William and Catherine Booth

William Booth in Lincolnshire 1852-54

David Malcolm Bennett

(A fuller account of this appears in
David Malcolm Bennett’s The General, vol. 1:113-40.)


In the autumn of 1852 William Booth had no job, no money, and no foreseeable future. No one would have considered him a future religious leader, no one that is except Catherine Mumford. It was perhaps the deepest depth into which Booth’s life plunged. The prospect of reasonable usefulness, let alone greatness, seemed totally out of reach. Yet he was not entirely without hope. Whilst stating that the circumstances surrounding the early period of their engagement had “indeed been gloomy”, he could tell Catherine that “dark beginnings” often had “bright endings”. He also told her that

If we wish to accomplish anything great in the world ‘twill not be sufficient that we dream about it, we must act and we must to action now. We may sit by the fireside or doze in the sunbeams thinking about what we would like to be until we die in our nothingness; everything may be done if we are prepared to pay the price of toil for it. (1)

And William Booth and his future wife were “prepared to pay the price”.

At about this time William Booth was also down to his last sixpence. This he gave to a poor woman whose daughter was sick. His financial situation would have meant that he would have to have vacated the premises in which he was living, and there are hints in some of his later correspondence with Catherine that he then moved in with the Mumford family. Possible confirmation of this is that they do not appear to have written to each other for three-and-a-half months following August 13.

But, as so often happens, when things look blackest a light suddenly relieves the gloom. In November, he received an invitation from some Methodist Reformers in Spalding in the county of Lincolnshire, near his native Nottingham, to be their minister. It would seem that he had been considering this position for a number of weeks, but negotiations had been delayed because at least two of his letters to this group had gone missing. (2)


He accepted the offer, it seems, with little hesitation, determined to give it at least a year-long trial, even though it meant being separated from Catherine. In the end that separation was for almost fifteen months, until mid-February 1854. During 1853 Booth did manage to visit Catherine for short periods in May and September, and possibly again for a few days at Christmas. Though they thought of and discussed the possibility of Catherine paying a visit to Lincolnshire, Victorian propriety effectively forbade it. Their loss because of this prolonged separation, however, is our gain, for a torrent of letters passed between them, and most of the available information about Booth’s ministry during this period comes from those letters. In addition to the letters, for details of his time in Lincolnshire we will be drawing upon his diary, kept during the later stages of his Spalding ministry, and his autobiographical notes, written many years later. Both of these documents have since been destroyed, but are recorded in part in some of the earlier Booth biographies. (3)

From the end of November 1852 Booth was based in the Lincolnshire town of Spalding, but he was also responsible for a number of other churches in the south-eastern area of that county near The Wash. He was even to minister on occasions in Boston, Catherine’s hometown. This area was a stronghold of the Methodist Reformers. But that denomination, if denomination it could be called at this early stage, was in a state of flux. During the preceding three years, hundreds of people from that part of the country had left Wesleyan Methodism and gone over to the Reformers, while many others had remained loyal to the parent body. At this time it was still not entirely clear which local chapel belonged to which group, nor were the loyalties of every preacher clearly spelled out. In one prominent family in Holbeach the husband was a Reformer while his wife’s sympathies were still with “the Conference” (the Wesleyans). But it was estimated that at this time the Spalding Circuit of the Methodist Reformers had about 600 members.

Booth travelled to Spalding by train on Tuesday, 30 November, a very cold winter’s day. On the journey he found himself in conversation with a couple who were slandering a Mr. Noble of Boston, a man known to and respected by Catherine. Booth came to his defense “and shut their mouths”. (4)

The Spalding region is very fertile and is noted for its farming and bulb fields, therefore many of the people Booth was to minister to were farmers. They welcomed him as though he “had been an angel sent from Heaven”, provided generously for his needs, and gave him the impression that they wanted him to stay forever. He excitedly reported to Catherine that, “My reception has been beyond my highest anticipations”, and told her that he had genuine hopes that the circuit would be all he wanted or needed.

The next day he wrote from neighboring Holbeach, “Made very welcome. Everybody seems delighted to see me … The prospects of the circuit are promising. Everywhere the signs of the times are good”. One host, he reported, “almost overpowered me with kindness, tea and toast, to none of which I had any objection”. (5) In one letter he advised Catherine that though the workload was very heavy, he could not imagine “matters” in any other circuit being “more to [his] taste”. (6) Another early letter to Catherine told her, “My position here is likely to be just to my own mind”. Circuit officials even seemed favourable to him getting married immediately and were prepared to furnish a house for him and Catherine. No doubt with that in mind, in the letter just mentioned, he suggested, rather unrealistically, that they get married in January 1853. (7) Yet an early wedding was probably never a real possibility.

