People: William Booth, Founder of the Salvation Army

Updated: Wednesday, April 2, 2014   |   Belper Historical & Genealogical Website

William Booth (10 April 1829 – 20 August 1912) was a British Methodist preacher who founded the Salvation Army and became its first General (1878–1912). The Christian movement began in one sense in Belper and has since spread around the world.

William Booth was born in Sneinton, Nottingham, England, the only son of four surviving children born to Samuel Booth and Mary Moss.

Samuel Booth (1775–1842), the father of William Booth, was born in Belper, Derbyshire. He married Sarah Lockitt in 1797. Samuel and Sarah had a son named William, but he was not the William Booth who founded The Salvation Army. Sarah died in 1819 and William died five years later.

He secondly married Mary Moss and had five children: Henry, Ann, William, Emma, and Mary. Henry died at the age of three. This William became the founder of The Salvation Army.

As Samuel was forced into bankruptcy by successive trade recessions, he moved to Nottingham. He began to lose more money and he was forced to move into a house on Sneinton Road in a poorer neighbourhood, but he eventually moved back to Nottingham. It was there that he died. He was baptised on his deathbed, after which he committed his wife and children to God. Those who surrounded him, including his son William, sang Rock of Ages as he died.

William Booth

General Booth of The Salvation Army
Born 10 April 1829
Sneinton, Nottingham
Died 20 August 1912 (aged 83)
Hadley Wood, London
Burial Stoke Newington, London

Family Home and Childhood
from "The Life of General William Booth" by HAROLD BEGBIE 1920

The father of William Booth migrated from Belper to a Nottingham suburb. He speculated with his savings, moved by a hope of fortune from the extraordinary prosperity of lace manufacture by machinery, and was disappointed in this ambition.

But Samuel Booth clung stubbornly and avariciously to his speculations, finally dragging down his wife and family into a condition of penury.


According to Mr. Phillimore, the author of County Pedigrees, distinct evidence runs back through the local register “associating the Booths with Belper at least as early as the reign of Elizabeth.”

Whether the family distinguished itself in any way we do not know, but before the days of Elizabeth the fifty-first Archbishop of York was a William Booth, who had his favourite residence at Southwell, which is close to Nottingham, and where the William Booth of our present history spent a part of his childhood.

A brother of this older William Booth, Lawrence, became fifty-third Archbishop of York, and also made Southwell his chief residence. He was a grievous failure as Lord Chancellor, but it is written that he took no bribes. In private life, we are told, he was “an amiable and benevolent man, expending large sums of money on educational and charitable objects.”

There seems to be no doubt that the family of General Booth is connected by marriage with that family of Gregory which gave in the person of Robert Gregory, a contemporary of General Booth, a popular and picturesque Dean to St. Paul’s Cathedral.

A William Booth of Belper, apparently the great-grandfather of the evangelist, was married in 1742 to Elizabeth Gregory; the bondsman at the first marriage of Samuel Booth in 1797 was Robert Gregory; and the evangelist, on being told late in life of this coincidence, said that he remembered being taken as a child to see an old lady who was always spoken of as “Aunt Gregory.”

Samuel Booth, father of the evangelist, was born at Belper in 1775. It was in the town of Belper that Primitive Methodists were first called Ranters; and since Samuel Booth was nominally a Churchman, and a hard, taciturn, unemotional man, it may be assumed that he shared in this local contempt for the new sect.

He appears to have been a nail manufacturer, for on the occasion of his marriage in 1797 to one Sarah Lockitt he described himself in the register as a nailer.

Later he added to this business the trade of builder and the profession of architect, earning a fortune which enabled him to live in a fine house at Coiston Bassett and to describe himself sometimes as a “gentleman,” sometimes as a “yeoman.” One child was born of this first marriage, a son named William, who died of consumption at the age of twenty-four, five years after his mother’s death in 1819.

Second Marriage

Mary Moss, the second wife of Samuel Booth, and mother of the evangelist, was born in 1791, six years before the first marriage of her husband. Like Samuel Booth, she came of Derbyshire stock, probably, as the name suggests and her wonderfully handsome face corroborates, of Jewish origin. She was the daughter of a well-to-do farmer. Her mother died when she was quite young, and she went to live with relations, the second marriage of her father not being conducive to a happy family life.

She encountered Samuel Booth at Ashby-de-le-Zouch, whither he had gone to drink the waters as a cure for rheumatism. On his first proposal she refused him. He left the town indignant, but returned, and renewed his proposal, leaving her no peace till she accepted him.

