"The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life"
    Jesus Christ

The Salvation Army

Gillingham Corps


Corps History

Written by Retired Corps Secretary and Treasurer Peter Sharp


GILLINGHAM - from Rural District to Unitary Authority

In the early 1800s Gillingham was still a large village (described as a township) on the south bank of the Medway estuary about two miles downstream of Chatham dockyard. The area on top of the Great Lines from Chatham eastwards to Gillingham was still mainly undeveloped and was administered by the appropriate authorities in Gillingham. Some housing was being built close to the riverside, spreading between the dockyard and Gillingham, for Naval personnel and dockyard workers. The district of Chatham around the dockyard main gate was Brompton. Hence this development became New Brompton.

In the mid 1800s the dockyard underwent a massive extension together with a naval barracks along the riverfront towards Gillingham. This was accompanied by an equally massive building development in New Brompton to accommodate the manpower required. New Brompton mushroomed into a sizeable town with the accompanying facilities and by the late 1800s had a larger population than either neighbouring Chatham or Rochester. In 1893 Gillingham changed from a Rural to an Urban District Council.

By 1900 Gillingham authorities considered that Gillingham qualified to become a Municipal Borough. The population was large and growing, it included the dockyard extension and the Royal Engineers Barracks in its administration and the new Naval Hospital was planned to be built in Gillingham. In 1903 Gillingham was awarded a Charter of Incorporation as a Borough. The name of the Borough almost became Brompton but by a small majority the older name of Gillingham was retained. Gillingham Borough included Gillingham, New Brompton, Brompton (which was exchanged with Chatham for Hardstown), Wigmore, Hempstead, Twydall, Lidsing and Grange. Previously Grange had been a Cinque Port limb, administerd by Hastings and technically a part of Sussex. Hastings retained authority for public house licencing and maintenance of law until the 1940s.

In the 1930s Rainham, administered by Milton Rural District Council, transferred to Gillingham . With the continuing rapid expansion in housing development started in the 1960s Gillingham became,in population, the largest town in Kent

In 1998 Gillingham was compulsorily joined with Chatham and Rochester to form the Unitary Authority of Medway. Gillingham Borough Council ceased to exist as an independent body.



The First Forty Years
New Brompton Corps was opened in 1881 (see Home/A Short History), probably at the initiative of Chatham Corps. As premises a disused laundry building was acquired in Gardiner Street in an excellent town centre situation, less than a hundred yards from the High Street and close to residential areas. New Brompton was growing rapidly, mainly to satisfy demands for an increasing workforce for the expanding dockyard. The area between the town centre (or the railway line?) and the dockyard around New Brompton Gate (Lower New Brompton) developed to accommodate dockyard labourers. The area on the other side of the High Street (Upper New Brompton) accommodated skilled workers, merging into the prestige area around Watling Street for the managerial staff. The Army Hall was situated on the divide between Lower and Upper New Brompton. A wide social mix lived within a short walking distance of the Hall. The membership of the rapidly growing Corps typically mirrored this social mix. Together with a worship programme, intense by today's standards, the Corps recognized the low living standards, largely hidden, suffered by many families in the area. On occasion meals for large numbers of children were provided. It is reported that, before the advent of cinemas, film shows were held in the Army Hall on some Saturdays, in the morning for children and in the evening for adults.
Around the turn of the century there are references to activities at the Gillingham Salvation Army Hall in Gillingham High Street, including assistance at the opening provided by New Brompton Band. This seems to refer to a relatively short term project in the original village area of Gillingham. The Gillingham High Street referred to is now Pier Road, leading to the Strand. At a later date meetings were held in this area as an outpost of the now Gillingham Corps.
When Gillingham became a Borough in 1903, New Brompton High Street became Gillingham town centre and renamed Gillingham High Street. Hence New Brompton Corps became Gillingham Corps.
Gillingham Borough developed an intense civic pride, exemplified by the impressive Municipal Buildings containing the civic offices and council chambers built in Gillingham Park. On occasion Gillingham was described as the town of three "p"s; - pride, pianos and poverty. If you lived in the "affluent" Watling Street area it was almost obligatory that you displayed an aspidistra in a pot in your front window. Gillingham Corps recognized the often hidden poverty and maintained its programme of providing meals. In the first twenty years of the century affordable food became progressively less available. This culminated in the First World War when there was no effective rationing system for the dwindling supply of food. The Corps collected unused food from H.M. ships in the docks to maintain a programme of meals provision
A feature of the Corps development in the first twenty years of the century was the increasing reputation of the Corps Band both nationally and internationally, culminating in the Bandmaster, Ted Saywell, leaving Gillingham to accept the newly created post of Salvation Army National Inspector of Bands (see About us/Band). In his book "The Gillingham Chronicles" Ron Baldwin records that it used to be said that "but for Gillingham Football Club and Gillingham Salvation Army Band, no one would have heard of Gillingham." Uniquely, a very young bandsman in Ted Saywell's band, Ernst Rance, succeeded him in the National post at a later date.