His only real complaint in the early days, leaving aside uncertainty about the amount of money due to him and difficulty finding time to study, was that he was expected to walk many miles, travelling from preaching place to preaching place. There were numerous chapels in the area, which demanded his ministry, and the distances between them were sometimes considerable. On some occasions he was given lifts, later he rode a pony, but in the early days the only means usually open to him was to walk, which made great demands upon his limited physical strength, even allowing for the generally flat terrain of the region. Buses were available for some destinations, but one suspects not generally on a Sunday, the Christian Sabbath. The railways were still in their early days, and trains were only available for some destinations in Lincolnshire at that time.

The letters make it very clear that his first two weeks were very busy, and this set the tone for his time in Lincolnshire. He based his activities in Spalding, where initially his hosts were a chemist called Shadford and his wife. According to the letters, the Wednesday after his arrival Booth went to Holbeach near the coast, and preached in the evening with “little, very little liberty”. The next evening he went further inland to preach at Moulton to 18 listeners on the subject of the “uttermost salvation”. Here he was more encouraged and felt “a good influence”. (8)

Early Friday evening he travelled with a draper named Hardy in his gig to Weston Hills. Hardy was a local but this did not stop him getting lost on the dark, dirty roads. They eventually arrived about 30 minutes late, and of the original congregation of 50 about 20 had gone home because of the delay. Booth seems to have had a day off on Saturday, a fairly common occurrence. But for Sunday 5 December he returned to Holbeach, where he took both the morning and evening services. He preached on “the faithful saying” to “an excellent congregation” in the morning, and Booth reported to Catherine that “It went well, the people wept”. After the service he met with one of the classes and found “strong men … completely melted down”.

That afternoon he took the service at a nearby village called Fleet Fen in a house in which the tall Booth had difficulty standing upright, a problem he encountered on a number of occasions in Lincolnshire. He held about 50 tightly-packed hearers spell bound, while he told them “how ready Jesus was to save to the very uttermost all them that come unto God by Him”. In the evening at Holbeach he preached on Blind Bartimaeus with “some little liberty” and “four souls cried for mercy”. (9)

On Monday night he preached for the first time in Spalding. On Tuesday he preached with “little pleasure” in Donnington and the next day with “some liberty” in Risegate. On the next three days he went to Quadring Endike (four miles), Pinchbeck Bars (six miles), then back to Spalding (four and a half miles), presumably walking every inch of the way, and preaching in each place. It is not surprising that on Saturday afternoon he felt “somewhat tired”.

From either Donnington or Risegate he received a lift home “in a cart among a lot of jolly farmers, talking over the relative merits of England and America, Uncle Tom’s Cabin [published that year], agricultural distress and Disraeli’s budget”. (The disastrous 1852 budget was rejected by Parliament and caused the fall of the government.) Booth, it appears, took little part in this conversation. (10)


In her first still available letter to William in Spalding, Catherine encourages her fiancé that if his “heart is filled with the love of God” and he undertakes “a reasonable amount of study”, he was “bound to succeed.” (11) Her next was a lengthy missive in which she expressed concern about his working too hard. “They must lessen the labour”, she stated. “No man can sustain incessant toil without any recruiting time either mentally or physically, and you must tell them so after a time.” (12) This is a sentiment Catherine expressed to Booth many times in the following months, and Booth just as often ignored it.

Indeed, the “incessant toil” continued. On the morning of Sunday 12 December he preached without “much liberty” to a 500 strong congregation in Spalding, on “This is indeed the Christ”, a subject he continued that Monday night. Sunday afternoon and evening found him preaching in Gosberton. There the chapel was still in the hands of the Wesleyans, so the Reformers held their meetings in what Booth described as “a large, good room, capable of holding about 120”. It was crowded for the evening service. Mercifully, once more Booth received a lift to get to these places. (13)

Booth had apparently accepted the invitation to minister in the Spalding circuit without there being any agreement with regard to remuneration. His early letters make frequent mention of the problem, as do Catherine’s. Should he accept £60 a year if offered, or should he hold out for £80? Should he remain in Spalding if the pay was lower than expected?

