Gateshead - Salvation Army (1879)

This is an early monthly report from the Salvation Army station here.

FOR a long time we have been looking with longing eyes in the direction of this place, and at last have opened fire with a glorious prospect. Sisters Atkinson and Boyce were sent forward and on the 29th December,

The Town Hall, seating some 800, was well filled; there was a good meeting; conviction and seven precious souls. This was a good start. In the Alexandra Hall, which we occupy for weeknights, holding 400, there have been wonderful crowds, wonderful sights and sounds, and scenes of salvation every night. Hundreds unable to get in. Hallelujah!

Following telegram from Sister Atkinson did us good at headquarters: -

"Crowded house six hours. Must get larger place. Hundreds obliged to leave. God is working. Sinners are weeping - wire back." Immediately we desired enquiries should be made for another place, and accordingly, Brothers Corbridge and Crow have taken the People's Music Hall, seating, we hear, from 800 to 1,000. This will be used by us both Sundays and weekdays.

Another sister has been ordered up, and we expect to hear of marvellous doings on that side of the Tyne.

Latest.-"Dear Sir,-Anxious for you to know how wonderfully God is working upon the hearts of the people in Gateshead, glory be to God. Last night we had 13 souls, and the dear people seemed, as it were, stuck to their seats, believing for a mighty smash up. Lord keep us believing. Amen and Amen. The music hall will be opened on Sunday (God willing). Let us know as soon as possible the name of the sister that is coming.

From, 'The Salvationist', February 1879, page 37.

On Saturday night, February 2nd, nearly seventy souls professed to find peace in the three places, which are well attended every night.

On Sunday morning we spent nearly two hours in singing through the streets, and, although it was a dreadful snowy morning, I suppose we never had less than 500 people. We sang through twelve long streets of about forty houses on each side; two streets of about eighty houses on each side; six streets of twenty-five houses on each side, besides two main streets at each end of the streets, with about 500 houses altogether. We sang and preached to the people in about 5,000 houses, and in many there would be two or three families, but suppose they averaged five in each family in 5,000 houses, we must have preached to at least 25,000 people that morning; meetings all day, and about sixty souls at night. The Hallelujah Lasses have thirty or forty souls every night at Gateshead.

From, 'The Salvationist', March 1879, page 80.

THE following article from the Northern Daily Express, March 4th, describes our Gateshead services and is valuable, not as gwing anything like a complete account of the marvellous work which is going on, which indeed baffles all description, but as being the testimony of an unprejudiced outsider..

The Hallelujah Lasses and their Work.

A somewhat remarkable religious revival has been going on in Gateshead for some weeks past. The great question in most churches that are at all earnest in their work, is how to reach the masses. In Gateshead, the masses predominate and some of the worst features of the lower class dominate amongst them.

To reach the section of the community that lie outside of the usual pale of religious life was the object sought. The work was one on which the ordinary agencies of the churches had failed, but the agency was an extraordinary one. What aged and experienced ministers and old-established agencies with the most complete church organisation, and backed by established and well-supported churches had failed to do, was to be attempted by a few young women unconnected with any denomination that had already a local name and habitation in Gateshead.

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 in their object. 'The Hallelujah Lasses' have had for their audiences the class of persons that are rarely found in churches or chapels between the two extremes of life - the cradle and the grave when they are brought to be baptised and to be buried. They have done more than that, they have got such a hold upon the masses as to tame some of the worst of the class, and for the moment at least - and it may be for life, they have succeeded in changing their habits and ways most completely. A thorough transformation has been effected in the lives of some of the most, thoughtless, depraved, and criminal.

These true sisters of mercy, are modest, unassuming women, apparently between twenty and thirty years of age. Dressed in black, but not ostentatiously severe in their attire, and with black bonnets and veils that are thrown back, which give a grace to their head attire, there is not much to attract attention in their garb, beyond what is sufficient to indicate that they are missioners. A white neck tie rather relieves the melancholy of the black garments and is well suited to the placid and pleasant faces of the 'sisters' for they are remarkable for the serenity and sweetness which seems the characteristics of each.

