Just north of the River Thames at the East end of the medieval walled City of London, clusters of villages were at one time surrounded by farmland. Then with the construction of docks and a railway, the expanding population led to extreme overcrowding and poor conditions.

“The invention about 1880 of the term ‘East End’ was rapidly taken up by the new halfpenny press, and in the pulpit and the music hall… A shabby man from Paddington, St. Marylebone or Battersea might pass muster as one of the respectable poor,” William Fishman wrote in East End 1888 (AKPress, 1998). “But the same man coming from Bethnal Green, Shadwell or Wapping was an ‘East Ender,’ the box of Keating’s bug powder must be reached for, and the spoons locked up. In the long run this cruel stigma came to do good. It was final incentive to the poorest to get out of the East End at all costs, and it became a concentrated reminder to the public conscience that nothing to be found in the East End should be tolerated in a Christian country.”

As conditions worsened and waves of immigrants—French Protestant Huguenots, Irish, Ashkenazi Jews, and Bangladeshi—poured in, the area eventually caught the attention of social reformers.

In the 1800s, the Association for Promoting Cleanliness among the Poor built a penny bathhouse and laundry facility, a Ragged School offered basic education to street children, and dock workers unionized and demanded a fair hourly rate.

And in 1865, William Booth set up a tent and began preaching personal evangelism and practical philanthropy. He called it the Christian Revival Association, then East London Christian Mission, and finally The Salvation Army.

As a preacher, Booth wasn’t only concerned with a man’s soul. He and his wife, Catherine, worked to address the social issues of late Victorian England, particularly in the East End. He was influenced by John Wesley’s belief that “The Gospel of Christ knows of no religion, but social; no holiness but social.”

The Booths opened soup kitchen, a match factory with a safe environment and decent wages, and a bank for the poor. He spent time in the worst slums of the East End, and finally distributed a plan of social welfare. In Darkest England and the Way Out, which Booth wrote with journalist W. T. Stead in 1890, sold 200,000 copies in its first year. It explored “the Social Question” of how to deal with the poor, destitute, and unemployed.

Booth wrote, “A population sodden with drink, steeped in vice, eaten up by every social and physical malady, these are the denizens of Darkest England amidst whom my life has been spent, and to whose rescue I would now summon all that is best in the manhood and womanhood of our land.”

His social campaign was illustrated (page 18), displaying the eight elements of suffering Booth aimed to address from prostitution to criminals, drink or destitution. In this issue, we’re exploring The Salvation Army’s history of social service and featuring current work that still addresses what Booth outlined in his plan.

“Coupled with passionate caring, actually getting the drowning out of their difficulty has been a core value of Salvation Army social services since the beginning,” Dr. James Read, executive director of The Salvation Army Ethics Centre and senior policy analyst for the International Social Justice Commission, writes in his exploration of the organization’s aim (page 19). “Admittedly, the world is more complex than it was a century ago…Making a difference today is genuinely hard work.”

Yet the organization has always had one goal.

As Evangeline Booth wrote, “Service is our watchword, and there is no reward equal to that of doing the most good to the most people in the most need.”