Yet to Catherine there was a more important problem than money. In William’s early letters from Spalding Catherine had noticed that he seemed to experience “less liberty when preaching in the largest places, before the best congregations”, and suggested that he might be suffering from the “fear of man” and she urged him not “to give place to this feeling”. (14) There was probably some truth in that. Booth, whilst having little if any doubt about his calling at this time, was still aware of a lack of education, and this most probably did inhibit him when preaching to the larger congregations, where he knew would be found some people better educated than himself. Up to this stage, though he had experienced more schooling than many of his generation, he had never been to a ministerial training school and this, particularly with regard to such matters as the preparation of sermons, was a drawback.

Catherine, saw his lack of education as a serious difficulty. Booth had admitted in one letter to his fiancée that he was running out of ideas and material for sermons, and she offered to send him outlines of sermons that she had heard. But she recognised, more than he did, that this would not solve the problem; what was needed was the systematic study of the Bible and other suitable books. This she told him.

Catherine’s letters continued to urge him to study. Letter after letter in 1853 either makes a brief reminder to study or a more detailed instruction for him to do so. But William showed little inclination to do it. His excuse was usually that he was too busy to study more than a little, and this was true. However, probably the real reason he did not study much was simply a lack of desire to be a student. Booth was essentially a man of action rather than an academic. He would rather be preaching to the lost or counselling those concerned about their souls in the fervent Methodist prayer meetings, than reading books.

In the middle of December Booth was brought before the committee to discuss finance and other matters. Before he went in to the meeting he was asked how much he wanted per year, and again when he was in the meeting. Both times he answered £80. Various members of the committee stated that they were not in a strong enough financial position to pay that and various sums were mentioned including £65 and 62 pounds 10 shillings. Finally, Shadford proposed £70, which was “carried unanimously” and accepted by Booth. (15)

While this was not a princely sum, it was more than many of his fellow preachers and others were being paid. At around this time in London a casual tailor thought he was doing well if he received 6 shillings for a week’s work, and often earned less when things were slow. (16) The Bradford Observer reported just six years before this time one Yorkshire family of four were living on 4 shillings and sixpence a week (less than £12 a year). (17) Even around thirty years later farm labourers were receiving only £16 a year, plus “keep”. (18)

Victorian Preachers of the different denominations were paid quite varied sums, determined by a variety of circumstances, not least what their local church, circuit or parish could afford to pay. Kenneth Young mentions a Congregational minister, ordained in 1833, who was paid only £8 per annum for his first two years, which later rose to £20, and later still to £80, plus, in the last case, a rent free home. In the early years this man appears to have been serving only on a part-time basis, then later full-time. One Methodist “Missionary” in Kent in the 1840s was paid only three pounds, three shillings a quarter. (19) By comparison with these Booth was doing rather well.

Booth’s first pay came none too soon. Just before Christmas he badly split the trousers of his suit, and was in desperate need of a replacement.


The committee gave Booth the title “Circuit Missionary”, seemingly without consultation with him. Not being ordained he could not have used the title Reverend, and there may have been some reluctance to call such a young and untrained man superintendent of the circuit, even though as the only paid preacher he was fulfilling that function. (On at least two occasions at this time, however, the Stamford Mercury incorrectly called him “the Reverend William Booth”.) (20) In addition, in the Christian thinking of that time the term “Missionary” was not reserved only for those who took the gospel overseas, but also for some who operated at home. But Booth was not pleased. He bewailed to Catherine, “I abominate that title”. He preferred to just see only his name on church documents, rather than a concocted title with which he was not comfortable.(21)

Whatever his official position he chaired the committee which drew up the circuit preaching plan, but complained that the committee took two days to do the task. He thought he could have done a better job himself in half a day, which was probably true.

The problem Booth had of finding time to study continued into 1853. The Lincolnshire Reformers probably expected too much of him. And he, quite frankly, expected far too much of himself. The circuit preaching plan for the first quarter of that year had him preaching three times on most Sundays and on average four times during the week. This with all the other duties was just too much.

When Catherine heard of this new schedule she was furious and her doubts about being associated with the Reformers increased. Catherine did not want the man she loved worn out by the time he was 35, not even in the cause of Christ. (22) “Remember,” she told him, “you do God no acceptable service by killing yourself” through over work. (23)

William, however, rarely took the safe and easy route. He confessed to Catherine that his life had “always been  restless and dissatisfied” and that he expected that to continue until he died, a comment that she gently but firmly rebuked. (24) The relentless pressure of the Methodist preacher’s life, if it failed to fully satisfy him, catered for his need for perpetual activity in God’s service.

