Our History - BROMLEY Salvation Army, Celebrating 125 Years (1886 - 2011)
How it all started
The origins of the Army in Bromley start on Sunday 9 October 1869, when a group from the Christian Mission went to Bromley after a Bromley resident attending a meeting stated there was great need in his area. A report in the Christian Mission Magazine dated 1 November 1870 states that a wagon-full of friends from the mission went to Bromley and held open-air meetings, as well as meetings in the Town Hall. It has previously been thought that groups from the Christian Mission in Farnborough, Kent and possibly Croydon attended open-air meetings and on this occasion it may well have been a group from one of these locations. A mission station was later opened.
Click here to read more about The Christian Mission.
Further Christian Mission Magazine articles document that the Reverend William Booth visited Bromley in 1874, and in the March 1876 issue the following extract states, "Bromley Kent - My first month has been encouraging. I came here with the words ringing in my ears, Prove me now if I will not open the windows of Heaven and pour ye out a blessing that there shall be room enough to contain it and praise God, I have proved Him. Sinners have been saved, backsliders reclaimed, believers quickened, and people have thronged our little hall until there has not been room to contain them." Emma Stride, 5 Freelands Grove, Bromley, Kent.
Unfortunately, in July 1877 a decision was made to close the mission, due to the need for a new hall and the lack of money to buy one.
Old Bromley - Looking towards Market Square
Officially, The Salvation Army in Bromley (Corps No. 840) was constituted on 8 August 1886, but prior to this meetings were held in the home of Mrs Moore (affectionately known as Mother Moore) at 7 Hawkesworth Road. In 1885, her son was converted after attending meetings at Regent Hall Corps. He then asked his mother to allow meetings to be held in their kitchen. At first, she refused but after attending Regent Hall herself, her attitude changed and the 'Hallelujah Kitchen' became the spiritual birthplace of many souls. Meetings soon overflowed to adjoining scullery and stairs, with the kitchen becoming too small for the number of people wishing to attend. In 1886 the comrades secured their first building (formerly attached to an old brewery) known as Griffin's Stores in The Vale, Masons Hill, with 50 people ready to accept the conditions of soldiership. "Before the Holiness meeting a long march of an hour round Widmore brought hundreds of people to doors and windows and street corners, the playing of the splendid brass band from Woolwich rousing the whole neighbourhood."
It is not known what happened in the years between the Christian Mission closing and The Salvation Army starting, but it is clear that seeds were sown by those early pioneers from the mission. In 1888, the corps marched to the Drill Hall in East Street for the visit of General William Booth.
The Skeleton Army
As in many other southern towns, Bromley Salvationists had to contend with The Skeleton Army, who with their skull-and-crossbones banners, disrupted marches and open-air meetings by throwing missiles and often assaulting Salvationists.
The corps was soon in regular conflict and 20-30 policemen were regularly drafted in on Sundays to keep the peace. The disturbances reached a climax later at the Drill Hall in East Street during a meeting to present the corps colours. The disturbance was so great that it took 50 policemen to restore order.
After a time, opposition diminished and in 1887 the band appeared for the first time in Easter meetings, with eight members and a repertoire of three tunes. During the First World War, most men were called up for war service, but the women rallied round with seven or eight learning to play brass instruments. This kept the band going, ensuring its unbroken record to the present day.
On the move
After some years in The Vale, the corps' next hall was in Waiter's Yard off the High Street, where it remained until the work was transferred to Sherman Road.
For a temporary building, the Sherman Road hall had a long and somewhat varied history. The hall was previously a Baptist church and when the present Baptist Church at Park Road was extended in 1906, the Bromley corps moved in. A pulpit was still present and a platform was built over the baptistery.
First World War
During the War, up to 1,900 people attended open-air meetings in Market Square (before it was rebuilt).The numbers attending were partly due to the fact that many troops billeted in the town. These meetings, led by Commandant Charles Harrison sought to cheer up many who had become depressed and saddened. The home league was started at this time with the idea of helping women whose husbands were fighting at the front. Their ministry continues to this day.
On the move again
In 1934, the corps was forced to leave the Sherman Road premises having been given notice to quit by the owner Mr Frampton, who wished to develop the site with a cinema. The cinema however was never built and later became a GPO sorting office and remains a Royal Mail sorting office today.
For nearly five years, the corps was without a hall. Sunday meetings were held in the Co-Operative hall in East Street and many weeknight events took place in the Guides hut in College Road, which was destroyed in the war. There were many acts of kindness during this period from local churches and missions, which from time to time granted facilities for the holding of special meetings.
The present site in Ethelbert Road was established and opened on 21 January 1939, but not without a struggle. The Town Council refused planning permission, fearing that the playing of brass bands would disturb the neighbours. The corps appealed, which resulted in one of the first planning enquiries held in the Borough of Bromley. The appeal in 1939 was successful but with restrictions imposed by the Minister of Health as to the thickness of walls, glazing and hours during which bands could play. Finally, the corps had a permanent, debt-free home, something which the older soldiers had looked forward to for more than 50 years.