The Thirties
In the early thirties plans were developed to replace the adapted laundry building with one more suited to the requirements of the Corps. Agreement was obtained with the neighbours in Gardiner Street (Le Fevres Department Store) for the site boundaries to be suitably adjusted. Due to the difficulty in raising finance during this time of financial depression, it was planned to complete the main worship hall together with an administrative office,band room and basic scullery at this stage, leaving the site for the young people's hall to be built on later. The necessary finance was accumulated, mainly by the Corps,and the new premises were opened and commissioned in 1934. The local paper report emphasized how modern it was, especially that it was centrally heated It also stated that it had a seating capacity of 400! The limitation it presented was that worship and adult activities had to be well separated in time from young peoples' work. Plans to build the youth hall were then delayed by the declaration of the Second World War in 1939.

The Forties
During the war, in common with all Salvation Army Corps, a normal programme of worship and associated activities was maintained. Although many Corps members were on National Service, small but competent band and songsters continued to function, supplemented by Salvationist service personnel temporarily stationed in the area. It is recorded that in 1940 concern was expressed that in the Harvest Appeal where envelopes were distributed, many houses were destroyed or seriously damaged before the envelopes could be collected! Normal service during the Battle of Britain was occasionally disrupted.
In 1947 Corps Secretary Percy Bruce (known publically as Alderman Percy Bruce) was elected Mayor of Gillingham. The Corps Commanding Officer, Major Parkin, was appointed Mayor's Chaplain. It was time for the young peoples' hall to be built. Unfortunately the cost of the war had almost reduced the British economy to bankruptcy. Very tight restrictions were imposed on any financial activity. Building work was totally banned except where licensed. Licences were only issued under very strict conditions. Church buildings did not qualify. A possibility was that sports halls were considered favourably especially when linked to youth clubs. The Corps operated an active youth club (Torchbearers). The ground area for the proposed young people's hall was exactly the size for a badminton court. Possibly the building could have a valuable dual use. Application was made, supported by the Rochester Diocesan Reorganisation Committee. Initially the application was rejected but after further clarification was eventually granted. The cost of 1500 was raised from a range of sources and negotiations for the building work went ahead.

The Fifties
The building of the Young people's / sports hall progressed rapidly. The opening ceremony , on the 1st. July 1950 was conducted by the British Commissioner , Commissioner William Dalziel. He presented the key to Mr. J.S. Lumley Robinson to declare the hall open. Mr. Lumley Robinson, a Methodist local business man (Jubilee Clips) was actively supportive of Salvation Army projects.
The new hall immediately proved its worth. In August 1950 a group of thirty delegates from twelve countries who were attending a Salvation Army International Youth Congress at the Royal Albert Hall spent a weekend at Gillingham.
Throughout the decade the social activities of the Corps developed. Notable was the series of annual garden parties held at Barnsole House (now part of Barnsole School) by permission of Mr. and Mrs. Gill.
The band celebrated its 75th. Birthday in late 1957 with an anniversary tea provided by the Home League followed by a programme with retired bandmaster Jack Wren as guest conductor. This was followed in early 1958 by a weekend visit by Captain Dean Goffin, the National Secretary for bands,the successor to Ted Saywell and Ernst Rance. The band then accompanied Captain Dean Goffin to Tunbridge Wells Corps to conduct Easter celebrations.

