The Salvation Army, part of the Christian Church, was founded in the East End of London by William Booth in 1865 with the aims of spreading the word of the gospel while helping those who were in need.. The work of the Salvation Army in Norwich commenced on 6th August 1882 at the old skating rink on St Giles Street. This is now ‘Country and Eastern’ which can be accessed from Bethel Street.
Joseph Mann, an early convert to The Salvation Army, kept a diary which describes the beginning of the movement in Norwich:
“During the autumn and winter of 1891 the old Rink got into a bad state of repair, it was no uncommon thing when it rained for someone to open an umbrella to keep the rain off which fell from the roof, in fact the water poured in in torrents in places. It seemed that the owners of the Rink wanted the Salvation Army to put the place in repair, but according to the agreement the owners were to keep the outside in repair, while the Salvation Army were held responsible for the inside repairs, both inside and outside got into a very bad state of neglect. Headquarters started negotiations for the purchase of the Old Rink, but the owners asked such a high price for the building that Headquarters thought they were being imposed upon.”
The Salvation Army were forced to look for suitable land to build a new ‘barracks’. In 1892 our present site, which was then an old cycle repair yard, was purchased for £1,500 and the ‘Citadel’ built to specification for the sum of £2,500. Joseph Mann’s diary records that the cycle repair yard had been forced to close by a petition gathered by the residents of St Giles Street. They were unhappy with the pollution and noise created by the business. However, it is also recorded that when they learned that the land had been purchased by The Salvation Army they were equally horrified and sought to raise another petition!
In 1974 The Salvation Army purchased Mortimer’s Hotel, which is the front of our building. This created space for:
- Our first Day Centre for the elderly
- A purpose-built hall for young people
- Administration offices
Mortimer’s Hotel was built in 1858 in the place of an old coaching inn. In the early 1900’s it had been known as the Opera House Hotel, probably because it was used by many of the performers at the old Hippodrome Musical Hall Theatre, situated where the St Giles Car Park is now.
In the 1990s, The Salvation Army purchased 36 St Giles Street, which was the home to the Conservative Club in Norwich. After renovation, the building was re-opened and now houses the William Booth Day Centre and Catherine’s Coffee Lounge.
The founder of the Salvation Army, William Booth, believed very much in ‘practical Christianity’ and the welfare of those in need is the motivation of our movement. The struggle to overcome poverty, deprivation, homelessness and sinfulness was viewed by him as a ‘fight’ and an Army was the ideal organisation to deal with this.
Today, The Salvation Army in St Giles Street continues to be a busy city centre church, with around 300 members. We meet each Sunday for worship at 10.30am and 6pm and run a full programme of worship meetings and activities for young and old during the week.