Caistor connection to Salvation Army founder

Caistor at the time of William Booth EMN-150520-103825001
Caistor at the time of William Booth EMN-150520-103825001

It is 150 years since The Salvation Army came into being in the East End of London - and also 21 years since Howard Webber and his wife Judy started The Salvation Army’s Sunday services in Market Rasen, in a small room at the Festival Hall.

Salvation Army founder William Booth had a warm affection for Lincolnshire, in particular what happened in Caistor just before he left the county made a lasting impact.

William Booth's visit to Market Rasen EMN-150520-103836001

William Booth's visit to Market Rasen EMN-150520-103836001

Howard and Judy are returning to Market Rasen over the weekend of the June 20/21 to lead the celebrations of the start of the Salvation Army corps/church in Rasen.

Anyone interested is welcome to go along and enjoy a meal at the hall in John Street, at 6pm on Saturday June 20, before hearing a talk on how the work in Market Rasen began.

Anyone wishing to accept this open invitation is asked to contact the officer, Envoy Anne Ward, on 01673 842859, to book their place, (for catering purposes).

Sunday morning worship at 10.30am will be led by Major Howard Webber, and a celebration and praise meeting will be held in the afternoon.

The house in Caistor's South Street, that belonged to John and Anne Varlow, where Booth stayed, and later spent part of his honeymoon. EMN-150528-080353001

The house in Caistor's South Street, that belonged to John and Anne Varlow, where Booth stayed, and later spent part of his honeymoon. EMN-150528-080353001

Article by Howard Webber, first published in the Salvationist magazine May 9, 2015


Flags and bunting and a festive air greeted General William Booth as he entered Caistor, north Lincolnshire, on Saturday 2nd September 1905. Huge crowds greeted him. Traps, (two wheeled carriages), had come from all over the neighbourhood to this little town of less than 2,300 souls, and a civic reception was prepared for him.

Nothing unusual about this. In his latter years Booth was greeted in similar fashion wherever he went.

The former Congregational chapel in Caistor, (now the grammar school library) where Booth preached on his second and third visits. EMN-150528-080343001

The former Congregational chapel in Caistor, (now the grammar school library) where Booth preached on his second and third visits. EMN-150528-080343001

What made his visit to Caistor different to any other was what he said there. He spoke of coming to Caistor over 50 years ago, a young man with few friends, and the lasting impressions that it made,

‘It was at Caistor that he first commenced the work that was to become so dear to him,’ he said.

One Friday in mid-December 1853, towards the end of his time as a Wesleyan Reform minister in Spalding, William Booth (24yrs) received a letter, from a Parkin Wigelsworth, a solicitor in Donington, requesting he spend the following week in Caistor, almost 60 miles away, 20 miles north of Lincoln. Wigelsworth assured Booth that he would look after any appointments he had for that week.

Booth didn’t need asking twice. Despite needing a rest and recently being ‘very ill,’ he set off the following morning, having first written to his fiancée Catherine in London, to tell her what he was about to do.

Earlier, he had told her how difficult it would be to leave his circuit for more than two days even if her poor health had made it necessary. Consequently, Catherine was none too pleased to hear his news, as is clear from her reply.

‘I was surprised to hear of your going to Caistor, after intimating to me the impossibility of your leaving your circuit for more than 2 days without consequences being so serious, even if I had been so bad (ill) as to make it necessary. I am truly sorry to hear of your state of health, but give up in utter despair the idea of making you judicious and prudent. After labouring in public so incessantly for a month or 6 weeks I cannot think it was wise to undertake to preach 3 times on Sunday and every night of the week. Neither do I think it was necessary or right.’

Arriving at 4pm he discovered he was ‘altogether unexpected’. However, rather than return, he sought out the bellman (town crier) and some friends to advertise the fact that he was there.

At the meeting the following morning ‘I offered many reasons why the members should join me in seeking revival in Caistor. We knelt and gave ourselves afresh to God.’ In both the afternoon and evening meetings many came under conviction and committed their lives to Christ.

In his journal, Booth highlights one particular case, that of a Mr Joseph Wigelsworth, the 24 year old brother of the man who had requested Booth visit Caistor. Deeply troubled during the morning meeting he returned in the afternoon and wept. In the evening Booth spoke to him and discovered that he had been brought up in a Christian home and been a Methodist for years, ‘yet he was unsaved.’ As Booth spoke with him, ‘he broke down, came boldly to the penitent form, and with many tears and prayers he sought and obtained forgiveness. ‘It was a splendid case and did us all good.’

The place was filled every night that followed and ‘thirty six found salvation.’ An entry dated 17th December 1853 in the account book of Caistor’s Wesleyan Reformers, reads ‘To cash for Mr Booth’s expenses £1.’ Mr Batty the bellman was paid 1 shilling for his services.

Having promised to spend another week there, Booth returned in the January and was pleased to find that only two of the thirty-six had fallen away and returned to their previous life. With increasing congregations the Reformers managed to acquire a redundant Congregational chapel in time for Booth’s return. The result was, ‘a glorious harvest.

Seventy six were saved during the week,’ Booth recorded.

But there were critics. The Reformers, to which Booth belonged, had only commenced their services in Caistor a few weeks before Booth’s first visit, but had grown significantly.

There were already thirty five members when he first arrived, eighty by Christmas and over two hundred by the time by the end of his third visit in February. One newspaper correspondent spoke of them as having ‘hewn, partly out of the rough and partly from other sects, Ranters, Independents and Nothingarians, a sect of their own.’ He stated that, in the ‘“revival meetings” as they are technically called...the wildest fanaticism is encouraged; ravings and bawling, and all manner of extravagant doings are permitted.’

At the end of his final visit in the February of 1854, shortly before he moved down to London, Booth recorded, ‘Every night many souls saved...The parting with this dear people was very painful. I had never experienced anything approaching to the success with which God crowned my labours here.’ He loved Caistor and returned in June and again the following year with his new bride.

On his visit in 1905 the chairman of the council spoke of the ‘abiding results’ of his ‘unwearied self-denying labours as an Evangelist in this town 50 years ago,’ so many were the lives that were transformed. His 15 months stay in Spalding was used powerfully by God, but it was at Caistor that his eyes were opened to how God through him could reach the lost, ‘the rough and Nothingarians,’ beyond the chapel confines. With all that he achieved in the founding The Salvation Army, ‘soul-saving’ would ever remain what he in his old age termed his ‘life’s business.’