Of this marriage there were five children. The eldest son, a boy named Henry, died in his third year; the second child was a daughter, Ann, destined to exercise some little influence on the evangelist in his early years; the third child was the evangelist himself, named William after the son of the first marriage, who had died five years previously: and the two remaining children were girls Emma, a lifelong invalid who died unmarried, aged forty, and Mary, who became Mrs. Newell, and died at the age of sixty-nine.

Mary Newell - William's Sister
Mary Newell (née Booth) [b: 16 September 1832 d: 08 March 1902]

William wrote of his sister after her death in March 1902... ...She was a woman of unblemished integrity, and of stern devotion to what she conceived to be her duty.

William Booth, therefore, grew up the only son of the family, with an elder sister and two younger sisters.

Samuel Booth did not come to Nottingham until he had more or less impoverished himself by speculation, and in leaving Colston Bassett it is quite certain that he not merely hoped to retrieve his fortunes, but was positively obliged by his altered circumstances to seek a very much humbler way of living.

Sneinton, which must be pronounced Snenton, was in the days of William Booth’s boyhood a suburb of Nottingham; but with its windmills, wooded hills, generous views over a gentle valley, and fields that were yet unblackened by factory smoke, it preserved something of the character of a hamlet.

It was, however, a crowded place in certain parts; and the house to which Samuel Booth moved on his coming into the district was closed in at the back by houses in the occupation of stockingers. William Booth could very easily escape to the fields and the woods; but in his home, from the first years of his infancy, he was in close contact with the noise and crowding of industrialism.

Nevertheless, it must be borne in mind, as we have already said, that both the Sneinton and the Nottingham of those days were very different from the vast wilderness of ugly houses and dreary streets, of enormous factories and towering workshops, of roaring markets and incessant traffic, which now characterize the bigger, uglier, although more flourishing, modern town.

The house in which William Booth was born is still standing [in 1913], and is still known by its former designation, 12 Nottintone Place, Sneinton. It stands in a tree-shaded cul-de-sac, one of a small terrace of red-bricked villas sloping slowly up to a modest knoll crowned by a substantial house which blocks the end of the street.

The houses of this terrace are built back from the road, and are guarded by tall railings rising from a low brick wall. No. 12 is one of three houses which share a single gate in these railings, the path diverging inside the walls to the three separate front doors.

The interior of this dwelling deserves description. The front door opens straight into the parlour, without passage or lobby of any kind. An inner door, directly facing the front door, admits to a small square hall in the centre of the house, which is dimly lighted by a lantern in the roof invisible from below. A door in this tiny hall, opposite to the parlour door, gives entrance to a fair-sized scullery-kitchen at the back; a staircase on the left descends to a dark basement and ascends to the two floors above.

On each floor there are two rooms, one in front and one at the back, the whole house being of an exceedingly narrow description. The parlour is some twelve feet by ten, and the room in which it is most probable William Booth was born is of like dimensions. From the outside, the house has a somewhat dignified appearance, and not at first does one realize that only three windows, one above another, belong to the front door, which has the three similar windows of the next house on its other side, after the manner of a double-fronted house.

In this house, then, William Booth, the greatest religious force of modern days and one of the most picturesque and heroic figures of the nineteenth century, was born on the 10th of April, 1829

Two days after William Booth’s birth, no time being lost at that period to secure either immediate regeneration or a Christian burial in case of death, the infant was baptized at Sneinton Church. The entry in the parish register reads as follows:

William, son of Samuel Booth, Nottintone Place, gentleman, and Mary his wife. Ceremony performed by George Wilkins, D.D., Perpetual Curate, Vicar of St. Mary’s; baptized 12th April, 1829.

Samuel Booth is described by one who knew him as “tall and fine-looking.” He was noticeable for dressing in the fashion of the Quakers, wearing a drab-cloth suit, a cut-away coat, and knee-breeches. Very little is known about him, and what is known only tends to deepen the mystery which appears to have surrounded him in life, even to his own children.

On meeting a Sneinton contemporary in his extreme old age, the first greeting of General Booth was a question concerning his father.

“Tell me something,” he said, taking his friend’s two hands in his and holding them vigorously in his own, “about my father; I want to know about him.”

