Gateshead - Salvation Army (1879)


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 lies outside of the usual pale of religious life was the object sought. The work was one on which the ordinary agencies of 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 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 the missioners. A white necktie 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 with seem 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 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 admission; 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 publicans alike are noting, as well as the heads of the 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 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 the 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 which 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 had 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 were simple enough and short enough. Sometimes it was a simple acknowledgement of the change, but it must have 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 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 undoubted honesty 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 so many of both speakers and hearers they had the sweet experience of a new sensation; and a gleam - faint though it 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 hymn books, 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 their labours than to be seen in it. The masses can be reached, that is evident, and the class 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 policemen 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 labouring population, and on the platform were 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 been made that the sister who led the 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 were in 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 the men who feel burdened 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.


reprinted in GATESHEAD OBSERVER, SATURDAY 8th MARCH 1879 and THE SALVATIONIST, APRIL 1879. This has been taken from Andy Williams helpful website:

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