Belonging to none of the denominations that have a 'cause' in Gateshead, they were driven, even if their mission had not been to the lowly, to find preaching places out of the ordinary course. The work in which they are engaged is not a new one, the mission in Gateshead is not a new experiment with them, but the carrying out of an old experience, and with them, Music Halls and Theatres in the worst parts of the town are what they seek. The Music Hall in the Bottle Bank; thE Alexandra Hall, in Oakwellgate and Bethesda School-room, Melbourne Street, were taken, and there, unrecognised by the churches, despised by the press, and sneered at by many people, they have laboured for some weeks past until the fame of their work has got noised abroad, is the topic of every workshop, and nightly these places are filled to overflowing for three hours, and hundreds are unable to gain admisssion, while on Sundays the Town Hall and the Temperance Hall have been added to the two music halls and are filled to overflowing.

The stories that are being told of the conversions among the factory hands, of the changes that are being made in their habits - their lives and their language - are in themselves wonderful illustrations of the singular and powerful influence that this seemingly weak and feeble agency has wrought.

The Town Hall.

Wishing to see how this transformation, which the police and the publicans alike are noting, as well as the heads of workshops, had been affected, we looked into the Town Hall on Sunday night. The ordinary service was over, and a prayer meeting was going on. A little extravagance we expected to find, but all was as quiet as a Methodist prayer meeting. At intervals, revival hymns were sung and prayers were offered up by some who were apparently new converts, and whose religious vocabulary was evidently limited. The 'penitent-form' was there, but as one of the sisters said, there was no merit in it, but coming to it, was an open manifestation of the determination by the help of God to make a change for the better. Earnest but quiet was the appeal and while one of the sisters conducted the proceedings, another went among the audience, asking as we heard, with a tenderness and earnestness of inquiry that no doubt touched many a rough nature, and would allay any irritation that might at first arise in some breasts at such an inquisitorial question, 'Are you saved?'

There was nothing to find fault within the service - nothing but what is seen at revival meetings, whether held by Methodists or Churchmen. But this meeting was held on a Sunday night and in the Town Hall, where the day and the place might repress any extravagance of manner, such as had been hinted at; although it was quite true that among the persons taking an active part in the meeting were some who it was evident had not always been at the work, and we found afterwards that not a few had been better known to the policeman than to any priest, parson, or preacher in the town.

The Music Hall.

We determined to see the work on a work-day, and under the worst or best conditions, and so we went to the Music Hall, in Bottle Bank. A policeman kept order in the passage, for the place was filled and the people waiting could only get in as room was made by the retirement of some of the audience. The doors were kept locked, still further to save the audience from the disturbance that always attend a meeting which is so packed, that some people at the door are always clamouring for room, or disturbing the meeting by quarrelling with those around them in their ineffectual endeavours to get within earshot.

The hall is a large room, fitted up with boxes, pit, and gallery. Decay and delapidation were visible everywhere. On the stage sat the two sisters and a number of men and women. The hall was packed, but by such a congregation as is never seen in a church. The pit was filled with men. From our position we could not see a woman amongst them. There was no doubt as to the class to which they belonged. Hard work, poverty, care, and anxiety - the wrinkled, prematurely old, and hard faces, which sin and vice and crime, with the want that precedes or succeeds them among the lower classes, were everywhere to be seen in the two or three hundred men that composed the pit congregation. The boxes were filled with a more miscellaneous assemblage--a class a little higher in the scale and men and women were together, and women with children in their arms.

All were, however, remarkably quiet and orderly, but if they had not been, there were men there to maintain order and such a lot of churchwardens, deacons, and door-keepers as are rarely seen, but they appeared to perform their allotted parts with a heartiness that was really surprising, considering the appearance of the men and the character of the work. It was an experience meeting; and one after another the occupants of the stage stepped forward and told of the change that are taken place in them and they urged the audience to follow their example. Between each address a verse was sung of some revival hymn or the weird melodies of the jubilee singers, always started by one of the “sisters” and while it was being sung the brother or sister who was to tell what the Lord had done for him or her came unasked and took his or her place at the front of the platform. Some of the confessions of their faith was simple enough and short enough. Sometimes it was a simple acknowledgement of the change, but it must’ve been a trial in itself for the novice to make such a confession before some of his comrades. Occasionally the first effort of speechifying were too ludicrously a failure for even the gravity of such an uncritical and inexperienced audience in regard to public oratory, but it was suppressed in a moment as soon as one of the young women raised her hand.

