`General' William Booth, a preacher from Nottinghamshire founded a Christian Mission at Whitechapel in 1878. The ethos behind it was based on the so called `Cab Horse Charter', a belief that, like the working horses of London, every human being should have food to eat and a roof over their head. Out of this Mission the Salvation Army evolved. The Army's early meetings were often controversial with fights and riots breaking out at many of them and Booth and his supporters were often jailed or fined for breach of the peace. In 1890 Booth published his plan to rescue the poor and destitute from the squalor of London - In Darkest England and the Way Out. The foundation of the plan was three types of self-sustaining community, City Colonies, Farm Colonies and Overseas Colonies. The City Colony would take the poor and destitute and give them board and lodgings in exchange for a days work - they would then progress on to the farm colony where they would be trained to run smallholdings and finally on to the overseas colonies.
Main gate to Hadleigh colony just before WW1
The plan in its entirety amounted to a sort of self-help welfare state, to be financed by a number of imaginative proposals. 'Salvage Brigades' would collect unwanted food from prosperous households, every house in London (over 500,000) would be provided with a tub or sack in which to deposit 'valuable waste' - cast off shoes would be mended and resold, old bottles & tins turned into useful utensils and toys, books sold through a chain of second hand stores. The plan also included proposals for a poor man's bank, crèches to keep poor children off the streets, a network of poormen's 'lounges' and even a matrimonial agency.
A trial City Colony had been set up in Whitechapel in 1889 making benches and matting for the 'Army's' meeting houses. Booth found the estate for his Farm Colony at Hadlieigh on the Thames estuary in Essex. In 1891 he put down a deposit on 800 acres of land, later expanding it to a total of 3,200 acres, consisting of the Castle, Park and Sayers farms to the south of Hadleigh Village. The people of Hadliegh were not too keen on the prospect of the poor and destitute of the capital descending on them and there was strong opposition to the scheme in the early years. There were disputes over rights of way over the colony land, over traditional 'blackberrying' rights and over the Army trying to get its officers elected to the Local Parish Council, culminating in the local paper accusing General Booth of acting as if he were the 'Baron of Hadliegh'.
The Army set to work transforming the neglected farms and by the end of 1891 over 200 colonists, were in residence. Existing farm buildings had been renovated, new dormitories erected, a bathhouse, laundry, reading room, a hospital and a Citadel for religious meetings were all built. Along with farming and market gardening 'colonists' were taught brickmaking, pottery and construction skills all in the colony's own works.One of the schemes run by the colony included barges taking goods from the colony for sale in London returning with horse manure to fertilise the land; old scraps of tin to be made into toys; and grease and fat from London slaughterhouses to lubricate colony machinery.
Those arriving at the colony had to progress through a series of stages to prove themselves willing and capable. Leigh Park Farm, set up as a mini-colony, was the first port of call for new recruits. Here they were assessed for their willingness to work and the seriousness of their intention to be `saved'. Those successful at this stage could move onto the Colony proper, where the most responsible jobs and the best sleeping arrangements were reserved for the most diligent workers. The colonists were given grants of money for the work they did and the grant was increased as they gradually improved themselves. There was also a system of tokens or Colony `coinage'-which could be used to buy goods at the colony shop.
In the years between 1895 and 1912 the colony flourished. The Army bought other properties in Hadliegh setting up a home for inebriates and a school which local children used. A refreshment room was build for the numerous sightseers who came to view the Army's achievements. The visitors to the colony included Cecil Rhodes, Sir Walter Besant and novelist H. Rider Haggard. Haggard, a Salvation Army commissioner at the time, wrote a very favourable report on the scheme for American Branches of the Army. By the time of the colony's 21st anniversary some 7,000 colonists had been trained by the Army and most had been placed on smallholdings overseas in Canada, New Zealand and the USA.
The years following the First World War saw the colony go through many changes. A shortage of labour after the War reduced the need for the colony and coupled with financial pressure this led the Army to scale down its operations and to sell off much of the outlying farmland, keeping just 900 acres which it used to train boys in 'rudimentary land crafts' before sending them abroad to the British colonies. Some refugees from the Spanish Civil War were housed at the colony in the 1930s and most of the land was requisitioned for anti-aircraft guns and searchlights during the Second World War. After the War ex-borstal boys were trained on the farms alongside a dwindling number of homeless people and alcoholics. By the 1960s any social side of the farms had been wound up and a farm manager now runs the farms on a commercial basis with profits going to general Salvation Army funds.The rest of the plan had never really got off the ground. The properties bought for the city colonies became the network of hostels still run by the 'Army' today.
Over the last few years there has been something of a revival of the
original spirit of the colony with the farm becoming more of a community
asset once more. With plans afoot to open up the farm to visitors and
local people something of the 'General's' original vision lives on.
Farm - A Vision Reborn
The Booth Boys