The Salvation Army is nowadays viewed with fondness, but William Booth’s evangelical crusade of the 1880s and early 1890s sparked violent riots led by an opposition group, the Skeleton Army. These riots caused destruction to property, injury to many people and, on occasion, loss of life. Spreading across the South and West of England, the Skeleton Army’s aim was to eject Salvationists from their towns. Rather than facing repercussions themselves, however, it was often the peaceful parading Salvationists who were imprisoned.
In With God on Their Side, James Gardner follows the spread of violence in the context of the popular conservatism of late-Victorian England, with close study of particular towns creating a rich tapestry of historical narrative that will be of interest to scholars and enthusiasts alike. The motives and actions of both groups are considered, along with the subsequent shift in the Salvation Army’s focus towards social welfare. It is this shift that enabled the organisation to grow into the treasured charity we know today, and helped transform William Booth from one of the most vilified men of the nineteenth century into its saint.