The Sixties
The decade of Salvation army's 100th. Anniversary The Army was "born" as the Christian Mission in 1865. Amongst other projects Salvation Bonds were made available. (The Premium Bond had recently been introduced) . These were actually receipts for 1 donations and were not redeemable! To celebrate and support, the Corps organized a series of events each incuding an opportunity to sell bonds during the period August - November 1967. Support was provided by a Bond committee , including military and civilian friends.
Events included:
Weekend participation at Medway Towns Traction Engine Rally, including conducting the Sunday meetings on site. Maidstone Band and Chatham Singing Company assisted.
Photographic exhibition at Le Fevres Department Store (our next door neighbour)
Songster programme at St. Marks Church, including an explanation of the Bond scheme
Chalk Farm Band at Rochester Cathedral with General Fred Coutts as chairman(organized by Bandsman and Mrs. Alister Goodwin)
One of the first sponsored walks (before they became big money spinners);- 20 miles from Faversham town centre to Gillingham hall mainly along the A2 on an October evening. Entrants were required to find a 1 sponsor, the entrant agreeing to pay if they did not complete the walk. Sittingborne Corps provided a refreshment stop. About 90 walkers successfully comleted the course. (organized by Band Secretary Derek Harpum) Bond Day at Macklands House, Rainham, by invitation of Mr. Mackay-Miller. Bond sales were held in the celler.
Salvation Carnival in the town centre on a Saturday afternoon. Chatham and Strood Corps gave valuable support
Visit of Joystrings to Rochester Corn Exchange. Public demands were so great that two programmes were given, both fully booked. (organized by Songster Leader Jim Rowland)
Conclusion to the activities by a weekend visit of Kettering Band (organized by Organising Secretary Des. Whitmore)
Amongst the various achievements of these events about 1100 bonds were sold.

In 1969 the Corps Officers address changed to 5 Austin Close, a new-build house on Darland. Previously their house backed on to the railway station in Avondale Road. Each section of the Corps furnished a room. Unfortunately personal considerations caused the officers to move from the district within a few days.

The Seventies
A spin-off from the Centenary activities of the sixties was the desire to further develop the community care programme of the Corps. Already the membership had accepted the responsibility for the Annual Self Denial envelope appeal held in February. Ways of involving the total membership, together with friends, to collect the maximum district in an efficient and enjoyable manner were experimented with. By the end of the decade the annual total had steadily increased from the previous norm of about 370 to 5000+
During the first half of the decade a series of annual Summer fetes were organized by Band Sergeant Dan Millest. These Bandoramas were held at Hilly Fields School which provided excellent facilities. Activities included organized sports, a wide range of stalls both for entertainment and goods sales, first-class catering (courtesy of Mrs.Stiff), and a continuous bandstand programme with a wide range of musical activities enthusiastically provided by a number of Kent Corps.

The site of the Corps buildings was considered excellent for developing community activities but the lay-out and facilities were limiting. The more recent youth hall had no internal access to the rest of the buildings. Kitchen and toilet facilities were basic in the extreme and difficult to access. A committee was set up to establish priorities;-
a kitchen suitable for preparing large numbers of cooked meals, with easy access to both main
an entrance vestible with direct access to all facilities, including disabled-friendly toilets,
a worship hall capable of hosting all main events and styles of worship,
wheel-chair access to all areas of the building with no steps.
Outline plans were prepared and costed in the region of 50,000. A business plan was submitted to Headquarters for approval. Initially, Jan 1976, the response was discouraging;- the proposal was praiseworthy but "without legs". The scheme was however "adopted" by the S.A. Architects Department with the proposal to do the work in two phases.
Phase 1 (including provision of fully equipped kitchen and general purpose lounge with facilities) was completed between Jan. and May 1977.
Phase 2 (including building entrance vestibule with access to all facilities and major remodelling of main hall) was completed between Jan. and June 1978.
During this time the Corps programme was successfully maintained, occasionally with minor discomfort. The business plan proved to be "with legs". Sadly Retired Corps Treasurer Percy Bruce who had been the driving force for the rebuilding of the senior hall in 1934 and the building of the young peoples hall in 1950 was promoted to glory in May 1978 just before completion of the work.
Initially two services were instituted:- a regular weekly public lunch
a play group which developed into a five morning a week pre- school.