From a paper he left behind, as we shall see, it is quite evident that he had no clear notions in this matter. He spoke often, and eloquently, of his mother; seldom of his father, and then with a note of uncertainty — sometimes with unwilling harshness, sometimes with a too evident effort to discover a virtue. “Criminal instincts?“ he exclaimed to me once in a discussion on heredity; “why, we have all got them. I have got them.

"My father was a Grab, a Get. He had been born in poverty. He determined to grow rich; and he did. He grew very rich, because he lived without God and simply worked for money; and when he lost it all, his heart broke with it, and he died miserably. I have inherited the Grab from him. I want to get.” And his arm shot forward, the hand clawing at the air, to signify that he wanted to “grab” souls and get for them the treasure of eternal life.

But there were other occasions when he sought to show his father in a kinder light, though his honesty always forced him at the last to emphasize the avariciousness and worldliness which had embittered his own childhood and brought his mother to suffering and poverty.

William Booth's Parents - Samuel And Mary

My Mother - written by William Booth
(published in 'All the World' - August 1893)

Mary Booth (née Moss) William's Mother

Both my mother and my father were Derbyshire people. They were born within a few miles of each other, the latter at Belper, a small town, and the former at Somercoates, a small village within a mile or two of Alfreton.

My mother's father was a well-to-do farmer. Her mother died when she was three years of age, and her father marrying again she was taken to the heart and home of a kind uncle and aunt, who reared and educated her, giving her at the same time a good sound religions training.

Years passed of which we have but imperfect knowledge, during which by some means she drifted and became a resident of the small town of Ashby-de-la-Zouch. Here she met my father, who was availing himself of the waters as a remedy for his chronic enemy rheumatism. He offered marriage. She refused. He left the town indignantly; but returned to renew his offer, which was finally accepted. Marriage followed.

Up to this date her path through life had been comparatively smooth; but from this hour onward, through many long and painful years, it was crowded with difficulties and anxieties of a very trying description.

My father's fortunes appear to have commenced waning almost directly after their union. At that time he would have passed, I suppose, as a rich man, according to the estimate of riches in those days.

But bad times came. And very bad times they were, such as we know little about, despite all the grumbling of this modern era.

Nottingham, where the family was then located, suffered heavily, a large proportion of its poorer classes being reduced to the verge of starvation. My father, who had invested the entire savings of his lifetime in cottage property, was seriously affected by these calamitous circumstances, in fact he was ruined.

How bravely my mother stood by his side during that dark and sorrowful season, is indelibly written on my memory. She shared his every anxiety, advised him in all his business perplexities, and upheld his spirit as crash upon crash one piece of property after another went overboard. Years of a heavy affliction on my father's part followed, during which she was his tender, untiring nurse, comforting and upholding his spirit unto death; and then she stood out all alone, to fight the battles of the family amidst the wreck of his fortunes.

Those days were gloomy indeed; and the wonder is, in looking back upon them, that she survived them. It would have seemed perfectly natural for her to have died of a broken heart, and been borne away to lie in my father's grave.

But she had reasons for living. Her children bound her to earth, and for our sakes she toiled on with unswerving devotion and unintermitting care. After a time the waters found a smoother channel, and, so far as this world's troubles were concerned, her days were ended in comparative peace.

She died on January 3rd, 1875, being eighty-four years of age in the September of the previous year. Eight years before, she was the subject of a severe attack of rheumatic fever, which lasted five months. She then lost the proper use of her side, which occasioned a terrible fall downstairs by which she fractured her leg, which never properly healed, and for seven years she was confined to her bed. But for this accident it is quite possible that she might have lived to a still greater age.

Conversion and Early Ministry

Booth's father was wealthy by the standards of the time, but during his childhood, as a result of bad investments, the family descended into poverty and his father became an alcoholic. In 1842, Samuel Booth, who by then was bankrupt, could no longer afford his son's school fees, and 13-year-old William Booth was apprenticed to a pawnbroker. Samuel Booth died later that same year.

Two years into his apprenticeship Booth was converted to 'salvation' and Methodism. He then read extensively and trained himself in writing and in speech, becoming a Methodist lay preacher. Booth was encouraged to be an evangelist primarily through his best friend, Will Sansom. Sansom and Booth both began in the 1840s to preach to the poor and the "sinners" of Nottingham, and Booth would probably have remained as Sansom's partner in his new "Mission" ministry, as Sansom titled it, had Sansom not died of tuberculosis, in 1848.

