Notes from the Past
01 July 2015
People from the local community and further afield gathered in Whitechapel, part of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, on 30 June to look at a display of historical items depicting The Salvation Army’s past and to hold some of that history in their hands.
The workshop offered a rare chance to explore unique historical materials that chart the development of The Salvation Army from its founding by William Booth just a few minutes’ walk away from the Idea Store Whitechapel venue where it took place. The collection includes newspaper clippings, historical maps, photographs and archive material that shed light on the widespread deprivation and housing problems that led to the birth of this pioneering organisation.
Majors Nick and Kerry Coke, who worked with the library on the collection, are corps officers (ministers) at Stepney, which is also in Tower Hamlets. It was a humbling experience to start a new corps in William Booth’s old neighbourhood, the Cokes said. They will be moving to a new appointment, with their last day in Stepney falling on 2 July – known in The Salvation Army as Founders’ Day.
‘We feel that we are standing on the shoulders of giants,’ said Major Kerry Coke. ‘It’s exciting for us because we don’t have our own building, so we have been able to serve the community in much the same way William Booth did. By using secular buildings and holding meetings in the open air we have followed in his footsteps.’
‘It was very rewarding to work on this collection,’ said Perdita Jones, Heritage Officer at Tower Hamlets, who has brought together many such collections for the library. ‘It was very interesting to look at the materials we have relating to The Salvation Army.’
Some of her favourite pieces include third-party reports about the services of the Army and other organisations in the early 1920s, including a 1924 paper about the neighbourhood entitled ‘The Derelict in Whitechapel’.
‘These kind of objective pieces provide a valuable perspective on the work of the organisation and how it served the surrounding community,’ she added.
Other noteworthy items in the collection include a ‘Descriptive Map of London Poverty’ from 1889, by Charles Booth – no relation to but a contemporary of William Booth. The map is colour-coded in sections including ‘Lowest Class. Vicious, semi-criminal’ and ‘Fairly comfortable. Good ordinary settings.’ There is also a picture of the first women’s shelter built by the Army in 1889, which some say has the dubious history of housing some of Jack the Ripper’s victims.
Regent Hall Corps Salvationist Clare Falvey enjoyed the collection. As she was reviewing the items, she happened upon an article that was written about her and The Salvation Army hostel she stayed in back in 1974.
‘When I was homeless I needed a safe hostel,’ she said. ‘I knew The Salvation Army would be – and it was.’
By Jennifer Byrd -
This article was included in issue two of Boundless Today. Click to read all issues of Boundless Today.