In Darkest England and the Way Out

WHEN BUT A MERE CHILD the degradation and helpless misery of the poor Stockingers of my native town, wandering gaunt and hunger-stricken through the streets droning out their melancholy ditties, crowding the Union or toiling like galley slaves on relief works for a bare subsistence, kindled in my heart yearnings to help the poor which have continued to this day and which have had a powerful influence on my whole life . . .

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. . . .

Darkest England: This summer the attention of the civilised world has been arrested by the story which Mr. Stanley has told of “Darkest Africa” and his journeyings across the heart of the Lost Continent. In all the spirited narrative of heroic endeavour, nothing has so much impressed the imagination, as his description of the immense forest . . . covering a territory half as large again as the whole of France, where the rays of the sun never penetrate, where in the dark, dank air, filled with the steam of the heated morass, human beings dwarfed into pygmies and brutalised into cannibals lurk and live and die. . . . It seemed to me only too vivid a picture of many parts of our own land. As there is a darkest Africa is there not also a darkest England? . . .

The Submerged Tenth: The denizens in darkest England, for whom I appeal, are (1) those who, having no capital or income of their own, would in a month be dead from sheer starvation were they exclusively dependent upon the money earned by their own work; and (2) those who by their utmost exertions are unable to attain the regulation allowance of food which the law prescribes as indispensable even for the worst criminals in our gaols. . . . Three million men, women, and children, a vast despairing multitude in a condition nominally free, but really enslaved—these it is whom we have to save.

It is a large order. England emancipated her negroes sixty years ago, at a cost of £40,000,000, and has never ceased boasting about it since. But at our own doors, from “Plymouth to Peterhead,” stretches this waste Continent of humanity. . . .

My Scheme:The Scheme I have to offer consists in the formation of these people into self-helping and self-sustaining communities, each being a kind of co-operative society, or patriarchal family, governed and disciplined on the principles which have already proved so effective in The Salvation Army. These communities we will call, for want of a better term, Colonies. There will be (1) The City Colony; (2) The Farm Colony; (3) The over-Sea Colony.

By the City Colony is meant the establishment, in the very centre of the ocean of misery of which we have been speaking, of a number of Institutions to act as Harbours of Refuge . . . [to] gather up the poor destitute creatures, supply their immediate pressing necessities, furnish temporary employment, inspire them with hope for the future, and commence at once a course of regeneration by moral and religious influences. . . .

The Farm Colony would consist of a settlement of the [select City] Colonists on an estate in the provinces, in the culture of which they would find employment and obtain support. As the race from the Country to the City has been the cause of much of the distress we have to battle with, we propose to find a substantial part of our remedy by transferring these same people back to the country, that is, back again to “the Garden!” . . .

The over-Sea Colony: All who have given attention to the subject are agreed that in our Colonies in South Africa, Canada, Western Australia and elsewhere, there are millions of acres of useful land to be obtained almost for the asking. . . . We propose to secure a tract of land in one of these countries, prepare it for settlement, establish in it authority, govern it by equitable laws, assist it in times of necessity, settling it gradually with a prepared people [from the Farm Colony], and so create a home for these destitute multitudes. . . .

This is no cast-iron Scheme, forged in a single brain and then set up as a standard to which all must conform. It is a sturdy plant, which has its roots deep down in the nature and circumstances of men. Nay, I believe in the very heart of God Himself. It has already grown much, and will, if duly nurtured and tended, grow still further, until from it, as from the grain of mustard-seed in the parable, there shall spring up a great tree whose branches shall overshadow all the earth.

William Booth,

By William Booth

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #26 in 1990]

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