior. For some time she accompanied her husband on his audit tours, conducting meetings in which many people were won for Christ.
They settled for a while in Buxton and after his retirement they went to live in Weston-Super-Mare, where she was to live for the next 40 years. The Weston-Super-Mare Corps greatly benefited from her experience and service. She went to be with the Lord on 15th January 1943.
¹ See Appendix 1 - The Pavilion Rink Services
² See Appendix 2 - The Chester Riots
³ See Appendix 3 - The rapid rise of the Salvation Army
4 See Appendix 4 - The Rock Ferry Corps
The Pavilion Rink Services
The Chester Chronicle dated 5th April 1882 gave the following account of the services held at the Pavilion Rink. According to this report, the Pavilion was capable of holding many more people than suggested in the book ‘The Zulu Queen’ and also the number of services on Sundays had increased from two to four.
‘The services of the army, which take place in the Pavilion Rink, were crowded on Sunday on each occasion, the notoriety acquired by the members in consequence of the previous Sunday’s proceedings attracting great numbers of the public in addition to their own adherents, the number of whom is considerable. A glance at the character of the service, and the class of people who take part in it, may not be uninteresting. And at the outset unqualified credit may be given to the members for industry. The services on a Sunday number no fewer than four - the first taking place at seven in the morning, the second at ten, the third at three, and the fourth in the evening.
The Pavilion Rink, a building erected during the short-lived mania of roller-skating is capable of accommodating four or five thousand people, ² and when it is stated that it was on Sunday filled at each service, it will be readily conceived, setting aside the question as to whether it will be lasting or whether it is beneficial, how great the influence is which has been obtained over the classes who find the services suitable. Seated in front of a table on the platform are the conductors of the service, a male and female, Captain Barker and Sister Lieutenant Atkinson. Around these are soldiers, chiefly young men, but including a few veterans, and a slight sprinkling of women, who adopt a uniform style of dress, plain black without ornament of any kind, and with a bonnet of rather peculiar shape. Lieutenant Atkinson gives out a hymn, and having also commenced the singing, the soldiers and congregation take it up with extraordinary fervency. Sister Atkinson, in the meanwhile, beats time with the hands, and occasionally interjects a note of her own. The occasion unconsciously calls up recollections of the ideal portrait of a female revivalist, which George Eliot has so beautifully drawn in "Dinah Morris." Prayer follows the singing, Sister Lieut. Atkinson selects one of the soldiers for the office, and again the responses and interjections on the part of the members of the army attest one thing very clearly, and that is the fervency of their feelings. By-and-bye Capt. Barker takes the place of Lieut. Atkinson, and hymn after hymn is given out from the "soldiers’ song book."
Meanwhile several of the valiant warriors are doing a brisk business in the sale of the army literature, represented by two newspapers, one suited to the capacity of adult soldiers, and the other intended to furnish suitable mental pabulum for the young. Some hundreds of these are disposed of amongst the congregation. In the course of the second morning service Captain Barker, addressing the congregation said they were determined to raise the war against the devil. They should have an open-air service and procession next Sunday, and they wanted the army to recruit its strength. In some of the prayers special mention was made of Miss Faulconbridge whose condition was exciting some uneasiness.’
¹ The area is now occupied by W E Anfield, Bathroom Suppliers.
² According to the War Cry dated 2/6/1882 the building was capable of holding 8,000 people and according to the same paper the Circus in another part of the town was quite as spacious as The Skating Rink.
The Chester Riots
The Chester Riots of 26th March 1882 were extensively reported in the Chester Chronicle, the Chester Courant as well as a national paper, The Guardian. It is interesting to read of the various comments in the paper and the feeling seems to have been that the main instigators of the riot were the publicans because their trade was being threatened by the growing success of the Army who were winning many converts to Christ. Somewhat reminiscent I’m sure of the riots in Ephesus instigated by the silversmiths whose trade was being threatened by the vast numbers of people coming to the Lord there and turning away from idols. (Acts 19:23)
The preliminary examination of those taking part in the riots at the Chester City Police Court on 30th March was widely reported by the Chester Chronicle on 1st April. The court was crowded to excess in every part and almost every magistrate on the commission seemed to be present on the bench. Altogether 23 individuals were charged with participating in the riot. The majority of those charged, including four women had Irish names, and the dim view that the Bench took of the affair was shown by their refusal to allow bail for those who had voluntarily surrendered themselves to the court. The following day the Chairman of the Bench Sir Thos. Frost, who was also the Mayor of Chester, read out an anonymous letter, which he had received, signed "Revenge & Death."
