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Walsingham Salvation Army Band
By Howard Fears, M.A.
As the Salvation Army's own Heritage Centre confirmed in 1998, there is little direct evidence of the existence of the “Army” in Walsingham, viz “from the limited information available here, it seems that the Salvation Army was at work in Walsingham from the mid 1880s until about 1909” (Heritage Centre letter to the author 23rd January 1998).
The first positive confirmation of their presence is a certificate dated 10th July 1885 registering the Salvation Army Barracks “at Knight Street” (see attached copy). This document is signed by Charles Love, “Army” captain, but there is no reference to his village residence in either the 1881 or 1891 Walsingham Enumerators' Schedules. It may, therefore, be assumed that whilst his responsibilities included the Walsingham foundation he was actually based elsewhere. As a Salvationist corps had been established at Fakenham in the previous year, a close relationship is probable.
Apart from a meeting place and leader at least the elements of a congregation would be necessary. An early action in the formation of Salvation citadels would be the creation of a brass band, the combination of smart military style uniforms and the appeal of “making a noise” attracting the attention, and hopefully the support, of villagers, especially the younger, more persuadable elements. Initially the bandsmen might travel in, for example from Fakenham, reached easily by bicycle, a horse-drawn vehicle, or by train. There is no evidence of an existing core of Salvationists in the village before 1895, although some may already have been attracted to the Fakenham Barracks and the prospects for missionary growth were considered to favour a Walsingham undertaking.
Although described as at Knight street, the Walsingham Barracks or Citadel was actually located nearby, it being necessary to cross a yard to gain access. Whilst the building's location is undoubted, some confusion exists as to its earlier occupancy. In a sale by auction on Friday 21st Mary 1924 of various properties at Walsingham, Lot number six comprised. Two substantially built Brick, Stone and Tile Cottages, with Large Open Yard in which are Wash Houses, Closets and Pump, together with the Commodious Building now used as The Friends' Meeting House, situate adjacent to Knight street.
In this description the “Commodious Building”, previously a barn, had been the Salvationist's Citadel. Even today the “large open yard” is still known as Army Yard, confirming their earlier presence. It would seem, therefore, that in 1885 the “Army” came to occupy the building, previously a barn, which they then converted to a meeting place, and continued to use until 1909 or thereabouts. The auction details indicate that each of the cottages in Lot 6 and also the Meeting House, the latter described as occupied by The Society of Friends (i.e. Quakers) paid a rental, in total amounting to £25 12s. 9.d per annum. Interestingly a Right-of-Way existed for the use of the well and pump situated in the yard by a neighbouring property, responsibility for maintenance and repair being closely defined.
As a short digression, the later presence of the Quakers posits a mystery. The Society of Friends had long been established at Wells, with their own meeting place and burial ground. There is some early evidence of Quakers having lived in Walsingham, making them the earliest known village religious dissenters, but no indication of a meeting place, other than a reference to a building, previously a barn, near Knight street. It is unlikely that they came, went, and then returned; the only positive reference to a meeting place is in the 1924 Particulars.
Whilst the Salvation Army in Walsingham had disappeared before World War I, their particular impact followed from their highly visible brass band and their support of temperance. Within years of their village formation a brass band, said to number twelve to fourteen players, was in existence. Some of the instrumentalists may have come from outside the village; enthusiasts from Fakenham, for example, may have bolstered the band's strength. Apart from the already identified attractions of the band itself, it would also have been used to march through the village streets, encouraging supporters, either to join in behind them, or make their own way to the citadel, for the pending service. The particular appeal would be to youngsters, otherwise bored or without occupation on a Sunday, who were thus encouraged to become active in the Salvation cause.
In its heyday the Salvation Army in the village would have bolstered the temperance or anti-drunken cause. Co-operating in the Saturday night concerts at the Reading Room, the band may first have toured the village, playing outside the public houses and particularly the beer-shops, both to attract the attention of imbibing patrons and to encourage them to partake of free or cheaply priced non-alcoholic drinks at The Coffee Shop, thereafter joining in the popular hymn singing. The “Army” may have secured temporary conversions from drunken-ness to sobriety, even outside the ale-houses, perhaps repentant alcoholics kneeling at the penitent stool, as was widely practised in urban locations. Rural techniques may have been less abrasive and more subtle, seeking to lead by persuasion in an environment encouraged by the temperance indications of the Lee Warners.
Whether Salvationists later continued in membership, making the journey to the continuing citadel at Fakenham, is unknown. There is no record of Walsingham supporters at Fakenham, but the probability is high. The conjunction of the relinquishing of the Walsingham Barracks, which may have occurred before 1909, and the onset within a few years of the World War appears to confirm the view that by the 1920s the “Army” had disappeared from the village after its short, but colourful, existence.