At the end of March, 1853, Catherine complained when he continued to accept too many preaching appointments, and she threatened to write to Mr. Shadford to protest about it. Not unreasonably, she saw “Nine sermons in one week” as “Monstrous!” (25) But Booth had an agreement with the Lincolnshire Reformers to preach less frequently than that, and when he preached as many as nine sermons in seven days he did so by his own choice. Booth just liked being busy. He had to be always active. It is probably true to say that he believed that being inactive for any reason other than illness was sinful, and certainly undesirable. In this regard his future life was not to change.

Booth was a magnet for the young people of the Spalding circuit. This is not surprising for he was an imposing figure with a dynamic personality, and at this stage was only 23 himself. During the meal at one “Tea Meeting” at the Spalding chapel Booth found himself almost crushed by the melee of young people trying to get close to him. (26)

In the Spring and Summer of 1853 the Methodist Reformers considered a plan to amalgamate with the Methodist New Connexion, a small but stable and influential branch of fractured Methodism. Booth was a vocal supporter of the plan, having at one stage written to The Wesleyan Times (the Reformers’ printed “voice”) expressing support for the idea. His first comments on the subject appear in an undated letter to Catherine, but one which was probably written at the end of February, 1853, and certainly before mid-March. In it he says, “How I wish the Reformers would amalgamate with the New Connexion or with the [Wesleyan] Association”. (27) No doubt he had come to this view because of his increasing frustration with the disorganised Reformers, which was in contrast to Booth’s love of organisation. Catherine’s letters of this period make frequent mention of the plan, and though many of William’s letters of this time, which would have given us more details of the proposal and his part in it, are unfortunately lost, the few we have do give some important insights.

As early as the second week in April the amalgamation was discussed at the local Reformers District Meeting. (28) Booth spoke in favor of the plan, as did a number of other men from his circuit, including Mr. Shadford. Booth says that what he himself said, “was well received”, though it appears at one stage he was a “little insulted”, though he gave no more details as to how or by whom. But in spite of the efforts of Booth and his associates the meeting rejected the proposal. Booth went home “more than ever out of love with the Movement generally”, yet “more in love than ever with” his own circuit. And he made the significant addition that he was “half resolved to write off directly and offer myself to the [Methodist] New Connexion”. (29) But that, at that stage, was as far as it went.

Booth was clearly disappointed that the plan was not approved, but his hopes were not dashed. In June he wrote to Catherine expressing the hope that his circuit would go it alone and “amalgamate and take me, take us, along with it”. (30) The issue was also discussed at the New Connexion conference that year. The conference gave the matter favourable consideration, but did not commit itself. William and Catherine began to think seriously about other options, and the Methodist New Connexion loomed as a possible avenue of service. But Booth, for once, was in no hurry, probably less so in this case than Catherine. He was generally happy in his present sphere, and felt at this stage that the future could be left to take its course. Catherine, however, did not like the uncertainty.

On top of the amalgamation issue there was the on-going dispute between the Reformers and the Wesleyans over who owned the various chapels in the Spalding circuit. This reached a climax in April when the Reformers were locked out of the chapel in Sutterton, and “the people had to get in through the window”. (31)

At the beginning of May William visited his Mother in Nottingham for a few days to help her sort out her financial problems, and then went on to London to see Catherine. He stayed with the Mumfords for about a week, and then returned to Spalding.

Booth spoke at a “School-Feast” at St. Catherine’s in June and the outline of that address he put in a letter to Catherine. This outline gives some interesting insights into his thinking on Christianity and other matters at that time (much of which changed little in the years ahead), and also some details about his speaking strategy, so it is quoted here almost in its entirety. He wrote,

Introduced by the anecdote of Galileo, who when tortured by the Inquisition for declaring that the world goes round, denied it when on the rack, but when set at liberty, stamped with his foot and said, “It does go round; it does move”. Well, 1st, that the world moves, progress the sign of the times. 1st on its physical surface: Agriculture, produce, flowers, animals, all improving; Arts and Sciences. Stagecoaches are gone; now the age of engines, telegraphs, etc. It moves morally, socially, politically. Benevolent Institutions are rapidly rising. Although the Pope is still in Rome, and Napoleon 3rd in Paris, and the slave-driver still cracks his infernal whip, yet liberty is abroad, men are thinking. Hungarian mother is instilling into her babe’s mind hatred to Austria, etc., etc. Uncle Tom has been written and is being read everywhere… The world moves. Spiritually men are marching, etc. The Italians are calling for Bibles. A revolution fraught with the most glorious prospects to Christianity is proceeding in China, etc., etc.

