Portland Hall, Southsea - Catherine Booth (1873)



'Mrs Booth commenced her meetings in the Portland Hall, Southsea on March 2nd, 1873, but although accommodating nearly 1,000 persons, this was found to be far too small for the crowds who flocked to it every Sunday night. 

‘Hearing that there was a large musical about a mile distance, she decided to engage it. Her friends objected to the character of the building, in which during the week low entertainments were carried on, attended by soldiers, sailors, their companions and all the riffraff of the town. Moreover, the situation of the hall was such that in order to go there it was necessary to pass down streets which were full of drinking dens and brothels. But in the estimation of Mrs Booth these reports rather added to the attractiveness of the proposal. And if, as was confidently prophesied, ordinary respectable congregations would not follow her to such a locality, she felt that she could, at least, have the satisfaction of securing the attention and salvation of some of the worst and most gospel needy classes in the town. As for the expectation of rowdyism, the Whitechapel experiences had rendered her fear-proof on that score.

Conspicuous posters were accordingly put up and handbills distributed announcing the first service, with the result that on Sunday night the music hall was crowded to suffocation – pit, dress circle and gallery. From that day to the conclusion of the series, which extended over a period of 17 weeks, no further advancements were necessary; the interest never wavered and the attendance continually increased, large numbers being unable to gain admission.’

600 gave in their names and probably hundreds more received Salvation elsewhere.

A letter to Mrs Billups, March 1873,

My precious friend, – you will think me long in sending you any intelligence of my whereabouts, but you can hardly imagine how I’ve been kept going every moment since I came here. Well, bless the Lord! Amidst it all He holds me up and gives me great encouragement. The battle waxes great and hot, but He continues to use the “weak things to confound the mighty“. All the glory be to His holy name. Our move to the music hall has proved to be the right step. Both Sunday nights it has been crowded to the ceiling, 3000 people in it at least and a very large majority of them men. The crowd in the street has been such that the outer doors have had to be fastened and it has been all that two policeman could do to keep order. The attention inside has been profound – as orderly as a regular congregation – and in the judgement of our friends the Word has been with mighty power.

Sunday night week 28 souls came forward for salvation and there are numbers of convicted souls all over the place. Last sabbath not so many came out, but I believe quite as much execution for eternity was done. On Tuesday night I had a small hall, holding about 700 and we were crowded through the anterooms and down the stairs and 16 or 18 cases, some of them the finest as far as it was ever my privilege to see at a penitent form. Tomorrow night I am to have the Baptist chapel, lent for the occasion, which will hold 1000 people. I doubt not which will be full. Oh for power to break down every stubborn heart in the place! Pray for me. No one knows how I feel. I think I never realised my responsibility as I did on Sunday night. I felt really awful before rising to speak. The sight almost overwhelmed me. With its two galleries, it’s dome-like roof and vast proportions, when crammed with people it presents a most imposing appearance. The top gallery is 10 or 12 feet deep in front and it was full of men; such a sight as I’ve never witnessed on any previous occasion. Oh, how I yearned over them! I felt as if it would be a small thing to die there and then if that would’ve brought them to Jesus.

There are not many great or Noble called here. But, bless the Lord! With Him I can do without them. Only one minister in the town is at all favourable; the others are against the work, I hear, though there is a population of 150,000, and only Church and chapel accommodation for 30,000! Oh, what will they say when He maketh inquisition for the Blood? Well, I go on, minding the work the Master has given me to do and the more they oppose the more the people come. Because God is working.

From, 'Catherine Booth, mother of the Salvation Army', Volume II, by Booth-Tucker, pages 16-19.

Additional Information

The Hall was demolished after bomb damage during the war. The Hall was south of the Portland Hotel.

I do not know where the music hall was.