‘We (the secret brotherhood of Chester) hear that you will occupy the Chair tomorrow in the hearing of the attack on the Salvation Army and we solemnly vow and swear that if you pronounce one or any of the prisoners guilty, you and all your brother magistrates will answer with your lives.’
A letter was also received from the Roman Catholic Canon Cholmondly who strongly attacked the methods and provocative tactics of the Salvationists claiming:
‘The Salvation Army is no peaceful guild, it is an organisation propagandism and is an active proselytising body whose aims interfere directly with that usual orderly and regular attendance at church and chapel.’
One correspondent in the Chester Chronicle observed, however:
‘Facts are coming to light now, that whilst the riot on Sunday morning were by the Irish in Boughton, the real movers were the publicans. It appears from what I can gather now that Catholic and Irish feeling among the lower classes in Boughton has been a good deal stirred up by the influence of the lower class publicans, whose business has been at a low ebb owing to the work of the Salvation Army amongst many of the late frequenters of their low taverns and drink shops. Many of the publicans of Boughton and Seller Street, are very wrath at the loss of their business which they are beginning to feel.’
A letter was also received from General Booth who wrote as follows:
‘I do venture to plead for your mercy towards our assailants of Sunday last. Their conviction will surely say enough as to the efficiency of the City authorities and will surely be an adequate warning to such persons in Chester, or their punishment, will I fear, lead to more conflict and troubles, if not in Chester, at any rate elsewhere. In any case I have instructed our officers that they are not to approach Boughton, or any other neighbourhood inhabited mainly by the Roman Catholics, with any procession or any such move likely to result in irritating a people with whom we have the most earnest desire to get upon friendly terms with as soon as possible.’
The letter sent by General Booth does seem to have played an important role in the outcome of the trial. Two were discharged, three were bound over to keep the peace, six were bound over for six months in penalties of £25, with two sureties of £12.10s, in default of which they were to be imprisoned for a month, and eight were committed to take their trial. *
* Not everyone was happy with the outcome of the trial, however. In the Hansard record of 24th April 1882 it was recorded that the Home Secretary Sir William Harcourt was asked by Mr William Caine MP if his attention had been called to the recent trial at the Chester Sessions, of the ringleaders against the Salvation Army in that city, who were charged with violent assaults on the members of that religious body, by which many peaceable citizens were injured, one woman having been a the point of death for more than a week, and a young man having become totally blind in consequence; if he is aware that the prisoners were all found guilty by the jury, and were proved, during their trial, to have been persons of known bad character; and if it is true that the Recorder of Chester inflicted no punishment, but simply bound them over to come up for judgement if called upon; if he is aware that he rioters dealt with summarily by the borough magistrates, at the time these ringleaders were sent to trial, are still in prison; and, if he will take into consideration how far the Law is properly vindicated by the lesser offenders receiving a more sever punishment than the ringleaders? The Home Secretary replied, however, that he had no power over the magistrates in such matters, and that he could not order a heavier sentence than the magistrates thought fit to inflict.
The rapid rise of the Salvation Army
The following article appeared (partly quoted) in the Chester Chronicle dated 22nd April 1882:
‘Probably no religious movement of modern times, certainly none since the Reformation, has attracted so much attention or affected so many persons as that of the Salvation Army. Peculiar in its complete unlikeness to the organisation of other religious bodies, it is equally peculiar in the success, which attends its efforts, especially among those classes, which the older religious communities fail to reach. The rapid growth of the ‘Army’ and the daily increasing efforts of its members, lead to the belief that ere long it will become one of the most extensive bodies in the country.