2nd proposition: that all progress past, present, and future – the result of education. Men have educated, cultivated the land, the wheat, the flower, the animals. Men have educated brass, iron, steel, etc., until they have made engines to grind, to carry, to draw, etc., etc. Mind has been educated, or we should have been Druids at this day, etc., etc. Spiritually likewise: martyrs, etc. Are we to stay here? No, a thousand angel forms are beckoning us onwards. Our work: the regeneration of our world, and therefore the world must be educated. And to be educated the world must have a teacher. Who is it to be?

3rd proposition: is England, the Anglo-Saxon mind, the schoolmaster for the world, for this adapted? I embrace all who are English, America of course to some extent. She has lessons of freedom to teach the slave-driver; of the Kingship of Christ and the supremacy of the Bible to teach Popes, priests, and Cardinals; of political liberty to teach the spoilers of Hungary and Poland and Italy; lessons of the cross of salvation by faith in Christ alone to teach Universal Man.

For this England [is] adapted by her power, her fame, and her commercial relations. And to thoroughly qualify her she must be thoroughly educated, not merely mentally, not merely morally, but religiously educated; and she cannot be religiously educated but by the instrumentality of Sunday Schools, etc. (32)

Booth’s views here are typically Victorian, with the usual emphasis on progress and education, the latter particularly being from a Christian perspective. There are hints of anti-Catholic and anti-foreign feeling, and England, if not infallible, is the nation most able to be the world’s “teacher”. It is clear too that he had some awareness of what was going on in the world, even though his understanding of such events may have been rather superficial. There is also more than a hint of concern about social issues, though this was not to manifest itself to any great extent until many years later.


At the end of June Booth had a riding accident, the exact details of which are far from clear. On Monday July 4 Catherine received a letter from him reporting the incident, and it is from her reply and later letters that we obtain what details we have of it. The letter Booth wrote is one of the many of this period that is lost. It would seem that one morning he had picked up a Miss Crow and another woman, possibly her sister, from Bicker in a horse-drawn buggy to take them to Spalding to visit his hosts, a distance of ten or so miles. At some stage during the journey the horse bucked or bolted and Booth fell off the conveyance and injured his back. He then got back on and continued the journey. In spite of his injury Booth also drove them home that evening. He was just about well enough to preach a day or two after the accident, though he probably should not have done so, but was sufficiently shaken by it to delay the writing of his next letter to Catherine.

When Catherine heard of this incident she was distressed and angry. She responded with three pages of protest. “I need not say how sorry I am to hear of you being so ill”, she wrote, “I am indeed grieved”. But, she continued,

I feel vexed as well as grieved. You doubtless hurt you back with falling, and then to go and risk your life a second time without any necessity displayed, I think, a sad want of prudence and a sad forgetfulness of me I never felt so tried at anything you did before, & I insist that you keep out of such danger Pray never ride behind that horse again, if you love me But I do forgive you and wish I could nurse you up a few days. (33)

Her concern was not so much about the actual accident, but that after he knew the horse was dangerous he still continued to use it. He sought to justify his actions in his reply to her, arguing, “Let me do right and leave consequences”. But Catherine disagreed with his interpretation of events, and took another four pages to say so, “reasoning” that both duty (duty to her particularly) and consequences “demanded your escape from” danger. (34)

If that was not enough, at the end of July he had another riding accident, this time injuring his face. On this occasion Catherine was more sympathetic. She did not see him as in any way at fault and was full of comfort, longing to “press” his “poor bruised face” to hers. But she was still worried; she knew well enough that such accidents as these could kill. (35)

Early in September William visited Catherine again. We have even less details of this visit than the one in May, but it seems to have been of three or four days duration, and did not include a weekend.


As far as Booth was concerned, though he was generally happy in Spalding, his ministry there did not always reach the heights he desired. Years later he complained of “the stagnation into which [he] settled down”, and though he was still aiming at “the Salvation of the unconverted and the spiritual advance of [his] people”, he felt that he was too easily satisfied with what often appeared to him “unfruitful work”. Catherine described his condition at this time, with the concern that comes from being far away from the one you love, as one of “great mental and spiritual depression”. The impetus to emerge from this “stagnation”, this “depression”, was the arrival in Spalding of Richard Poole. (36)

Richard Poole was an itinerant Methodist evangelist who arrived in Spalding early in November 1853. Booth described his preaching as “rather dark and heavy”, yet “extravagant” and “very powerful”. Poole’s fiery preaching noticeably aroused the people of Spalding. In addition, it aroused William Booth. One night Booth went home from the meeting and fell upon his knees. As he prayed his mind was opened to new possibilities. In his words he had

a fresh realization of the greatness of the opportunity before me of leading men and women out of their miseries and their sin, and of the responsibility to go in for that with all my might. In obedience to the heavenly vision, I made a consecration of the present and the future, of all I had, and hoped to have, to the fulfilment of this mission. I believe God accepted the offering.