During the Autumn of 1979 the Gillingham Town Centre redevelopment and pedestrianisation was completed. The Hall?s address changed to GREEN STREET. (the Hall has now changed both town and street without moving!).

The Eighties
The decade started with disappointing news: the closure of the dockyard resulting in the eventual moving away/loss of employment of a significant number of tha active members of the Corps. Happily both the Corps' centenary (1981) and the Band's centenary (1982) took place before the effects of this were noticeable.
A feature of the Corps' centenary was the re-enactment of the march into New Brompton of Chatham Salvationists headed by Chatham Band, but this time into Gillingham leading the Gillingham Salvationists.
As a feature of its centenary the Band recorded an LP (vinyl) in the Dockyard Church (selected for its acoustic qualities). These sold out well before the celebration date and were supplemented by a tape, also recorded professionally in the church. This tape included the march The Golden Strand, written specially for the occasion by Major Trevor Davis, brother of the bandmaster, and featuring the first tune the band was reputed to have played: - "Who?ll be the next to follow Jesus?".

During this period work among the older youth featured strongly.
Over the years the Corps Cadet Brigade , under the leadership of Colin Springate and Terry Wakefield, had introduced a large group of enthusiastic and evangelical young Christians into the Corps. Many of these became engaged in spreading the Gospel in various capacities virtually worldwide.
A Youth Club featuring especially sport and physical activities was also developing under the capable and efficient leadership of Derek Wheaton.
In 1983 Bandsman Mike Cooke organized a music group at a Corps barn dance. Initially named Blessed Assurance this involved capable and dedicated young Christian musicians. The group, renamed Counterflow, rapidly developed in style, performing to a near professional standard. For several years they played a full part in Corps activities as well as being in demand nationally.

The complete Corps, with additional friends, became involved in a production of the SA musical "Spirit", produced by Mike Cooke with music director Andy Millest. This was staged on a series of weeknights to capacity "congregations" at St Marks Church. The total involvement of Corps members and friends together with the extreme generosity of the Church resulted in a series of memorable performances.

A milestone in the life of the Corps was the "promotion to glory" of Retired Bandmaster Alf Springate, a nationally known character in Army banding, in December 1984. A united Medway SA band marched the Bndmaster to the SA Hall and to the chapel from the gates of Medway cremartorium. A capacity crowd attended a thanksgiving service for the life of Alf, conducted by Lt.Col. Norman Bearcroft. At a later date, organized by Songster Leader Des. Whitmore, a new Corps piano was purchased and dedicated to the memory of Alf. On the same occasion a new piano stool was dedicated to the memory of Chris Sears (Snr), father of Chris Sears (Jnr) who had previously succeeded Alf as Gillingham Bandmaster.

The Commanding Officers' address changed to 24 Malvern Road.

The Nineties
2nd. February 1993. At about 1.00 a.m. a part-time fireman walking past the Hall to sign on at the nearby auxilliary fire station noticed smoke issuing from the rear of the building. The fire service quickly attended. The furniture in the general purpose lounge had been piled in the centre of the room and set alight. The gas taps in the adjoining kitchen had been turned on. The lounge was completely gutted. The rest of the building sustained severe smoke and soot damage requiring deep industrial cleaning and complete redecoration. Amazingly the building was back in almost normal use but with minor restrictions within a few days. In March all the windows in the Senior Hall were replaced with double-glazed units funded from a legacy of Brig. George Bellingham and dedicated to the memory of Brigadiers George amd Mrs. Bellingham who spent their retirement at Gillingham.

1994 - The Medway Towns (Chatham, Gillingham and Strood Corps) were selected as suitable for a pilot for the February Red Shield door-knock Appeal to replace the single corps Self Denial Appeal, to be operated by an inter-Corps committee (Medway Corps) relieving the respective Commanding Officers of responsibility. The committee formed included Corps Sec.(R) Peter Sharp as joint co-ordinator with Bill Offerman (a non-Salvationist friend) and Assistant Corps Treasurer Reg Harpum as treasurer. The aim was 'an envelope to every house'. This involved recruiting (most effectively by door knocking) a large number of volunteer non-Salvationist friend collectors for an otherwise impossible task. The co-operation of Corps members and the helpfulness of the public were both amazing. A total of 185 Salvationists and 496 friends collected 26,780, an increase of over 9,000 on 1993.

