Friday, 8 March 2013


The great question in most churches which are at all earnest in their work, is how to reach the masses. This isn't some present-day church growth report; it comes from an English newspaper, the Northern Daily Express, of 4th March 1879, and concerns events in Gateshead.

The journalist comments that the section of the community that lies outside the usual compass of religious life comprised most of the audience. More unusual still, the work which experienced ministers and the ordinary agencies of churches had failed in, has been attempted by a few young women. These were the “Hallelujah Lasses”, the stormtroopers of the early Salvation Army.

Some six or eight weeks ago, about half-a-dozen young women made a raid under the banner of a Gospel mission among the lowest classes in the town, and they have succeeded in the most remarkable manner... They have got such a hold upon the masses as to tame some of the worst of the characters. A thorough transformation has been effected in the lives of some of the most thoughtless, depraved and criminal.

These women, most in their twenties, hired music-halls for their meetings. Despite the sneers from all sides, within a short time these places were filled to overflowing for three hours, and hundreds are unable to gain admission. The journalist gives a detailed account of two meetings, which you can read here.

What can have enabled these Salvation Army girls to achieve such breakthroughs? Much comes down to the 'first love' fire of a new movement in the flower of its vigour. But we must see in action here the twin elements of BLOOD and FIRE that were to become the Army's motto. A total conviction of the power of Jesus' redeeming blood to save even the worst, together with the freshness of the Holy Spirit's filling (for which Salvationists spent whole nights of prayer) kept them pressing into territory where other feared to go, and expecting results.

They also used the power of personal testimony. The journalist tells of the roughest and most criminal of people glorifying God for their soul's salvation. And the Army used the passion of youth: One youth, who is evidently not more than fourteen, is quite a phenomenon, and certainly has a marvellous utterance for one so young and inexperienced. On Saturday night, we were told, he spoke for twenty minutes, and carried the audience so fully away with him, that in the midst of his address three or four persons went up to the penitent form [benches placed at the front of the hall, where people could come and kneel, pray, repent and receive personal prayer].

The journalist concludes, perceptively, that what is needed in the work now is consolidation - some agency to carry the converts beyond the few simple truths they have got hold of, and to give them an interest in the work when the excitement of the change and the effort has passed away.


  1. Absolutely! When William and Catherine Booth finally came to the area in April 1879, it was estimated that around 9000 people (mostly drawn from “the masses”) attended the various meetings held by the Hallelujah Lasses in Gateshead and Newcastle. On one Sunday, in Gateshead alone, 140 persons - many of whom were well known to the police - were led to God and repented of their sins.

  2. An interesting postscript is that the Alexandra Music Hall in Gateshead, which had been used by the Hallelujah Lasses for meetings, never reopened again as a music hall, becoming instead a Salvation Army barracks!

  3. Of course, William & Catherine Booth were already well-known on Tyneside too. He had been a Methodist New Connexion Minister in 1860 in Felling, Gateshead, Windy Nook and Fife Street Chapels.
    Richard Jennings
    Bede Methodist Circuit Archivist