Booth also noted three things about Poole’s method, which he desired to copy:

1/ Directness of aim. Every word and movement indicating that he was determined to bring that audience, young and old, into harmony with God, and this was to be done that very night before he parted if it was possible.
2/ Simplicity of method. The simplest words, the plainest illustrations, the most homely and striking facts being used throughout the discourse.
3/ The most direct dependence upon God for the result. (37)

Poole’s influence over Booth seems to have been considerable. Poole was unsympathetic towards the Methodist New Connexion, which at this time Booth was considering as a future area of service. In addition, in one letter of this period William told Catherine, “Mr. Poole, is dissatisfied with things as they are and meditates going to America and joining the Methodist Episcopal Church, and I should almost like to go with him”. (38) This Booth seems to have seriously considered for a while and then rejected it. Richard Poole left Spalding about a week before the end of November, but he left an impact both upon both the circuit and its preacher.


Booth’s closing two months in the Spalding circuit brought that period of ministry to an end with a bang, rather than a whimper, indeed, a series of bangs. It is here that we will draw on Booth’s diary and autobiographical notes mentioned earlier in this chapter. The latter, however, written when he was quite elderly, will be used with caution, for they show definite signs that Booth’s memory was playing tricks. (39)

The first bang was at Donnington on a Sunday in late November. Booth was unwell that day, but he was still able to preach at Donnington in the morning and evening and Swineshead Bridge in the afternoon. At the evening service he was especially aware of God’s strengthening, “and fourteen came out. Many more sought Jesus, but fourteen names were taken as having found him. It was indeed a very precious meeting – a melting, moving time. May God keep them faithful”. (40) Fourteen apparent conversions at one service in a small rural chapel were fourteen good reasons for praising God in anyone’s language.

It was probably that same week that Booth was scheduled to conduct a series of three evening meetings at Swineshead Bridge. Booth did not approach these particular services with optimism. It would seem that the congregation at Swineshead Bridge was not an easy one. However, on the Monday night two people came forward “and the Lord saved them both”, and others were clearly in distress about their souls. This raised his spirits. The next night the congregation was larger “and six cried for mercy”.

Booth then decided that the signs were sufficiently favourable to extend the campaign to the end of the week, and the results proved so good that he recorded in his diary that he “saw greater success than I ever saw in a week before”. On the Saturday as he waited for a bus to take him back to his lodgings, a man came up to him and warmly shook his hand. The man told his story, as tears streamed down his face.

Glory be to God that you ever came here. My wife before her conversion was a cruel persecutor, and a sharp thorn in my side. She would go home from the prayer-meeting before me, and as full of the Devil as possible; she would oppose and revile me. But now, sir, she is just the contrary, and my house, instead of being a little Hell, has become a little Paradise.

According to Booth, this was one of a number of such conversions that he heard about from that week at Swineshead Bridge. Years later he wrote that it was this week that “most effectually settled my conviction for ever that it was God’s purpose by my using the simplest means to bring souls into liberty, and to break into the cold and formal state of things to which so many of His people only too readily settle down”. (41)

In the week before Christmas he was invited to preach in a campaign at Caistor in the northern part of Lincolnshire. On the Sunday evening in spite of the fact that Booth did not “preach with much liberty”, there was “power and feeling, and in the prayer meeting many cried for salvation”. Each week night he preached and by the end of the week it was believed that 36 had been converted.

He returned to Caistor again in the middle of January, and this time 76 were converted. He then went back to Spalding, but concluded his Lincolnshire ministry with another visit to Caistor in the first half of February. Once more there was great success with “many souls saved” every night. When he left them to travel to London, he reflected that he had found the Reformers at Caistor “a poor, despised people, meeting in an old upper room, with about thirty-five members, and I left them with over two hundred members in a good roomy chapel, full of spirits”. (42)


As 1853 progressed he came to believe, with Catherine’s considerable encouragement, that he should leave the Reformers and join the more stable Methodist New Connexion. So he made the necessary preparations to do that. But even as late as early January 1854 Booth received an invitation from the Reformers at Hinde Street in London to be their minister. This he seriously considered, but in the end he joined the New Connexion in February 1854.

