Our Founder to be recognised at honorary Freeman's Day celebrations and exhibition

published on 15 Jun 2015

The Nottingham-born founder of The Salvation Army – William Booth – will be recognised as part of historic freemen celebrations which will see the Mercian Regiment’s mascot ram herded across Nottingham’s Trent Bridge next Monday (June 22).

The Honorary Freeman’s Day events will celebrate the work of all Nottingham’s 32 honorary freemen but the focus this year is on William Booth as it is set to take place in the lead up to The Salvation Army’s 150th anniversary on July 2.

In 1905 William Booth was the second person to be awarded the Freedom of Nottingham – the highest honour a council can award. 

The events on Monday, June 22 will be attended by several of William Booth’s descendants as well as five of the living honorary freemen. A photo exhibition about the honorary freemen will also launch as a private display on Monday at the Council House in Old Market Square with the part of the exhibition about William Booth moving to the foyer and opening to the public on Tuesday, June 23 and running until Monday, July 27.

The sheep herding tradition stems from the days when everyone – except for Freemen – had to pay a toll to cross the Trent Bridge.   

Major Wayne Bungay, The Salvation Army’s divisional commander for the East Midlands, said: “This event in Nottingham in our 150th year is a fantastic opportunity to remember our inspirational founder William Booth and his roots in the city, who along with his wife Catherine, boldly stepped out in faith to care for and support people in need. Today, The Salvation Army continues to passionately and effectively care for people who are vulnerable or in need across Nottingham, and we will continue to transform lives as we work in the heart of our communities. 

“The Salvation Army now has a presence in 126 countries. We work with people facing a range of needs from those experiencing homelessness, to people who have been forced to work in modern slavery as victims of trafficking, to helping people find family members they have lost touch with. We are dedicated to continuing to support people in our community and to transforming lives.”

William Booth was born on April 10, 1829 at 12 Notintone Place, Sneinton, an area that was just developing into a lower middle-class suburb of Nottingham. His birth place is now an independent museum open to the public and the work of The Salvation Army continues on the site – known as the William Booth Memorial Complex (adjacent to the museum) with a wide-ranging community programme including Employment Plus – a scheme which aims to help people get back into work with tailored job-search support, a club for adults with disabilities or additional learning needs, a drop in centre, and a play group for those of pre-school age. The Salvation Army also has a number of churches across the city which run a range of programmes to support people in their communities.

Samuel Booth, William’s father, was a speculative builder and architect, who held aspirations of a middle class lifestyle for his family. While the family was doing well and achieving some measure of wealth, William was sent to Biddulph’s Academy, the best school in Nottingham at the time, but the family’s fortunes went in cycles of boom and bust, and eventually his father’s financial problems meant he had to leave. At 13 years of age William Booth was apprenticed to Francis Eames, a pawnbroker in the city.

William’s experience of the pawnshop, where women would sometimes surrender their most precious possessions to pay for their husband’s alcoholism, determined the course of his life. 

At 17-years-old William became a local preacher in the Methodist church. He would gather children from poorer parts of Nottingham and march them to the chapel for Sunday services. But their unwashed presence did not meet with the approval of some. This was a catalyst which in time saw William and his wife Catherine found The Salvation Army, and begin their work of caring for people who were poor and in need.

Their approach was if – through lack of literacy, smart clothes, or personal hygiene – people can’t go to church then the church must go to them.

Julie Obermeyer, the William Booth Birthplace Museum’s curator, said: “This year’s Honorary Freeman’s Day is a fantastic opportunity to remember The Salvation Army’s founder, William Booth, and the 150th anniversary of The Salvation Army.

“The exhibition is a great opportunity to find out more about William Booth’s roots in Nottingham and the amazing work of The Salvation Army across the world.”

The William Booth Birth Place Museum will also be running special events in recognition of the 150th anniversary of The Salvation Army over the next few months. These events include a guided tour of the William Booth Trail of Nottingham and public talks about the life and work of William and Catherine Booth.

To find out more about these events please contact the William Booth Birthplace Museum at wbbm@salvationarmy.org.uk or on 0115 979 3464.