Social work

The Salvation Army is the largest provider of social care in the UK today, after the government.  The work started in the 1880s and continues to grow and develop in a range of areas including homelessness, addiction services and anti human trafficking.

Women's Social Work

The Salvation Army’s formal social work in the UK traces it origins back to the 1880s.  Elizabeth Cottrill, a soldier of Whitechapel Corps, took an interest in girls from the streets who had been converted.  She took them home, fed and clothed them.  In 1884, the work moved to a house in Hanbury Street, Whitechapel, which became the first Salvation Army rescue home.  Some of the girls rescued were pregnant, which led to the opening of maternity homes.  Such was the demand for maternity care for unmarried girls, that in 1888 a maternity hospital was opened in Hackney.  The successor to this hospital was known as The Mothers’ Hospital.  By the time it closed in 1986, 124,000 babies had been born there, and 3,000 nurses had been trained in its Midwifery Training School.

Josephine Butler, a campaigner for women’s rights, wrote a letter to Florence Booth, concerning the sale of young girls into prostitution.  Florence, as pioneer leader of the Salvation Army’s Women’s Social Work, had gained an insight into the lives of girls working as prostitutes.  Through this work, the practice of trafficking girls to be used for ‘immoral purposes’, both in the UK and overseas came to the attention of The Salvation Army.  W T Stead, Editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, investigated these claims and published his findings as a series of sensational articles in the Pall Mall Gazette in July 1885.  Just weeks later the law was changed, raising the age of consent from thirteen to sixteen years.

In 1886, women officers moved into slum districts to live alongside and serve the poor.  Known affectionately as Slum Sisters, they visited the sick, showed the women how to look after themselves and their homes and children, advocated temperance and preached the message of Jesus.

The first men’s shelters opened soon afterwards, developing into ‘elevators’, providing men with work on recycling programmes and other schemes, and teaching them new skills.  To help with finding jobs the world’s first free labour exchanges were set up.

In 1886, women officers moved into slum districts to live alongside and serve the poor.

Darkest England

In 1890 William Booth published ‘In Darkest England and the Way Out’, his plan for tackling poverty in Britain, which became a best-seller.  By then the Salvation Army had already begun initiatives in family tracing and adoption.  Among the new initiatives was a model match factory located in Bow, which opened in 1891 in an attempt to improve the lot of the mainly female workforce who were poorly-paid and working in exhausting, dangerous conditions.  This initiative led to the raising of standards in all British match factories.  In 1907 the Anti-Suicide Bureau was set up.  During the Bureau’s first three years over 1,000 people were helped.

Hadleigh Farm Colony

In the same year William Booth acquired 900 acres of farmland at Hadleigh in Essex. Accommodation and training facilities were built for men who had passed through the Salvation Army’s shelters and elevators.  Brick-fields were opened, with a railway moving bricks to a wharf, where barges were loaded with bricks bound to be shipped to London.  Known as ‘Hadleigh Farm Colony’, it was home to sheep, pigs and cattle as well as several hundred ‘colonists’ at a time.  Although much reduced in scale, Hadleigh Farm still operates today, with an Employment Training Centre, providing skills development for adults with special needs.

Social work

The Salvation Army is the largest provider of social care in the UK today, after the government


Read more about the Salvation Army's military link from WW1 to today

People and symbols

Learn more about founders and symbols that define The Salvation Army.

International Heritage Centre

Telling the story of The Salvation Army from its origins in the 1860s to today.