This raises some interesting questions, though they can have no certain answers. What would have happened if Booth had accepted the Hinde Street offer? Would he have found satisfaction there, which he did not eventually find in the New Connexion? Would he still have later become an independent evangelist? Would he still have established The Salvation Army? One suspects that he would have still left the Reformers in the not too distant future, and the later course of his life would not have been dramatically different.

According to Booth some of the Spalding Methodists regarded his decision to leave them as being “the maddest, wildest, most premature and hasty step that ever they knew a saved man to take”. (43)

Booth left Lincolnshire with much regret. Many years later he described his time there as “perhaps the happiest eighteen months of my life”. (44) It would seem unlikely that Catherine felt the same way. It would also be a little pedantic to point out that it had actually been less than fifteen months.


1 Letter WB 10, 4 Aug. 1852, William and Catherine Booth, The Letters of William and Catherine Booth (ed. David Malcolm Bennett, Brisbane: Camp Hill P.), 13.
2 Letter WB 15, probably 7 Dec. 1852, Booth, Letters, 21.
3 The dating for the material in the diary and the notes is not certain and some place it at the beginning of his Spalding ministry, but the correct date is more likely to be towards the end of his time in Spalding. This material will therefore appear towards the end of this article, with a discussion of the problem in note 39.
4 Letter WB 12, 30 Nov. 1852, Booth, Letters, 17.
5 Letters WB 12, 30 Nov. 1852; WB 13, 1 Dec. 1852; and WB 17, 9 Dec., 1852, Booth, Letters, 17, 18 & 26; Harold Begbie, Life of William Booth (2 vols. London: MacMillan, 1920), 1:155.
6 Letter WB 26, 15 Jan. 1853, Booth, Letters, 56. Booth inadvertently dated this letter “’52”.
7 Letter WB 22, 24 Dec. 1852, Booth, Letters, 42. The latter part of this letter, in which these quotations appear, is usually incorrectly attached to another letter, WB 46, which is dated only “Thursday”. But these pages (f.18-20) follow on perfectly from the earlier part of WB 22, (f.75-76). Traditionally, WB 46 has been dated 17 Nov. 1852 and written from Spalding, but as Booth did not arrive in Spalding until November 30 this is clearly wrong. WB 46 was written from Spalding, but probably on 17 Nov. 1853. See details in the appropriate entries in Booth, Letters. See also Begbie, Booth, 1:158-61.
8 Letter WB 14, 3 Dec. 1852, Booth, Letters, 19.
9 Letter WB 15, 6 Dec. Booth, Letters, 20-21.
10 Letter WB 17, 9 Dec. 1852, Booth, Letters, 26; Robert Blake, The Conservative Party from Peel to Thatcher (London: Fontana, 1985), 83-84, 370.
11 Letter (CM 5), probably 4 Dec. Booth, Letters, 20 (an earlier letter seems to be missing).
12 Letter CM 6, 5-9 Dec. 1852, Booth, Letters, 24.
13 Letter WB 18, 13 Dec. 1852, Booth, Letters, 27-28; Roy Hattersley, Blood and Fire (NY. Doubleday, 1999), 58.
14 Letter CM 8, 16 Dec. 1852, Booth, Letters, 32.
15 Letter WB 19, 16 Dec. 1852, Booth, Letters, 30-31.
16 Henry Mayhew, The Unknown Mayhew (eds, E.P. Thompson & Eileen Yeo, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984), 157-58.
17 Juliet Barker, The Brontës (London: Phoenix, 1994), 505.
18 John Burnett, Useful Toil (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984), 64-67.
19 Kenneth Young, Chapel (London: Eyre Methuen, 1972), 165-66.
20 Hattersley, Blood, 58.
21 Letter WB 20, 21Dec. 1852, Booth, Letters, 36.
22 Letter CM 17, 1 Feb. 1853, Booth, Letters, 62.
23 Letter CM 22, 16 Feb. 1853, Booth, Letters, 70.
24 Letters (WB 27) late Feb. 1853, CM 25, early Mar. 1853, Booth, Letters, 76-77.
25 Letter CM 30, 30 Mar. 1853, Booth, Letters, 90.
26 Letter WB 28, 14 or 15 Mar. 1853, Booth, Letters, 81-82.
27 Letter (WB 27) late Feb. 1853, Booth, Letters, 76.
28 In Methodism a number of churches made up a circuit, and several circuits made up a district.
29 Letter (WB 30), possibly dated 12 Apr. 1853 (certainly mid-Apr.), Booth, Letters, 96.
30 Letter (WB 34), dated around 17 June, 1853, Booth, Letters, 118.