The distinguishing features of the Salvation Army are its open-air services and singing processions; its system of visitation, which includes public-houses and the like; its use of buildings of all sorts - theatres, music halls, rinks, etc., - for meeting-rooms, and so overcoming the deep-rooted prejudice of the masses against ecclesiastical structure; its adoption of popular tunes of secular character in common with stirring melodies of every description; and, chief of all, that constant variety in its services, held day by day, which is gained by making every recruit a public witness to his own conversion
The ordinary methods of religious denominations are eclipsed by the tireless activities of the agents of the Army, who push their "war" at all times and seasons - noonday meetings for operatives and tradesmen, meetings every evening in each of their buildings and in the open-air, and the adoption of every conceivable method of attracting a congregation, It is specially a working-class organisation, and doubtless much of its success is due to this fact and to its utilisation of female effort, some of the most successful of its agents being of the gentler sex.
The rapidity of its growth is shown by the fact that the number of corps or stations, which in May 1877, was only 29, is now 286, the number of officers wholly employed having increased during the same period from 31 to 623. Added to the regular officers are nearly 14,000 volunteer speakers. Not one of the officers has a guaranteed salary, each one upon appointment signing a declaration that he has no legal claim for salary or remuneration, but the people are permitted to contribute for the support of their own officers. Any appointed officer who does not prove successful in the work is promptly dismissed.’
The Rock Ferry Corps
Rock Ferry Corps was opened in March 1882 and Captain Eliza Houghton was appointed as the First Officer. They also met in a disused skating rink at 383 New Chester Road, Rock Ferry. The coming of the Army to the town caused quite a stir and early ‘War Cry’ reports indicated that the rink, seating 1200 people, was often packed to capacity. They were days of great spiritual fervour and enthusiasm for the Lord’s work. The Birkenhead News dated 8/4/1882 (page 2) carried the following report:
‘The Salvation Army has established itself at Rock Ferry. Its Hallelujah Lasses have proved a great success and it is certainly doing what many of the leading churches have failed to do - arresting the attention of the unthinking and sodden masses of the population, who by many had come to be regarded as impervious to spiritual influences.’
The following comment was made further on in the same paper (page 4)
‘The disused skating rinks up and down the country are now being purchased by the Salvation Army and the fashion has spread to Rock Ferry. Here the holy warriors have taken up their quarters at the skating rink from whence they are discharging heavy fusillades at the enemy.’
The Chester Chronicle dated 5th April 1882 carried the following report of the opening of the Corps on Saturday 1st April 1882:
The skating rink has been converted into ‘barracks,’ and the building has been fitted up with a platform and benches. The opening of these headquarters on Saturday attracted a large number of persons, and in the afternoon the building was crowded. Several detachments of the ‘Army’ came from Liverpool, and on reaching Rock Ferry they formed into procession, and headed by their officers, male and female, marched to the headquarters.
On the march, hymns of a lively description were sung with great fervour, and some musical instruments were exhibited; but at the request of the police, who were apprehensive of an attack by some of the roughs who occupy a portion of Rock Ferry, the musicians reserved their martial music probably for another occasion. The rank and file of the Army displayed great enthusiasm and zeal, and no doubt, the result of the war will be a large addition to the forces of General Booth, who is so earnestly endeavouring to rescue from vice, drunkenness, and wretchedness, the masses of the people.’
The Rock Ferry Corps is presently located in Old Chester Road, Rock Ferry.
I would like to express my thanks to the following:
- Both the Rock Ferry Corps and Chester Corps for their help and information provided.
- The Salvation Army Headquarters in London for various amounts of information provided by them.
- The Chester History & Heritage for making available the photograph of ‘The Pavilion Skating Rink.’
- Marianne Pawson, the Zulu Queen - Ruth Tracy.
- A condensed history of The Chester City Corps 1881-1975.
- The Rock Ferry Corps of the Salvation Army - ‘Corps History.’
- Birkenhead News 8/4/1882
- Chester Courant 14/3/1882
- Chester Chronicle 1/4/1882, 5/4/1882 and 22/4/1882.
- The War Cry 2/6/1882, 20/3/1943.
- Victorian Chester: Essay in Social History, 1830-1900
- Hansard - 24 April 1882 vol. 268 c1271