When his apprenticeship ended in 1848, Booth spent a year looking in vain for more suitable work than pawnbroking, which he disliked and considered ungodly.[5] In 1849, Booth reluctantly left his family and moved to London, where he found work and lodging in a pawnbroker's shop. Booth tried to continue lay preaching in London, but the small amount of preaching work that came his way frustrated him, and so he resigned as a lay preacher and took to open-air evangelising in the streets and on Kennington Common.

In 1851, Booth joined the 'Reformers' (Methodist Reform Church), and on 10 April 1852, his 23rd birthday, he left pawnbroking and became a full-time preacher at their headquarters at Binfield Chapel in Clapham. William styled his preaching after the revivalist American James Caughey, who had made frequent visits to England and preached at Booth's favourite church, Broad Street Chapel. Just over a month after he started full-time preaching, on 15 May 1852, William Booth became formally engaged to Catherine Mumford.

Catherine's Parents - John And Sarah Mumford

In November 1852, Booth was invited to become the Reformers' minister at Spalding, in Lincolnshire. Booth married Catherine Mumford on 16 June 1855 at Stockwell Green Congregational Church in London. Their wedding was very simple, as they wanted to use their time and money for his ministry. Even on their honeymoon Booth was asked to speak at meetings.

Though Booth became a prominent Methodist evangelist, he was unhappy that the annual conference of the denomination kept assigning him to a pastorate, the duties of which he had to neglect to respond to the frequent requests that he do evangelistic campaigns. At the Liverpool conference in 1861, after having spent three years at Gateshead, his request to be freed for evangelism full-time was refused yet again, and Booth resigned from the ministry of the Methodist New Connexion.

Soon he was barred from campaigning in Methodist congregations, so he became an independent evangelist. His doctrine remained much the same, though; he preached that eternal punishment was the fate of those who do not believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the necessity of repentance from sin, and the promise of holiness. He taught that this belief would manifest itself in a life of love for God and mankind. Eventually, the Booths' children became involved in the ministry.

Manifesto of The Christian Mission
as a "Volunteer Army" (1878)

In 1865 Booth was in the East End of London, preaching to crowds of people in the streets. Outside The Blind Beggar public house some missioners heard him speaking and were so impressed by his preaching that they invited him to lead a series of meetings they were holding in a large tent.

The tent was set up on an old Quaker burial ground on Mile End Waste in Whitechapel. The first of these meetings was held on 2 July 1865. To the poor and destitute of London's East End Booth brought the good news of Jesus Christ and his love for all.

Booth soon realised he had found his destiny, and later in 1865 he and his wife Catherine opened 'The Christian Revival Society' in the East End of London, where they held meetings every evening and on Sundays, to share the repentance that salvation can bring through accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior to the poorest and most needy, including alcoholics, criminals and prostitutes. The Christian Revival Society was later renamed The Christian Mission.

Slowly The Christian Mission began to grow but the work was difficult and Booth would "stumble home night after night haggard with fatigue, often his clothes were torn and bloody bandages swathed his head where a stone had struck", wrote his wife. Evening meetings were held in an old warehouse where urchins threw stones and fireworks through the window. Outposts were eventually established and in time attracted converts, yet the results were discouraging. The Christian Mission was just one of about 500 charitable and religious groups trying to help the poor and needy in London's East End.

Booth and his fellow brethren in Christ practiced what they preached and performed self-sacrificing Christian and social work, such as opening "Food for the Millions" shops (soup kitchens), not caring if they were scoffed at or derided for their work.

The Salvation Army

The name The Salvation Army developed from an incident in May 1878. William Booth was dictating a letter to his secretary George Scott Railton and said, "We are a volunteer army." Bramwell Booth heard his father and said, "Volunteer, I'm no volunteer, I'm a regular!" Railton was instructed to cross out the word "volunteer" and substitute the word "salvation".

The Salvation Army was modelled after the military, with its own flag (or colours) and its own music, often with Christian words to popular and folkloric tunes sung in the pubs. Booth and the other soldiers in "God's Army" would wear the Army's own uniform, 'putting on the armour,' for meetings and ministry work. He became the "General" and his other ministers were given appropriate ranks as "officers". Other members became "soldiers".

During his lifetime, William Booth established Army work in 58 countries and colonies, travelling extensively and holding, "salvation meetings."

Booth regularly published a magazine and was the author of a number of books; he also composed several songs. His book In Darkest England and the Way Out not only became a best-seller after its 1890 release, it set the foundation for the Army's modern social welfare schemes. It compared what was considered "civilized" England with "Darkest Africa" - a land then considered poor and backward. What Booth suggested was that much of London and greater England after the Industrial Revolution was not better off in the quality of life than those in the underdeveloped world.