One young woman spoke with great effect. Her dialect at first rather amused the audience, but as the saying is, a pin might have been heard drop during one portion of her address and the keen, earnest, eager looks of that host of vice stamped countenances, as she reasoned of “righteousness and judgement to come“ with a description of a shipwreck, as an illustration, was not a sight to be forgotten nor a result to be despised. One young man, without any polish of language but great earnestness and Great earnestness of expression, said it was a month since he was converted and it had been the happiest month he had ever experienced. And so the service went on and it was evident that to many of both speakers and hearers they had the sweet experience of a new sensation, and a gleam – faint that might be - of a higher and better life. The theology taught was of the simplest kind. The heinousness of sin and its consequences, the mercy of God and the full and free manner in which it was offered to all, were the themes alike of the speeches and the hymns. With heartiness the people sang The hymns, many had hymnbooks, but varied as were the hymns and difficult as were some of the tunes, they seemed to be well known to many in the meeting.

Whatever may be the ultimate outcome of the movement – two or three things must be admitted about the “Hallelujah Lasses,“ – a phrase which while it takes with a class, is apt to lower the young women in the estimation of some people and gives them a sensational and apparently bold and audacious character, but the young women appear to be modest but earnest, and more ready to see the result of the labours than to be seen in it. The masses can be reached, that is evident and the classes that even Messrs Sankey and Moody failed to reach, with the aid of all the church agencies in the town, have been reached and moved by these young women.

There was a marvellous contrast between the young women and their surroundings, as great as was the confession of faith in Christ in the mouths of some of the speakers. Close cropped heads, the neck muffler and the whole appearance of the men were so contrary to confessions usually associated with white neckcloths and black cloth. Whether the work be permanent or not, not a few people have had a gleam of heavenly light thrown upon their path and if the darkness of vice or crime should again enshroud them, yet, like one of the speakers who had fallen away in temptation, they will remember with pleasure and mourn over the loss of that sweet experience of a life somewhat in harmony with the divine law and it may in the end lead them back to the purer life.

The Alexandra Hall

Leaving the Music Hall in the Bottle bank and the two young women doing their mission alone, with the aid of their converts, for other aid seemed conspicuous by its absence, we went to the Alexandra Music Hall, in Oakwellgate-chare. Here also the door was kept locked until room could be made by people leaving the hall and a policeman kept the door clear of the crowd that pressed to get in whenever the door opened. The congregation was composed of rather a higher class of the neighbouring population and on the platform are a few persons who have been long identified with religious movements in the borough. The addresses were more pointed and lengthy, but of a similar type, but strange to say the audience was not quite so much under control, the arrangement of the hall not permitting the young woman who had charge of this meeting to have the whole congregation so completely under her eye, and a great many people were standing, and the moving about was greater.

Old and young told their story of spiritual transformation, and a mere boy spoke with singular fluency and power. He began by singing a verse and interspersed his address with another verse, admirably chosen, too, and the speech, was not a prepared one, for he referred in appropriate terms to an announcement that had just before been made that the sister who led that meeting was about to leave for Wales to carry on a mission there. The youth, who is evidently not more than fourteen, if so much, 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. We have heard many worse addresses -less appropriate and with less earnestness - from old and experienced speakers.

The Bethesda School.

We next visited the gathering in the schoolroom beneath Bethesda Chapel. This meeting was also crowded, and the two young women who had charge of the meeting were singing a duet together. Very sweetly they sang, and then, after a short address, a prayer meeting was held, and preparations were made for receiving converts or persons seeking salvation, as it is called. The audience here was a shade higher than in the last music hall we visited, but human nature is human nature all the world over and men who feel burdoned with a sense of sin act very much alike, whether draped in fustian or broadcloth and under like circumstances they act alike.

In none of the places was there, on the part of those engaged, any extravagances other than those seen under like conditions in an ordinary revival gathering; but considering the character of the congregations and the want of settled organisation under which the movement is carried on, the wonder is not that there is some want of reverence occasionally in some of the persons present, for it must not be forgotten that some of the worst people in the town have gone out of curiosity, or to scoff, and have remained to pray. Considering the material, the results are marvellous. If the goodness should be, as of old, like the morning cloud and the early dew, so evanescent, some of it must abide; and what is wanted in the work 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.

From, 'The Salvationist', April 1879, pages 95-98.

Oh, Hallelujah! This past month has been one of glorious victory.

From, 'The Salvationist', September 1879, page 249.

This still going on, but if one wants to see future reports see 'The War Cry' which began January 1880.

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