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Updated:  01 July 2011 

'To do all the good you can to all the souls you can'.

The 51st Corps of the Salvation Army was formed at Plymouth in July 1878 and was followed in 1880 by the Morice Town Corps at Devonport.

For the first few years the Plymouth corps met in the St James Hall, Union Street; the Central hall in Phoenix Street; the Albert Hall at Eldad; and the St Andrew's Hall in Westwell Street.  Then in 1886 General William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, opened their own premises in Martin Street.  Variously known as the Congress Hall, the Citadel or the Barracks, it was built by Mr Isaac Foot, the builder, on the basis of a handshake:  Mr Booth had no money and Mr Foot had no work.  The cost of the premises was 4,700.  The first commander was Mr James Dowdle, who became known by the locals as "Hallelujah Fiddler".

Over at Devonport Captain Joseph de Ban, or de Bau, was holding the first meeting outside the Devonport Market but it was interrupted by Mr Thomas Cannaford, a butcher in Saint Aubyn Street, who objected to the preaching.  The landlord of the Butchers' Arms Public House in Cross Street, Mr Greenslade Medland, summoned the police, who carted the Captain off to gaol.

Over time things settled down and the first Salvation Army band in Plymouth was formed in 1884.  As the movement grew so too did the number of meeting places.  The former Methodist Chapel in Gloucester Street, Devonport, was leased from the Saint Aubyn estate in 1887; a hall was opened in Granby Street, Devonport in 1900 and another in Exeter Street, Plymouth, in 1905.

The Salvation Army Hall in Granvy Street, Devonport, 1958.

The Salvation Army Hall in Granby Street, Devonport, 1958.
  Plymouth City Museum & Art Gallery.

On August 20th 1912 the founder of the Salvation Army, Mr William Booth, died and was succeeded by his son, Mr William Bramwell Booth.  He died in 1929.

The Congress Hall in Martin Street was bombed during the night of April 22nd/23rd 1941 and the Army moved to an old Baptist Chapel in Portland Villas.  This building had been purchased by Mr H G Hurrell after the Baptist congregation had moved out many years earlier and he, on behalf of the Trustees, presented the premises to the salvation Army at a ceremony on Saturday August 2nd 1941.  The official opening was undertaken by Mr Victor Winnicott in the presence of the divisional commander, Lieutenant-Colonel P Polley.  'The enemy have been trying to overcome the morale of the people,' said Mr Winnicott, 'but this is a fine example of how they have failed.  We all have our job to do and it is very encouraging to know that the Salvation Army will not know defeat.'  [1]

During the reconstruction of Plymouth after the Second World War, a new Congress Hall was opened in Armada Way by General Wilfred Kitching.   That was on Saturday April 23rd 1960.  The building cost 69,000 but the General was not happy about its location next to the YMCA.  'I wish that was a public-house and not a YMCA,' he is reported to have told his capacity audience: 'and then we should feel we were in good company.  We have no quarrel with the YMCA but the Salvation Army is interested in the redemption of men and women.'   Among those present were Mrs Kitching; the Lord Mayor of Plymouth, Alderman P N Washbourn; Mr Isaac Foot, the son of the Mr Isaac Foot, the builder of the original Congress Hall; Miss Joan Vickers, Member of Parliament for Devonport; and Mr Ian Fraser, the MP for Sutton.

Soon afterwards, on Saturday May 7th 1960, a new hall was opened in Haddington Road, Devonport, by Miss Joan Vickers, the local Member of Parliament.  The Morice Town Corps had marched from the site of the old hall in Gloucester Street to the new premises.  This Hall had cost 28,892 11s 6d, which was higher than expected because during the construction a bomb crater was discovered on the site.  Only 3,225 had been received in war damage compensation for the Gloucester Street building.  Brigadier Arthur Gray, the divisional commander, conducted the service and the Reverend F C Pound read the prayers.

Finally, on Wednesday June 16th 1965 the "Red Shield House" was opened in Park Avenue, Devonport.  The ribbon, in the Army's colours, was cut by the Commissioner W F Cooper.  The building was designed by Colonel W H Charles, the staff architect, and constructed at a cost of 139,000 to replace the former naval and military hostel at Rosyth House.  There were 50 bedrooms plus a further 22 bed-sitting rooms, a canteens seating 80, a dinging-room for 50 and various recreation rooms.  [2]

The founder's grand-daughter, Catherine Bramwell-Booth died on October 4th 1987.


[1]  "New Home for Salvation Army in City", Western Evening Herald, Plymouth, August 4th 1941.

[2]  "Crowds see Salvation Army Hotel Opened", Western Morning News, Plymouth, June 17th 1965.

  Brian Moseley, Plymouth, UK

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