Brickbats and stones ‘welcome’ the Salvation Army to Hackney

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Congress Hall, Clapton – a Salvation Army mission

None of the London papers reported the business of the Thames Police Court in their editions on the 14th June 1881, but fortunately The Standard did include a report from Worship Street, Thames’ sister court in the East End. Given that the Morning Post did have reports from other courts, this helps me understand that reportage was (as I was fairly certain it was) highly selective.

I have written before about the unpopularity of the Salvation Army in its early days. The Army marched up and down London’s streets and held meetings to draw attention to the moral plight of the working classes. Whether it was the moralising people didn’t appreciate or the supposedly awful row their amateur musicians made, is not clear, but they suffered a great deal of abuse.

What I found most interesting was not the brickbats of the working poor but the relatively lukewarm support they drew from the middle-class magistrates that served in the Police Courts. I would have expected them to approve of the Army’s message but it seems that they saw them as at best a nuisance and at worst an unwelcome example  of radical non-conformism.

On Sunday 12 June 1881 a Salvation Army procession was marching, four abreast, though Hackney on the way to a gathering at the Mission hall in Havelock Road(which they soon outgrew, moving in and adapting a former orphanage to build Congress Hall in the later 1880s).

As the marchers processed they were assailed with all sorts of missiles along the route and when they reached the hall some of them found their path barred by a group ‘of rough young fellows’ who had been dogging their progress through Hackney.

Edgar Lagden, a porter and member of the Army was attacked. James Elvidge saw two lads, later named as Israel Stagg and Henry Abbot assault his fellow marcher. Stagg hit Lagden with a stick which drew blood, Abbot had been throwing stones, some of which hit Elvidge and others.

Elvidge broke free and grappled with the boys and seized Stagg, but as he tried to get him under control several men attacked him to release the lad.  In giving evidence before the magistrate at Worship Street Elvidge explained that he and his section of the march had been waiting and making space for the female marchers (the ‘sisters’) to get through unmolested when the main trouble flared. He ‘admitted that the crowd appeared to object to their possession of the road’.

That didn’t excuse the violence shown towards them of course, and the magistrate, Mr Hannay was quite clear on that point. Stagg was apparently well known as a troublesome lad in the district  and he was described as being ‘in league with the street fighters’. His actions and those of the others who objected to the marching band of the Army was unacceptable, he was told, and ‘very nearly [constituted] a riot’. Mr Hannay sent Stagg to prison for two months and Abbot for seven days, ‘both with hard labour’.

But he wasn’t happy about the tactics of the Salvation Army either, he noted that the ‘course pursued’ by them was ‘such as to induce disturbance’. One gets the distinct impression that he wished they would find some other way to practice their faith, one that didn’t involve marching or the cacophony of brass instruments that accompanied it.

[from The Standard, Tuesday, June 14, 1881]

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