General Evangeline Booth wrote to the corps, "Ten Thousand Hallelujahs. Your faith and prayer and works are rewarded in the splendid hall you dedicate to God and the people of Bromley this afternoon. May the Saviour himself be the first to enter these doors and his continual presence make it a sanctuary of help and hope and peace to thousands.
... let every soldier take his part in the battle.
Now for a great challenge to sin and sorrow, let every soldier take his part in the battle and carry the light for God to all people."
Second World War
During the Blitz of September 1940, the young people's hall was used as a rest centre.
Raids continued day and night, and people bombed from their homes came to the hall until arrangements were made for them by the authorities. The people of Bromley will ever remember the Salvation Army canteen, donated to the borough by public subscriptions. Every night during the Blitz, officers and soldiers were out with the canteen, going from one incident to another, providing refreshment for the personnel of the Civil Defence Services and those rendered homeless. Their unfailing cheerfulness was a great help to everyone. The corps officers, Major and Mrs George Exley, were constantly at the hall attending to the homeless. On 16 April 1941, their quarters in Babbacombe Road were completely destroyed in the town's worst air-raid. They possibly owed their lives to the fact they were out with the canteen. The hall was almost the only building used for religious purposes to escape war damage.
Wartime bomb damage
Officers and comrades also held weekly meetings in the Chislehurst Caves, which were used as shelters. The grand hall shelter was regularly visited, and musical programmes were given. Following the end of the war, activities resumed as normal. The corps continued to expand until in the late 1950s when there was a full hall every Sunday morning. The need for more space was evident.
The musical years
In 1967 Captain John Gowans was appointed to Bromley Corps and, having already joined forces with Captain John Larsson (who followed Captain Gowans as the Bromley Commanding Officer in 1970), they produced many musicals over the years.
It was not long before the corps folk produced the musical Take Over Bid. This was to be the start of many such musical productions by the Bromley cast including the young and not-so-young in all its ranks. This practice continued to 1986, when the musical Son of Man was performed at the Bromley Civic Centre.
Building up the Temple
Since 1986 there had been major plans to refurbish the existing hall. In August 1992 the hall was closed for an extensive rebuild. The corps was without a home once again, but will be ever grateful to St. Mark's Church for the warmth and hospitality shown, as their church became the corps for a year. Separate services for the corps were kindly facilitated, but many joint services were also held with all benefiting from a rich mix of worship styles. This is possibly the first-ever such partnership between an Anglican Church and The Salvation Army. During this period, the corps was also grateful to be able to use the Christian Science building for rehearsals and other activities.
On Saturday 9 October 1993, the hall was officially re-opened and dedicated in a service conducted by the Territorial Commander, Commissioner Dinsdale Pender. A few years later, the small flat-roofed property next door was purchased by the corps. This was refurbished into Sally's Place, a community and coffee shop, with internal access to the hall and additional office space.
After several years, it was felt that Sally's Place was in need of a makeover, with the existing coffee shop and kitchen needing more space and modernisation to cope with the increasing demand. In 2004, the building was completely refurbished. The larger charity shop space became 'the light' coffee shop. The smaller became a charity shop, retaining the name of Sally's Place. In 2012 the building once again needed renovation and was closed for a while, reopening in 2013 as The Light Café and continues to minister to the community of Bromley, a place where people can come to enjoy a coffee and a chat and meet a friendly face.
The new Millennium
The Bromley Temple Corps of the Salvation Army has continued its ministry into the new millennium. Some new ventures have started since the year 2000. These include the Community Choir, a group that meets weekly during the day and is open to anyone who enjoys a sing and would like to come along for fellowship (musical knowledge not a requirement). This group has grown from strength to strength since its first meeting in 2015 and now has over 40 members. A small knitting group was started in 2015, open to those who enjoyed this hobby. This has now developed into ‘Crafternoon’ a group that meets fortnightly to enjoy a whole range of crafts. Both of these activities give a chance for us to get to meet new people and introduce them to the world of the Army in a fun way.
Our young people’s work has also changed and developed in the years since the millennium. We still have a thriving Junior Soldier programme and a vibrant Singing Company and Young People’s Band. In some years we have held an autumn holiday club during the October half term week, open to children from local schools. Over recent years many of our youth have helped out at Divisional Holiday Camps and from this has developed our Connect Programme, a Friday evening club which aims to keep contact with children and families from the holiday camps who have no other church connections and is also a place where new children can begin to learn about the gospel message. This commenced in 2017 and in 2019 has now expanded into Connect (for children aged 7 to 12) and also Connect + which is a programme for young people aged 13 to 16.
Two further new ventures have been started in 2019. The first is an Alpha Course which is open to all and aims to reach out and explain the Christian message to those who may not have any church background. The other is an expanded house group programme, with house groups being held monthly on a Sunday evening to give a chance to explore our faith in a more relaxed way.
As we move further into the millennium Bromley Temple Corps continues to explore ways ‘To know Jesus and to make Him known’ both in Salvation Army circles and in our local community.