The Salvation Army are this month celebrating 150 years as an organisation with a series of events around the country.

The organisation have been using the Royal Albert Hall for their meetings since 1895, when they held the first of almost 400 meetings here to date.

Founder William Booth held his first evangelical meeting in the East End of London on 2 July 1865. Horrified by the poverty he had witnessed in London, he and his wife Catherine decided that the best way to demonstrate their faith was to offer practical help to the poor and destitute. This was a radical approach at the time but the Booth’s determination to change the inequalities that they saw soon gained them a popular following.

Early meetings

Their very first meeting at the Hall was on 11 March 1895, and featured an address from ‘General’ Booth, whose eight children led a procession into the building.

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The day saw contingents from the Women’s Rescue Homes, the City Colony, the Farm Colony and celebrated the dedication of officers who served in foreign countries.

The Salvation Army continued to surge in popularity and in 1905 General Booth arrived at the Hall in a processional motor car cavalcade after a tour of Palestine, Australia and New Zealand. Four years later in April 1909, The Salvation Army celebrated General’s Booth’s 80th Birthday at the Hall.

Remembrance meetings

In June 1914, an International Congress at the Hall also became a special Remembrance Service to remember the 171 Salvation Army members who had died on board the Canadian liner, the Empress of Ireland, in the Saint Lawrence River, Canada on 29 May 1914. The Times described the meeting:

‘The Albert Hall presented a remarkable appearance last night at the reception of the International delegates to the Salvation Army Congress. The galleries were draped with white, and against this background were decorations of red, white, and blue and a profusion of the flags and banners of nearly every nation in the world.’

Every seat in the tiers was occupied and the floor of the hall when the delegates had filed across the platform and filled the seats was a wonderful spectacle. In the middle was a mass of dull crimson, the hats of the delegates from the United States of America, and on the outskirts of this group shimmered every range and gradation of colour and costume. There were Swiss guides in their mountain dress bearing alpenstocks, Koreans in white with small black hats, Indians in turbans of golden yellow and trailing draperies, Kaffirs swathed in red blankets, German soldiers plumed and helmeted – almost every race and every nation were represented in the cosmopolitan medley.’
The Times

In June 1929, sad events brought the Salvation Army back to the Hall once again, this time for the funeral service of the Salvation Army’s second leader – General Bramwell Booth.

A special platform was built on the stage for his coffin which was carried through the streets of London from Congress Hall at Clapton, where the body had lain in state.

General Higgins, Mrs Booth, and members of her family took their places in the centre of the platform immediately above the coffin, and General Higgins announced the opening hymn, There Is A Better World. The service lasted three hours and General Booth’s coffin was carried out to the hymn Abide with Me.

General Evangeline Booth

In 1934 The Salvation Army elected its first female General, Evangeline Booth, the seventh of William Booth’s eight children.

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Evangeline was a dynamic leader and her strong image gazes out from many of the Hall programmes of this time. She was also described as ‘The Musical General’ and in June 1936, the Hall played host to the Salvation Army – National Musical Festival. Evangeline was also the composer of several songs that were performed at the Hall.

In June and July 1965, the Salvation Army took over the Hall for a whopping 15 meetings to celebrate their centenary. The first of the centenary meetings was attended by HM Queen Elizabeth II.

Modern day

The Salvation Army still come to the Hall every year for their annual Christmas concert, and we are proud of our long-standing relationship and to have been associated with some of the most important meetings in their history.

The Salvation Army's Festival of Brass and Voices)

You can read more about the History of the Salvation Army at www.salvationarmy.org.uk