1995- For one year only the Medway Appeal was expanded to include Maidstone and Swale areas. Unfortunately Bill Offerman had been appointed to National Headquarters as National Red Shield Appeal Trainer. The co-ordinating of an area about 50 miles across , with the servicing of three committees was daunting (but enjoyable!)

Although the Medway Appeal continued to develop most other pilot schemes found the organization required to be too demanding. With the arbitrary change of collecting month from February to September, requiring two appeals in one year, the scheme was not developed nationally. "Medway" has continued in a slimmed down version operating as one unit.

The Salvation Army Trading Company planned to open a charity shop in Gillingham High Street. Premises had been obtained on a six month lease trial basis. Just before the opening in 1994 the Trading Company decided to withdraw. The Corps took over the project with Eileen Forwood, who had extensive retail management experience as volunteer manager. During the six months the premises were sold. After a temporary move, a suitable larger High Street shop was obtained on a longer lease.This was developed to deal with donated furniture as well as clothing and bric-a-brac. For a considerable time ,as well as sales it acted as a distribution outlet for charity distribution of food, clothing and furniture. Despite appreciable operating expenses the shop was able to give valuable support to the community work of the Corps.

In Spring 1996 the Corps undertook a three-year Planned Giving programme. This required a dedicated fortnight of preparative activities concluding with a Corps Dinner at the King Charles Hotel. Corps members were totally supportive and the effect on Corps finances was dramatic, enabling a number of projects, church and community based, to be proceeded with including;-
replacing the Hall seating with 200 upholstered chairs,
because of special circumstances, purchasing new-build accommodation for the Commanding Officers at 2 Portree Mews to replace 24 Malvern Road,
in 2002/3 carrying out a major reburbishment of the kitchen, toilet and heating facilities (including a new gas boiler) at the Hall.
At the end of the three year period the Corps wished to continue the programme. A complete repeat of the expensive fortnight's induction programme was required. The Corps felt this was counter-productive and decided not to renew but to operate (unofficially) the programme as Pledged Giving, without Headquarters support. The "recorder"(Corps Treasurer) together with a small operating committee agreed and continued for about nine years until the Corps Treasurer was retired.

In 1998 Gillingham became part of the Medway Unitary Authority. Effectively, Gillingham Corps was located in a secondary shopping centre rather than a town centre.

The Twenty-first Century
Band Librarian Michael Richards was awarded the Order of the British Empire in the 2001 New Years Honours List for 50 years exemplary and efficient service to Gillingham SA Band

Major reburbishment of kitchen, toilets and heating system carried out over 2002/3. The normal programme was maintained despite the main heating system being out of action during December/January while the gas boiler was replaced.
Further building work was carried out 2010-12 on the Headquarters Planned Maintenance scheme.This included redecoration and replacement of the ceiling and lighting in the senior hall, refurbishment of the youth hall and virtually replacing some of the work done to the kitchen and heating system.
During this period the number of members moving away was larger than usually experienced. With the enhanced facilities available a programme to attract the public to week-day activities and eventual fellowship was introduced with a measure of success.
The development of the long-established Over 60 (in practice Over 50) Club was particularly encouraging. A fully serviced monthly lunch regularly provided 70 - 90 meals. Unfortunately the Club leader (and her husband assistant) found it necessary to move from the Corps. Before their final meeting 130 cooked meals were served. The Over-60 Club continued with good support but re-organised as a CAMEO (Come And Meet Each Other) Club

The Corps 130th. Anniversary (April 2011) was an exciting event (thanks especially to the Corps Secretary). The leaders for the week-end were Majors Francis and Beth Frost, who, as the Commanding Officers, had introduced the successful initiatives in the early nineties. The number of former Corps members attending far exceeded expectations. Their enthusiasm to take part was particularly encouraging.

The lease on the Community Store premises expired in August 2011. The requirements to renew the lease, including a massive rent increase, made this completely unjustifiable(after a year the premises are still unoccupied). Its presence on the High Street had been well appreciated by the public.