Religious Riots in Genteel Eastbourne!

Eastbourne, with its reputation as a haven for senior citizens, was once a centre for riots over religion! Surely there must be some mistake, especially as the riots were against the Salvation Army. But this was in the 1880s and 1890s, when religious intolerance by the lowest classes was at its height.

By 1885 the Army had arrived in Eastbourne, despite opposition from the Skeleton Army, a band of ruffians who were diametrically opposed to Salvationist principles. One was for red meat, beer, and pleasure, the other temperance, religion and tolerance. They clashed. By the time that
the Citadel was opened in 1890 the Skeleton Army had all but disappeared, and it was left to local roughs to do their worst.

There was also elected opposition to the Citadel being built, and when the Army marched on Sundays playing their instruments a local law was introduced banning both at the same time. Local youths had great fun, the bandsmen with stones and pebbles as they marched to the beach, but within a couple of years the opposition had all but disappeared.

In those two years however, some bandsmen had been jailed at local Lewes Prison for their beliefs. The authorities realised they were not going to win, so ultimately backed down. Some of these band members were ladies, who objected to being pelted with stones from the nearby beach. They received three-month sentences of hard labour. The local law was unenforceable, impractical, and unjust, so ultimately rescinded, but not before Salvationists had suffered for their beliefs.

During both World Wars the building was used for the benefit of the military, especially WW1 when many servicemen were billeted locally. It must have been a strange situation, because no music, smoking, or alcohol were allowed, basic military activities from all over the world, let alone UK. The original Langley Road building was not that dissimilar to what is there today, just a major rebuild occurring in 1990, a century later. The original turretting was removed, then restored, so the facade you see now is not appreciably changed.

The stained glass window in the entranceway is new, and the whole of the £660,000 refurbishment cost was met from the legacy of an anonymous benefactor. Sit at the front of the chapel, and you can clearly see the original structure, the framework, and imagine how 500 worshippers were accommodated. Look in the corner, hidden by the drums, and behind a curtain is an original oil painting of General Booth, found in a disused 15 mile away Horam garage, in near perfect condition. No idea of the provenance, who painted, but it must be many years old.

No-one famous has worshipped here, apart from the early riots nothing noteworthy has occurred. The building has just been quietly performing its duty for many years.

Harry Pope is a cruise ship lecturer with P&O and Saga, talking about the greatest comedians the UK has ever known. Living in Eastbourne, he is also available to talk to clubs and societies within a reasonable travelling distance.


  • Harry Pope

    Harry Pope realised he could write when he first went to school, and hasn’t stopped since. He returned the next day after parental prompting, because he realised he could talk as well, just as well because he is now in retirement a cruise ship lecturer with P&O and Saga, talking about the greatest comedians the UK has ever known. He is not a lecturer, nor a stand-up comedian, but an entertainer. His wife Pam goes as well, as there are so many groupies onboard.

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