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Saved from the streets

29 May 2015

The rescue of a prostitute and brothel-keeper was typical of the early work of the Salvation Army, which is 150 years old this year. Cathy Le Feuvre tells the story in an extract from her forthcoming book


Mean streets: detail from Charles Booth's "Master Map of Poverty" (1887-89), showing Whitechapel in the East End of London, the main focus of the Salvationists' early efforts. On a seven-point colour scale, yellow depicted wealthy, red "well to do". At the bottom were blue, "Very poor, casual. Chronic want" and black: "Lowest class. Vicious, semi-criminal".

Mean streets: detail from Charles Booth's "Master Map of Poverty" (1887-89), showing Whitechapel in the East End of London, the main focus of the Sa...

WHEN Rebecca Jarrett arrived in the East Midlands town of Northampton, in November 1884, she was far from well. She wasn't alone, but travelled with a male friend.

The company she was keeping may not have been entirely helpful in keeping to the orders of her doctor: that she needed "rest and recuperation and a break from heavy consumption of alcohol". [She had been sent from London, aged 35, in a last-ditch attempt to fight the effects of drink.]

On checking into their hotel, Jarrett spotted a notice that announced a meeting arranged by something called "The Salvation Army". They promised "great doings" by a "hallelujah clergyman", someone called the "Hallelujah Sweep", and "Great Firing by Great Guns". Although there's no evidence that she had shown any interest in religion before, the poster intrigued her.

The "Hallelujah Sweep" in question was a certain Elijah Cadman, who was typical of the sort of characters that the Salvation Army was attracting to its ranks, and who helped it to expand rapidly.

Cadman was an illiterate former drunkard who had been forced up chimneys from the age of six, and who, by the age of 17, reckoned that he could "fight like a devil and drink like a fish".

Aged 21, after heckling a street preacher in the town of Rugby, Cadman was converted to Christianity, learned to read and write, and then spent his spare time as a Methodist lay preacher.

After meeting William and Catherine Booth - renowned preachers and evangelists who had just created their own Christian Mission in London - the little man (he stood just five feet tall) was captivated by their enthusiasm and radical thinking. In 1876, he sold his chimney-sweep business, travelled with his wife and children to London, and joined the Mission in Hackney, where he visited the slums by day and preached by night.

Although rough and ready, he became one of the leading lights of the Booths' Mission, and crucial to its early development. Even before 1878, when William Booth, his aide-de-camp, George Scott Railton, and his eldest son, Bramwell Booth, decided to change the name of the Christian Mission to "The Salvation Army", Cadman had been among the first to begin using military terminology.

He addressed his leader as "General" William Booth - short for "General Superintendent of the Christian Mission" - and referred to himself as Booth's "lieutenant". Cadman is also credited with the idea of the Salvation Army uniform. At the movement's first "War Congress", in August 1878, just months after its name was changed, Cadman announced: "I would like to wear a suit of clothes that would let everyone know I meant war to the teeth, and salvation for the world."


THE Salvation Army that Jarrett met that day in Northampton was not, therefore, the product of the Booths alone, but also of people such as Cadman.

While it is not clear whether Jarrett actually heard the influential Cadman preach, or if the announcement she saw outside her Northampton hotel was an old poster, the description of the "Hallelujah Sweep" and his "great doings" was enough to fascinate her, and so she found her way to the local Salvation Army meeting hall in an old prison building.

There she would have found a congregation that mixed the poor and the rich, the educated and the illiterate. In its early years, the Salvation Army attracted people from all levels of society. Although most of the first converts of the new Christian movement were working-class, the Booths' message of "salvation through Jesus Christ" was for everyone.

While William Booth often preached to the "common people", Catherine was invariably to be found addressing middle- and even upper-class audiences. The Salvation Army reflected this diversity, as the "salvation" message got through not only to drunkards, thieves, and ruffians, and street women and prostitutes such as Jarrett, but also to those who, despite their education, and even wealth, felt a lack of something spiritual.

The reception that Jarrett found at that night's gathering astonished her. Hoping to remain inconspicuous, she took a seat at the back of the crowded hall, but in her large and rather flamboyant hat, and looking very unwell, she stood out.

The leader of the meeting, Captain Susan Jones, made a mental note of the tall woman who had slipped into the gathering after proceedings had started.

The meeting hall was crammed full, and it was hot and stuffy. As was normal in the early Salvation Army, the singing of hymns, choruses, and songs was enthusiastic and loud, as was the preaching, and the "altar calls", when people were urged, in an atmosphere charged with emotion, to make their way to the front to kneel at the "penitent form" to give their lives to Jesus and be "saved" from their sins. At some point in all this, the frail woman in the large hat succumbed to the heat, and fainted.

As Jarrett dropped to the floor, Captain Jones rushed the length of the room, along with some of the other Salvation Army "officers", urging the crowds to make space so the woman could breathe as she came round.

As she bent over Jarrett, Captain Jones could see how ill she was, and enquired where she was staying, so that someone could see her safely back to her accommodation. Jarrett declined.

As she later wrote: "I did not want the man to see all those people with strange bonnets, some with tambourines in their hands, taking me to the hotel." But the very next day, Captain Jones turned up on the doorstep, having done a little enquiring about the tall woman's whereabouts. Jarrett had obviously been on her mind, and when she tracked her down she learned the truth about her circumstances, and, more importantly, her poor health.