31 Letter WB 32, 25 Apr. 1853, Booth, Letters, 99.
32 Letter (WB 35), possibly dated 21 June, 1853, Booth, Letters, 119-20.
33 Letter CM 45, 3, 4 & 5 July 1853, Booth, Letters, 127-28.
34 Letter CM 47, 9-11 July, 1853, Booth, Letters, 131.
35 Letter CM 50, 2 Aug. 1853, Booth, Letters, 135. See also (WB 37), possibly 6 Aug. 1853, Booth, Letters, 140, in which he mentions his injury. His letter that originally told of the second accident is lost.
36 Begbie, Booth, 1:224-25; St John Ervine, God’s Soldier (London: Heinemann, 1934), 1:69-75; Roger J. Green, Catherine Booth (Crowborough: Monarch, 1997), 46-52; G.S. Railton, General Booth (London: Salvation Army, 1912), 39-40. There appears to have been two Methodist preachers of this time called Poole, Richard and Joshua. This one was Richard, see WB 46, 17 Nov. 1853, Booth, Letters, 177.
37 Begbie, Booth, 1:211-12, 224-25; Railton, Booth, 40.
38 Letter (WB 44), around 8 Nov. 1853. Booth, Letters, 170.
39 As has already been noted the dating of this material is open to question. The autobiographical notes, written years after the events and recorded in varying detail by Begbie, Booth, 155-57; Ervine, Soldier, 70-71; and Railton, Booth, 31-34, report certain incidents as happening just after his arrival in November 1852. But Frederick Booth-Tucker, Catherine Booth (2 vols. London: Salvation Army, 1892), 1:98-101, using his diary, presumably written at the time, speaks of what appear to be at least in some cases the same incidents, and dates them a year later, between 3 November 1853 and 13 February 1854. Indeed, sometimes the same phrases are used in the two documents to describe seemingly the same event, which suggests that when Booth was writing the notes he was using the diary to jog his memory. The material given quite simply does not fit the 1852 dating. The data is too inconsistent with the letters of that period to be correct, and Booth-Tucker’s dating of 3 November 1853 cannot be re-dated 1852, because William did not arrive in Spalding until 30 November. So the 1852 dating can be ruled out. However, Booth-Tucker’s later dating, though the material fits into that period reasonably well, also has a number of problems. For example, he records the dates “Wednesday, 12th November, 1853”, followed by “Sunday 16th November”, etc. When these dates are examined it is noted that all Booth-Tucker’s dates are consistent with each other. That is days, dates and months all correspond. But they are all inconsistent with an 1853-54, or even an 1852-53, dating. For example 12 November in 1853 was a Saturday, and in 1852 a Friday. The earliest years of Booth’s ministry that these dates fit are 1856-57. But these Lincolnshire events cannot have occurred in those years because in the last two months of 1856 and the first two of 1857 Booth was conducting a series of evangelistic campaigns in Birmingham, Nottingham and Chester, only interrupted by a brief rest in London in mid-January. Similarly, with the next possible years, 1862-63, Booth was in Cornwall and Wales, so they would not fit in those either. In addition, these two later dates must be rejected because it is clear that this material fits the time he was a circuit minister in Spalding, for he mentions that when invited to speak at another Lincolnshire circuit, that someone will take his appointments in his “own circuit”. This demands a dating between 1852-54. However, it is clear the dates Booth-Tucker has given are in some way wrong, but in what way and why they should be so remain mysteries.
40 Booth-Tucker, Catherine, 1:99. The wording is from the diary. The “notes” also have the words “It was indeed a melting moving time”, which suggests dependency, see Begbie, Booth, 1:156; Railton, Booth, 33.
41 Booth-Tucker, Catherine 1:99; Begbie, Booth, 1:156-57; Railton, Booth, 33-34. Once more the wording of the two accounts of these events are different but sufficiently similar to suggest dependency.
42 Booth-Tucker, Catherine, 1:100-101.
43 Letter (WB 52), possibly 10 or 11 Jan. 1854, Booth, Letters, 208.
44 Railton, Booth, 32.

© David Malcolm Bennett (2013)

No Comments Yet

Comments are closed.