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In Darkest England and the Way Out – Salvation Army Social Campaign

  • Author: BOOTH, William
  • Publisher: The Salvation Army
  • Date: 1890
  • Dimensions: Map: 26.5 x 35.5 cms / Sheet: 27.6 x 43 cms.


Salvation Army leader William Booth’s vision of a Utopian new World, from his influential book, “In Darkest England” [1890]

About this piece:

In Darkest England and the Way Out – Salvation Army Social Campaign

Lithograph with printed colour. Traces of original vertical & horizontal folds, with traces of old binding strip to upper verso. Overall fine. 

A remarkable Chart, envisaging the transformational impact of the Salvation Army’s proposed Social Campaign as outlined in Booth’s 1890 book, In Darkest England, in which this chart first appeared.

It is no coincidence that Booth gave the book its title In Darkest England. In this same year, the famous explorer, Henry Morton Stanley had just published an account of his Expedition to rescue Emin Pasha (Eduard Snitzer) the beleaguered governor of Equatorial Sudan, a classic of African exploration entitled In Darkest Africa. The contrast was easily drawn. For Booth, many of the poorest urban districts of England were as dark and heathen as the remotest regions of Stanley’s Africa.

As Booth himself noted in the Preface to the book :

It is a terrible picture, and one that has engraved itself deep on the heart of civilisation. But while brooding over the awful presentation of life as it exists in the vast African forest, it seemed to me only too vivid a picture of many parts of our own land. As there is a darkest Africa is there not also a darkest England ? Civilisation, which can breed its own barbarians, does it not also breed its own pygmies? May we not find a parallel at our own doors, and discover within a stone’s throw of our cathedrals and palaces similar horrors to those which Stanley has found existing in the great Equatorial forest ?

He continues :

The Equatorial Forest traversed by Stanley resembles that Darkest England of which I have to speak, alike in its vast extent-both stretch, in Stanley’s phrase, “as far as from Plymouth to Peterhead;” its monotonous darkness, its malaria and its gloom, its dwarfish de-humanized inhabitants, the slavery to which they are subjected, their privations and their misery. That which sickens the stoutest heart, and causes many of our bravest and best to fold their hands in despair, is the apparent impossibility of doing more than merely to peck at the outside of the endless tangle of monotonous undergrowth; to let light into it, to make a road clear through it, that shall not be immediately choked up by the ooze of the morass and the luxuriant parasitical growth of the forest-who dare hope for that? At present, alas, it would seem as though no one dares even to hope! It is the great Slough of Despond of our time.

Booth offered a vision, a Scheme,  to lift the British nation’s 3 million poor (whom Booth called the “submerged tenth”) out of an all-engulfing Sea of starvation, poverty, vice and crime.

As he noted in the book :

The Scheme I have to offer consists in the formation of these people into self-helping and self-sustaining communities, each being a kind of co-operative society, or patriarchal family, governed and disciplined on the principles which have already proved so effective in the Salvation Army. These communities we will call, for want of a better term, Colonies. There will be: 1. The City Colony. 2. The Farm Colony. 3. The Over-Sea Colony.

City Colonies would offer food, shelter, charitable support and regular work in a series of factories and training establishments. Alternatively work might be found in smallholdings, allotments and cooperative farms in the countryside, in so-called “Farm Colonies”. The latter might then offer the prospect of widespread emigration, either  to the overseas colonial outposts of Britain’s Empire or to other foreign lands or perhaps to a new Salvationist “Colony across the Sea” that was yet to be established. In this utopian scenario workers trained in professional skills and qualifications, lifted out of poverty and the endless spiral of social and personal deprivation, might then find ready & gainful employment and a new-found self-esteem & prosperity.

The chart is designed in the form of a doorway, through which the viewer looks to see a prospect of Booth’s imagined new Utopia.

On the pilasters on each side of the doorway, Booth provides a statistical critique of the social and economic costs of poverty. He details the number of London prostitutes, the national Prison population, levels of conviction for drunkenness, numbers of off-licences, levels of public and private charity, levels of destitution and homelessness in London and across Great Britain, and numbers of registered paupers and residents of the workhouse. Below these he provides the totals for suicides and those found dead (nearly 4500) in the previous year. The foundation stones of the doorway’s pillars lower left and lower right are labelled with a catalogue of social & personal vices.

In the bottom of the chart, is the present World, the stormy waters of a dark and dangerous sea of poverty, starvation and vice, in which the nation’s poor appear in their thousands as drowning swimmers, victims of innumerable shipwrecks, the remains of some of their vessels visible breaking up on nearby cliffs. In the centre is the Lighthouse of Salvation, whose light offers “Salvation for All”, whilst lifeboats and groups of Salvation Army men & women lining the adjacent shores pull the drowning swimmers to safety. The stormy sea waters are littered with the names of the catalogue of social problems, iniquities & vices which afflicted the poor of late Victorian Britain : unemployment, drunkenness, homelessness, starvation, prison, slum housing, beggary, the workhouse, infanticide, prostitution & marital breakdown. The name of Jack the Ripper is even listed, just a couple of years after those infamous events in the poorest districts of London’s East End. Those who have been saved can be seen processing up the cliffs to the prospect of a new life.

