With God on Their Side: William Booth, The Salvation Army and Skeleton Army Riots

By James Gardner

Fresh research sheds light on the violent opposition faced by the Salvation Army in the late nineteenth century.

ISBN: 9780718895914


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.

Additional information

Dimensions 254 × 156 mm
Pages 280
Illustrations 27 b&w

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Trade Information LPOD

About the Author

James Gardner is a local historian, retired teacher and social worker. He gives regular talks to history and general interest groups along the South coast and has previously written books on the history of the Sussex Lunatic Asylum (formerly St Francis Hospital, Haywards Heath), the Brighton Workhouses, the first two British Railway murders and a biography of the late Johnny Haynes, the ex-England football captain.


List of Illustrations
Author’s Note


1. The Salvation Army
2. Widespread Opposition and Prison
3. The Birth of the Skeleton Army, 1881
4. Hell in Honiton, 1882–84
5. London and the East End, 1882–83
6. Worthing, 1884
7. Brighton, 1884
8. Torquay, 1886–88
9. Chipping Norton, 1887–88
10. Eastbourne, 1891–92



Endorsements and Reviews

A very important piece of historical research.
Dr Peter Jackson, formerly Senior Lecturer in History, University of Brighton

With God on Their Side is by far the most comprehensive account to date of the opposition faced by Salvationists in the south of England during the 1880s and early 1890s. Well-written, well-researched, and balanced in its assessments, James Gardner’s book is required reading for anyone wishing to understand the Salvation Army’s remarkable beginnings in Victorian Britain.
Andrew M. Eason, Associate Professor of Religion and Director of the Centre for Salvation Army Studies, Booth University College, Winnipeg, Canada

James Gardner, a local historian of the south coast of England, carefully documents the organised opposition to the work of the Salvation Army by ‘the Skeleton Army’…The account of this ‘forgotten history’ is rich in details of who did what, when, and the results in terms of court cases and sentences of prison or fines.
Chris Sugden, Evangelicals Now, June 2022

The book looks at the hostility The Salvation Army faced in the 1880s and 1890s, particularly on the south coast of England, in an engaging and accessible style. Gardner brings to life a period when Salvationists were derided in the press as ‘hyper-zealous fanatics … bawling music as discordant as a colony of rooks’. Early chapters contain a concise account of Salvation Army origins and the opposition against it.
Steven Spencer, Salvationist UK, 2 July 2022