Birmingham Citadel Salvation Army celebrates 125 years in the heart of the second City of England.

published on 5 Sep 2017

The Salvation Army church is celebrating 125 years of transformation in the City of Birmingham this month. 

Church leader, Birmingham Citadel Salvation Army, Major Adrian Allman remarks: “The Salvation Army has had an enormous impact in Birmingham for over 125 years. Birmingham Citadel actually opened on Corporation Street at number 190, opposite the Law Courts on 12 September 1892, it moved to St. Chad’s Queensway in 1974. But The Salvation Army had already begun its work in Birmingham before the opening of the City Church, opening Aston corps (known as a church in The Salvation Army) in 1880.”

The 1880s and 90s was a period of social unrest and great change. The year The Salvation Army opened the doors to its Birmingham Citadel, 1892, Queen Victoria had lost her grandson (second heir to the throne, Prince Albert Victor) to Influenza while younger brother, Prince George, became the Duke of York. Meanwhile, due to a vote of no confidence, Conservative Prime Minister Robert Gascoyne-Cecil was replaced by Liberal leader, William Gladstone in a General Election. Through education, worker’s rights, social welfare and parliamentary reforms, the country was seeking to alleviate the problems associated with the industrial age as well as poverty. 

The Salvation Army, a new and emerging church and charity, was just 27 years old in 1892. Its founder, William Booth, had just published, ‘In Darkest England and the Way Out’in 1890. Booth advocated that if the State failed to meet its social obligations, it was the task of each Christian to step into the breach. The book described a strategy that laid the foundation for The Salvation Army’s work. It set the way in which the Army approached social welfare, tackling issues such as homelessness, building communities, providing training centres, support for released prisoners, aid for people who lived in poverty and help for people with addiction. Booth’s primary goal was always to win souls for Christ. The mission of the church gave birth to the charity of The Salvation Army.

Birmingham Citadel Salvation Army is marking its 125th year with free city-centre concerts on Saturday 16 September outside Birmingham Cathedral in St. Phillip’s Square at 3.30pm and 17 September in Rotunda Square (the Bullring) at 4pm. 

Major Adrian said: “The events will be a wonderful opportunity for our church to thank God for the last 125 years. The many characters that have been associated with Birmingham Citadel over the years have indeed made its history, and yet without doubt their experiences as Disciples of Christ and members of the fellowship have also transformed them and made them what they were and are.

We are indebted to the many people who have contributed to the ministry and witness of the corps over the last 125 years. It also gives us a chance to say thank you to the local community who continue to be so supportive of our work”.

Today, in addition to church services that attract hundreds of people every Sunday at Birmingham Citadel, there are tailored meetings for children and young people. The Citadel also runs a ‘Come and Meet Each Other’group for older people, a food bank, employment advice with its Employment Plus centre, Costa Coffee Live Music sessions (held at 62 New Street on the second Wednesday of each month), debt advice, bible study groups, as well as choir and brass band practice for both adults and children’s groups. The Citadel is involved with an annual Christmas Toy Appeal, through which members of the community donate gifts to be redistributed together with the local authority to disadvantaged children at Christmas.

In wider Birmingham, The Salvation Army runs  a Lifehouse on Shadwell Street (providing accommodation for more than 70 people experiencing homelessness), the Aston 614 Youth Project on Gladstone Street, Chaplaincy at Birmingham airport and another church (or ‘corps’) at Erdington. 

The Salvation Army also works closely with other churches in the city. Birmingham Citadel’s opening ceremony in 1892 included representatives from other Christian Church denominations. Peter Forrest, The Salvation Army Divisional lead said: “Today, The Salvation Army partners with St Chad’s Roman Catholic Cathedral in Birmingham at The Sanctuary in Shadwell Street. The churches serve together for Asylum seekers that have no recourse to public funds, providing English lessons and practical help, where needed. The Salvation Army takes its place alongside the other Christian churches to challenge and encourage society to care for human kind and share their faith in Christ’s name.”

Captain Clare Allman, who leads with her husband at the Birmingham Citadel said: “Just as the same in 1892, The Salvation Army is still dedicated to caring for the local community, there are still people in need and who are crying out for hope. The stories I know of continue to be heart-breaking, but also radical and life-transforming. These same people are ready to help others to move on with their lives and build a future. 

“Unfortunately, the examples of human need haven’t changed since Booth’s time. However, as Booth said, ‘We will fight’* and we have good news of hope, for everyone. We would love to see people at our free city-centre concerts. All are invited to attend and listen”.

Opening of Salvation Army Birmingham Citadel in 1892

It was Eva Booth, daughter of the founders of The Salvation Army that opened Birmingham Citadel in September 1892, in Corporation Street. On the 12 September, Eva Booth, the Field Commander of The Salvation Army took possession of the building from the architect. Later in the morning, people gathered for the opening service, the building was jammed with several thousand people, with many unable to gain access inside. 

The worship was accompanied by The Salvation Army band from Burton upon Trent. The 34 band members travelled from Burton and left a collection in aid of the new church. Over 1000 people gave themselves to God at that first opening meeting. 

Birmingham Citadel’s weekly open-air and church meetings drew crowds of several thousand in 1914. According to a Salvation Army publication** from the time, the open-air meetings held throughout the year were well-known in Birmingham: “These are held on the public thoroughfares and lesser streets every Sunday and almost every night of the week throughout the four seasons of the year…[at the Bullring] The Army is able to preach the Gospel by music and song and testimony and exhortation to hundreds of people who have no desire to enter a place of worship, and who have come to regard this particular Meeting as their ‘Church’”. 

Since its early days social action has been central to The Salvation Army’s Christian faith. In 1885, Salvationists successfully campaigned for the age of consent to be raised from 13 to 16 and in 1890 the church and charity opened the UK’s first labour exchange.

In UK and Republic of Ireland The Salvation Army’s work includes more than 800 community churches and social centres offering compassionate support, a listening ear.