Above the light of the Salvation lighthouse of Hope for All, we see the new life envisaged by Booth, an alternative World of ordered and progressive social improvement and employment depicted in a series of small illustrative vignettes. In an urban environment this is to be achieved through a series of charitable homes and institutions for different groups – for homeless men & women, for inebriates, for former criminals, rescue homes and shelters for young single girls and former prostitutes, industrial homes for young boys, homes for children & for married couples – as well as the establishing of new suburban villages for workers well away from the temptations of the big city. Slums are to be cleaned up, household salvage brigades will collect valuable waste – unwanted clothing, shoes, tins & bottles, books etc – from the more prosperous areas of the country’s cities, and further support and assistance is to be offered to the needy in the form of legal aid, banking facilities, labour bureaux, workers’ crèches, apprenticeships & placements with local businesses such as tailors, carpenters, cobblers, builders and bakers, temporary work in the country and even in larger specialist Salvation Factories. And for those moving on from the City, Booth envisaged a Farm Colony, an Arcadian idyll where workers villages, cooperative farms, small farm allotments (“5 acres & a cow”) and small-scale factories and mills might be established far away from the temptation of the urban public house. It is interesting to note that one of the imaginary settlements shown here is named Whitechapel-by-the-Sea. And beyond the Farm Colony’s shorelines, a network of steamers and ships offer the tantalising prospect of overseas emigration, to British Colonies, Foreign Lands or to a yet-to-be-established “Colony Across the Sea”, whose shimmering skyline, lit by the rays of the dawn sun, can be seen in the top of the chart. The archetypal figures whom Booth envisaged would emerge from this campaign are depicted in the upper left and upper right corners of the chart : on the left the sturdy baker, on the right the female laundress, the latter suggesting an abundance of work, the former, an abundance of food.

In 1889, Booth had in fact established a trial City Colony in Whitechapel, in London’s East End, where a factory made seating and matting for the Salvation Army’s Meeting houses.  Many city properties were also purchased, though the perhaps overly grandiose reformative city schemes envisaged by Booth never really got off the ground and many of these buildings eventually became the urban shelters for which the Salvation Army is perhaps still best known today.

However Booth’s model Farm Colony came into being very rapidly with the purchase of some 800 acres of land on an estate at Hadleigh in Essex, on the Thames Estuary, in May 1891. The lands included the title to the Lordship of the Manor of Hadleigh. This estate was gradually expanded to some 3200 acres, and by the end of 1891 some 250 “colonists” had been settled here, though not without a considerable degree of opposition from local residents and landowners.

Hadleigh offered almost exactly the site that Booth had originally envisaged in his 1890 book, where he had proposed the idea of …

an estate from 500 – l,000 acres within reasonable distance of London. It should be of such land as will be suitable for market gardening, while having some clay on it for brickmaking and for crops requiring heavier soil. If possible, it should not onlv be on a line of railway which is managed by intelligent and progressive directors, but it should have access to the sea and to the river.

The idea of Hadleigh was, “to give employment (and food and lodgings in return for his labour) to any man who is willing to work, irrespective of nationality or creed.” An infrastructure was gradually constructed for the new Farm Colony consisting of dormitories, a bath house, laundry, shop, reading room, hospital and “Citadel” for religious meetings. And later a special home for inebriates and a school for the Colony’s children & locals were also built. Along with market gardening and farming, “colonists” were instructed in brickmaking, pottery, carpentry and building skills in the colony’s own workshops. Regular barges took the colony’s products (utensils & toys) up the Thames to London for sale, returning with horse manure for the Colony’s farms and small holdings. A mini-colony was established at Leigh Park Farm where new recruits were assessed for their skills and capabilities, as well as the seriousness of their hopes of “salvation”. Those accepted could then progress into the “Colony” proper, where diligence and enthusiasm were appropriately rewarded. The Colony had its own system of coinage and tokens, which could be exchanged for goods in the Colony’s own shop. By the time of the First World War, some 7000 “colonists” had passed through the Farm Colony at Hadleigh, most of these subsequently emigrating to farms and small holdings in New Zealand, Canada and the USA. In the last hundred years, elements of the original vision & purpose of Booth’s Farm Colony at Hadleigh have gradually been diluted and revised, though the Estate still remains in the hands of the Salvation Army and is now operated as a skills training centre and farmed on a commercial basis with profits going to Army funds. In the wake of the 2012 London Olympics, Hadleigh is now envisaged as a local community “Hub” where, just over 120 year later, the Salvation Army continues to embrace & live out the vision and principles of its Victorian founder, General William Booth [1829-1912]. It is indeed a testament to Booth’s vision that many of the ideas outlined in his book would later provide the underlying foundations & building blocks of the modern Welfare State.

Refs: William Booth : In Darkest England and the Way Out [Salvation Army, London, 1890]