Jarrett's collapse at the Salvation Army meeting in Northampton had brought her into contact with one of the many colourful characters who inhabited the early Salvation Army, and to whom Jarrett would have felt some affinity.

CAPTAIN Jones was the daughter of a rat-catcher. Her early life had been hard as she travelled the country with her father, selling his rodent-extermination services, which led to her nickname of "Hawker". She had liked a drink or two in the past, and her harsh experiences of life on the road meant that she hardly flinched at the sight of a debauched prostitute.

After her conversion to Christianity, and her recruitment by the Salvation Army, the down-to-earth Jones had already helped street women in two of her previous appointments - at Keighley, in Yorkshire, and in Warrington (then in Lancashire). She had even cared for girls in her own home, when they expressed a desire to leave prostitution.

So, when Captain Jones met Jarrett at the Northampton hotel after her collapse at the Salvation Army meeting the previous evening, she recognised that the woman was in desperate need of some loving care and attention. Much to Jarrett's astonishment, the Captain offered to take her home. Jarrett's male companion accepted gladly - relieved, perhaps, to no longer have the responsibility for such a decrepit and sickly woman.

Captain Jones and the other Northampton Salvation Army "officers" arranged for Jarrett to visit a doctor, who thought that hospital was the only place for her. Her new Salvation Army friends had other ideas, and took her back to their "quarters" - their own home - to be nursed and cared for.

For Jarrett, whose life to date had been largely one of abuse, corruption, and rough living, which had made her not just the exploited, but also, on many occasions, the exploiter, these simple kindnesses were a revelation.

In London, where the Salvation Army's mission was most developed, ad hoc arrangements for helping vulnerable women had in recent months led to the creation of a refuge for street women. A hostel had been established in the East End, in Hanbury Street, in the Whitechapel vicinity where the Booths had originally established their movement.

Salvation Army officers such as Captain Jones now had somewhere to refer the women who came to them, seeking assistance to leave the sex trade and find a place of safety.

Captain Jones was convinced that this was the best place for Jarrett; and there was not just a bed there for the former brothel-keeper, but a welcome, as Jarrett later recalled in her memoir.

The Captain drove up to Hanbury Street Refuge, Whitechapel, a place where I had never been in my life before. It was certainly not the place that attracted me. . . But there I saw what for many years I had never seen. Everybody had shut the door against me. I was one of London's kept women, living a life of immorality, getting my living by it; but a lovely young mother with a red jersey on rushed up and kissed me and said "I have been waiting for you to come, dear." It was a poor little back kitchen, but its memory is very sacred to me. It was their welcome! The frozen-up heart got a bit of a crack.


JARRETT was soon visited by Florence Booth (the young wife of the Salvation Army's Chief of Staff, Bramwell Booth), who took her to the London Hospital, where the orders were "ten weeks' bed rest". As Jarrett lay sleeping, being cared for by these angels of mercy, she felt loved - a whole new experience for her. She also received a visit from the "Army Mother" - Catherine Booth - who, like her daughter-in-law Florence, made a great impression on her.

Although Florence was becoming accustomed to dealing with a whole host of difficult issues and individuals, she admitted in later life that she found her early meetings with Jarrett difficult.

The woman's appearance was a challenge to her faith, because "the marks of her dissolute life were very plain." Florence recoiled at first, but her impression, written many years later in a magazine, Sunday Circle, gives us a good idea of the image that Jarrett presented to the world at that time - and undoubtedly to those gathered at the Old Bailey not more than a year later.

Jarrett's face, Florence Booth wrote in March 1933, was "almost repulsive, and showed plainly the ascendancy that alcohol had gained over her".

While being physically cared for at the Hanbury Street Refuge, Jarrett was also coming under the spiritual influence of the Salvation Army. When she had regained her strength, and was on the mend, she went to lunch with the two Mrs Booths, Catherine and Florence, and it was there that she prayed for the very first time, expressing a desire to be "saved" from her sinful life.

But that was not the end of it. Jarrett, like so many before and after her, struggled to maintain the change in lifestyle and expectations that living a Christian life required. Not long after that lunch, Jarrett wrote to Florence Booth, saying that she could not keep up the new life. It was too hard.

She admitted that she had made an appointment with a "former companion in evil", and would "go back to the old life". Florence rushed over to Hanbury Street, and she and the other refuge officers spent a whole day trying to persuade Jarrett against going back to the streets.

"I made an earnest appeal to her, saying that if she left us she would be turning her back on God and Heaven, and deliberately choosing sin and hell. Rebecca suddenly fell on her knees, sobbing, prayed earnestly, and, as I listened, I realised the Saviour had received her afresh," Florence later recalled. To help Jarrett in her new life, away from the streets and the only work she had ever known, arrangements were made for her to move away from London.

What better place than in the care of someone who might help her to develop in her new spiritual life - a great friend to the Booths, Mrs Josephine Butler, who lived miles from the capital, in the ancient city of Winchester?


THE following year, 1885, Rebecca Jarrett, Bramwell Booth, and W. T. Stead, the editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, were put on trial at the Old Bailey, accused of abducting a 13-year-old girl, Eliza Armstrong, apparently for the purpose of prostitution. In fact, they had done this as a part of an exposé of the trade in young girls, published by Stead (below). The scandal triggered a huge petition, which eventually resulted in the raising of the age of consent from 13 to 16. 

This abridged extract is reproduced with permission from The Armstrong Girl by Cathy Le Feuvre, which is to be published next month by Lion Books at £9.99 (CT Bookshop £9).

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