The Eastbourne Riots

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An Historic Victory For The Salvation Army

Trouble for The Salvation Army in Eastbourne was foreshadowed by town mayor elect, William Epps Morrison who declared that the council should do everything possible to put down The Salvation Army which was opposed altogether to the spirit of true religion. He even added that the council must resort to the support of the Skeleton Army to bring about the suppression of the Army.

The Skeleton Army attacking the
Barracks at nearby Worthing

Furthermore, the mayor actually went as far as asking the home secretary for permission to leave the Salvationists to the fury of the mob. Permission was very properly denied. The Salvation Army opened fire in Eastbourne on 9th January 1890. Conflict with the town council was not long in coming. On September 8th Captain Emily Goss, together with other Salvationists, appeared before the magistrates charged with singing in the street. The first attempt by the council to attack the Army ended in defeat when the case was dismissed. The Bandmaster of the Household Troops Band, Staff Captain Appleby, was charged on 24th August with being associated with a procession and a band of music. He was not brought before the court until October when he was found

guilty and fined �on each count with 15/- costs, or seven days imprisonment. By May 1891 a corps band had been formed and the mayor was informed and a compromise suggested. The band would agree to play on Sundays in procession only in certain streets. On 11th May the council passed a resolution uncompromisingly rejecting the proposal. The conflict continued to escalate and in June 1891 local magistrates fined Captain Bob Bell and four soldiers � or a month in prison. They chose to serve the prison sentence. Just one week later thirty Salvationists appeared in court. As they all refused to agree to abide by the draconian regulations being enforced on them, the maximum penalty was imposed and they were jailed.
Commissioner Eva Booth visited Eastbourne from 25th to 28th June and conducted three meetings on the Sunday. In an effort to bring about a peaceful settlement to the conflict, she visited the mayor and councillor chambers. Her efforts sadly failed and every effort at compromise was soundly rejected.

Upon his release from jail, Captain Bell and his comrades were welcomed by some 2000 Salvationists from London and the south of England. They marched through the town led by Commandant H. H. Booth, Commissioner Eva Booth and Commissioner Howard. The day ended with the Salvationists being attacked by a large violent mob.
From that day on a steady stream of Salvationists flowed to and from Lewes prison. The ill treatment of the Salvationists by the ‘Skeleton Army’ continued to escalate. Incited by the mayor, the mob, often numbering over 7000, were only to willing to attack at every available opportunity. The Sunday following Captain Bell’s release from jail, nine bandsmen from Camberwell, London, visited Eastbourne in support of their comrades.

Cover commemorating the centenary
of the Eastbourne judgement

On the order of the mayor they were soon arrested and were committed for trial by local magistrates charged with conspiracy and unlawful assembly. Appearing at the Sussex Assizes at Lewes on 8th August, they were defended by Mr. H. H. Asquith, Q.C., M.P., who was later to become Prime Minister. The case was sent to the Central Criminal Court for trial on 2nd December where he jury found the bandsmen guilty of the charge of unlawful assembly. The judge, Mr. Justice Hawkins, refused to accept the verdict, stating that walking carrying musical instruments could in no way be considered unlawful. December 4th saw a proclamation posted in Eastbourne signed by the mayor and town clerk in another attempt to quell the Army’s activities. It was withdrawn when local Methodists announced that they too would contest the contents of the proclamation to the bitter end. Despite this, both the Skeleton Army and indeed the police continued to hand out brutal treatment to the local Salvationists.
Reviewing the case of the Camberwell Bandsmen on January 27th 1892, the High Court of the Queen’s Bench Division, all five judges decided that there was no evidence on which a reasonable jury could have acted in finding the defendants guilty of an unlawful assembly. They also pointed out that any violent action by the mob was not only unwarranted, but was itself punishable.
On March 10th 1892 Parliament voted by 269 votes to 122 to repeal the clause in the law that had in a large part been responsible for the riots not only in Eastbourne but in a number of other towns and cities. It was not until 1st September that the Repeal Bill became law, and rightly the Salvationists claimed a great victory. At Eastbourne Corps, by the end of November, a period of 5 months, there had been 80 seekers, 35 recruits and 28 new soldiers had been enrolled.
The coucil tried to introduce by-laws to prevent the Salvation Army grom holding open air meetings and processions in the town. Thankfully the Home Secretary refused to approve them. At not a little cost, particularly to the Eastbourne Salvationists, The Army had won the right to proclaim the Word Of God on the streets.

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