Penny Gaff, Limehouse - Salvation Army (1869)

This is the Salvation Army's first mission branch after Whitechapel. These are excerpts from monthly reports from this Salvation Army station.


Among the many mischievous agencies which seem devised for no other purpose than that of corrupting and destroying the pure and virtuous instincts of youth, none have proved more fatal than the Penny Gaff. The arch-enemy of mankind could not have contrived a more effectual or destructive weapon with which to completely undo the work of the ragged school or the Sunday class and lure the children of the poor into the darkened paths of sin and crime. Wherever established the presence of the Penny Gaff has invariably been found to produce a moral blight in the whole neighbourhood, seriously counteracting the work of the servants of God and ceaselessly sowing the seeds of future lifelong misery. The Limehouse Penny Gaff has been no exception to the rule. Situated in one of the largest East End thoroughfares, in the very heart of a densely populated neighbourhood, it has for years exercised the terribly evil effect on the impressionable minds of thousands of its juvenile frequenters, impregnating the inexperienced young with an irresistible desire for the evil company of thieves, prostitutes and other children of vice and crime. The ribaldry and blasphemy, which were here to be heard from the lips of boys and girls, have been described as dreadful, sickening even old and hardened sweaters. Two or three performances generally took place each evening and while one was going on, those who were to form the audience of the next audience huddled indiscriminately together in a low, ill-lighted cellar, where the language and demeanour of both sexes were horrible and revolting in the extreme. This cellar was a perfect pandemonium of vice, worthy of Sodom and Gomorrah and from its hordes of child frequenters were constantly recruited the teeming ranks of fallen and miserable women, who drag on a wretched existence in the many houses of ill fame, which are to be found within a stone's throw of the gaff.

From, 'The East London Evangelist', October 1868, page 10/11.


For twelve months past I have greatly desired to secure this place, (opposite Limehouse Church, Commercial Road, a description of which is contained in a previous paper,) for a mission station, and have made two or three attempts to do so but insurmountable difficulties prevented. At length, however, in the good providence of God, the way is open and I now hasten to lay the matter before the Lord's people and to ask their prayers, thanksgiving, and help in the undertakings.

From, 'The East London Evangelist', October 1868, page 16

NEVER was there a more blessed transformation than this. During the past month there have been showers of blessings. Sunday night, October the 25th, was a very stormy one. The wind blew a hurricane and the rain came down in torrents.' nevertheless, the friends turned out, and held a meeting in the open air. We were passing on our way to Poplar at the time and were surprised to see what a crowd had gathered and felt we never need despair of getting a congregation in any weather after that. We walked in amongst a few who lingered after our friends had left for the hall, and overheard a navvy say to his two mates, "\Vel!, we might as well go, we must get under cover somehow;" and so they followed to the meeting. That night our Brother Owen spoke and God helped him. The Spirit of God came down upon the people like the rain upon the mown grass; thirteen anxious souls professed to find peace, and many others wept and promised to come again.

Another brother writes as follows, concerning a subject of a later date:-

I have just a word or two to say respecting the progress of the work of God, last Sunday, at the once-notorious Penny Gaff, Limehouse. In the morning, there was a comfortable atten­dance and the Lord's people found it a precious time. While Jesus was being exalted, several shed tears of joy at the thought of his exultation and glory. In the afternoon we had a good company and a good meeting, but at night God seemed to open the very flood-gates of heaven. For three-quarters of an hour, the attention of the people was riveted while the preacher spoke on the woe of the last day, and the wrath of the Lamb. At the conclusion of the service, most of the crowded congregation retained their seats and remained for prayer. As Brother Knott pleaded, in an agony, for the Holy Spirit on the sinners present, one young woman sobbed bitterly and came forward to be prayed with. Altogether, there were eleven seeking mercy. It was a happy and blessed night.

From, 'The East London Evangelist', December 1868, page 43

The Lord He is hearing and saving many in Limehouse. Good Friday was a time of refreshing. We commenced with a prayer meeting at 6 a.m, then in strong force in the open-air, back again to the hall where we had a red-hot love-feast for body and soul a t7.30- hot cross buns and tea for the body and God's rich blessing for the soul. One man got saved from 55 years' sins and testified for Christ with tears flowing freely. "I don't know why I did come in, but I am glad I did, for the Lord has saved my soul," was the remark he made. At 3.30 we began again; and took tea together at 5; public meeting at 7; hall near full; many of our own people testified; it was the best Good Friday they had ever seen. At the close, three dear men came seeking the Saviour.

Also, Easter Sunday, although very wet, God was with us and many souls were washed in the blood of the Lamb. 

April 5th, before the believer's meeting at our open-air stand, the power of God came down and many were convinced. We invited the anxious to come to the hall, and three men and two women wept their way to Calvary. On Sunday night a brother was convinced of sin in the open-air, came to the hall and stayed during the service. Before we had done singing he came to the front and threw himself at the feet of Jesus; he was dressed in white, but the dear Lord soon made him whiter inside than ho was out.

Four others followed him and got blessedly saved. One was a lady 74 years of age, who said she had been a member with the - - for many years, but not saved; may each of them be kept faithful to the end.

From, 'The Christian Mission Magazine,' May 1877, page 135.

(They seem to have struggled for some time, but there were good signs at the end of 1879)

For future reports see, 'The War Cry' which began January 1880

Additional Information

The magazine says it was opposite the church in Commercial Road. Ann 1888 map shows a mission hall marked where the marker is on the map. I assume this is the same venue.

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