The Salvation Army has had a permanent base in Penge since 1894 when ‘a spacious citadel was raised in Maple Road and the laying of the memorial stones of the new building was an occasion of much rejoicing.’ Crowds had attended the opening of the citadel which was a symbolic indication of the presence in Penge the Army had had since 1882.
The opening had an almost epic theatricality: a platform stage, fifteen feet above the onlookers’ heads, and, on this stage, the band with various dignitaries. Surrounding the stage was a ‘horse-shoe-shaped pack of humanity, through which brewers’ drays, grocers vans, and Hackney carriages passed very unceremoniously.’ It had rained heavily the night before and the road was swimming with liquid mud.
Despite the inauspicious weather, the day was triumphant with processions, music and speeches according to the Victorian custom. There were thirty-nine members of the band, resplendent in new uniforms. An address was given by Commissioner Booth-Tucker and the stone-laying was done by a Mr Atkinson ‘as to the manner born’.
The citadel was built to seat 800 people in the main hall with two smaller halls providing accommodation for a further 500 people. The beautiful main hall is of elegant late Victorian design. The citadel was managed by the Penge Citadel company ‘with a share capital of £5000’.
The Salvation Army was founded by William and Catherine Booth in 1865 in the East End of London. Their aim was to offer practical help to those in need.
The Army’s Christian mission has been active in Penge for well over a hundred years and the much-loved band and its wonderful music takes part in many events. The outreach to the poor and the marginalised has done untold good, all the more impressive for being so unobtrusive, unconditional and highly efficient. The Army’s help in times of emergency and disaster all over the world is well-known.
From their website: ‘We see the problems our society faces – family breakdown, poverty, homelessness, hunger, drug and alcohol addiction, domestic violence, child abuse and much more besides. We see men, women and children suffering greatly. More than anything we want to do something practical to transform their lives’.
In Penge, in addition to the visiting and the social outreach, there is an active life of worship and prayer. The mission is led by Major Paul Robinson and his wife Major Susan Robinson.
At Christmas, dinners are served for the lonely and the elderly; morning coffee drop-ins take place during the week; a shop sells a variety of items at affordable prices. ‘We’re here for you in your community’ could never be more apt or true.
There is an indoor war memorial in the form of a scroll which pays tribute to those who gave their lives during the Great War, 1914-1918.
For more about the Salvation Army see: