William Booth was born in Nottingham in 1829. At the age of 13 he was sent to work as an apprentice in a pawnbroker’s shop to help support his mother and sisters. He did not enjoy his job but it made him only too aware of the poverty in which people lived and how they suffered humiliation and degradation because of it. During his teenage years he became a Christian and spent much of his spare time trying to persuade other people to become Christians too.
The young William preaching in the streets.
When his apprenticeship was completed he moved to London, again to work in the pawnbroking trade. He joined up with the local Methodist Church and later decided to become a minister.
After his marriage to Catherine Mumford in 1855 he spent several years as a Methodist minister, traveling all around the country, preaching and sharing God’s word to all who would listen. Yet he felt that God wanted more from him, that he should be doing more to reach ordinary people. He returned to London with his family, having resigned his position as a Methodist minister.
One day in 1865 he found himself in the East End of London, preaching to crowds of people in the streets. Outside the Blind Beggar pub some missioners heard him speaking and were so impressed by his powerful preaching that they asked him to lead a series of meetings they were holding in a large tent.
The tent was situated on an old Quaker burial ground on Mile End waste in Whitechapel. The date for the first meeting was set for 2 July, 1865. To the poor and wretched of London’s East End, Booth brought the good news of Jesus Christ and his love for all men. Booth soon realised he had found his destiny. He formed his own movement, which he called ‘The Christian Mission’.
Slowly the mission began to grow but the work was hard and Booth would ‘stumble home night after night haggard with fatigue, often his clothes were torn and bloody bandages swathed his head where a stone had struck’, wrote his wife. Evening meetings were held in an old warehouse where urchins threw stones and fireworks through the window. Outposts were eventually established and in time attracted converts, yet the results remained discouraging-this was just another of the 500 charitable and religious groups trying to help in the East End. It was not until 1878 when The Christian Mission changed its name to The Salvation Army that things began to happen. The impetus changed. The idea of an Army fighting sin caught the imagination of the people and the Army began to grow rapidly. Booth’s fiery sermons and sharp imagery drove the message home and more and more people found themselves willing to leave their past behind and start a new life as a soldier in The Salvation Army.
Inevitably, the military spirit of the movement meant that The Salvation Army soon spread abroad. By the time Booth was promoted to Glory in 1912 the Army was at work in 58 countries.