He proposed a strategy to apply the Christian Gospel and work ethic to the problems. The book speaks of abolishing vice and poverty by establishing homes for the homeless, farm communities where the urban poor can be trained in agriculture, training centres for prospective emigrants, homes for fallen women and released prisoners, aid for the poor, and help for drunkards. He also lays down schemes for poor men's lawyers, banks, clinics, industrial schools and even a seaside resort. He says that if the state fails to meet its social obligations it will be the task of each Christian to step into the breach. However, Booth was not departing from his spiritual convictions to set-up a socialist or communist society or sub-class, supported by people forced to finance his plans; Booth's ultimate aim was to get people "saved."

Booth asserts in his introduction,

I have no intention to depart in the smallest degree from the main principles on which I have acted in the past. My only hope for the permanent deliverance of mankind from misery, either in this world or the next, is the regeneration or remaking of the individual by the power of the Holy Ghost through Jesus Christ. But in providing for the relief of temporal misery I reckon that I am only making it easy where it is now difficult, and possible where it is now all but impossible, for men and women to find their way to the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Later years

Opinion of The Salvation Army and William Booth eventually changed to that of favour. In his later years, he was received in audience by kings, emperors and presidents, who were among his ardent admirers. Even the mass media began to use his title of 'General' with reverence.

In 1899, Booth suffered from blindness in both eyes, but with a short rest, was able to recover his sight. In 1904 he took part in a 'motorcade' when he was driven around Great Britain, stopping off in cities, towns and villages to preach to the assembled crowds from inside his open-top car. In 1906 Booth was made a Freeman of the City of London, and was granted an honorary degree from the University of Oxford. In 1902 he was invited to attend the coronation of King Edward VII.

His last visit to the United States was made in 1907, and in 1909 he embarked on a six month motor tour of the United Kingdom. During this tour he discovered he was blind in his right eye and the sight in his left eye was dimmed by cataracts. The rest of the tour had to be cancelled. On 21 August 1909 a surgeon at Guy's Hospital removed his right eye. Despite this setback, in 1910 Booth campaigned in Holland, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland and Italy. On his return to England he embarked on his seventh and last motor tour.

William Booth was 83 years old when he died (or was Promoted to Glory) at his home in Hadley Wood, London. At the three day lying in state at Clapton Congress Hall 150,000 people filed past his casket. On 27 August 1912 Booth's funeral service was held at London's Olympia where 40,000 people attended, including Queen Mary, who sat almost unrecognised far to the rear of the great hall.

The following day Booth's funeral procession set out from International Headquarters. As it moved off 10,000 uniformed Salvationists fell in behind. Forty Salvation Army bands played the "Dead March" from Handel's Saul as the vast procession set off. He was buried with his wife Catherine Booth in the main London burial ground for 19th century non-conformist ministers and tutors, the non-denominational Abney Park Cemetery in Stoke Newington.


In Booth's honour, Vachel Lindsay wrote the poem, "General William Booth Enters Into Heaven". Charles Ives, who had been Evangeline Booth's neighbour, set the poem to music. In 1990 a diesel locomotive in the British Rail fleet was named 'The William Booth'.

The William Booth rose, developed by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, was named in his honour. The William Booth Memorial Training College in Denmark Hill, London, the College for Officer Training of The Salvation Army in the United Kingdom, is named after him, as is the William Booth Primary School in his native Nottingham. Also the William Booth memorial statue in Whitechapel, London.

Children of William and Catherine Booth

William Booth and Catherine Mumford were married on 17 June 1855 at Stockwell New Chapel, Surrey. They had nine children:

  1. Bramwell Booth (8 March 1856 - 16 June 1929)
  2. Ballington Booth (28 July 1857 - 5 October 1940)
  3. Kate Booth (18 September 1858 - 9 May 1955)
  4. Emma Booth (8 January 1860 - 28 October 1903).
  5. Herbert Booth (26 August 1862 - 25 September 1926)
  6. Marie Booth (4 May 1864 - 5 January 1937)
  7. Evangeline Booth (25 December 1865 - 17 July 1950)
  8. Lucy Booth (28 April 1868 - 18 July 1953)


  1. "The Life of General William Booth" online book
  2. "The Life of William Booth" (or download the two volumes: VOL1 and VOL2)

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