A tour around the William Booth Birthplace Museum
A short walk out of Nottingham city centre takes you to the suburb of Sneinton where you will find an elegant redbrick townhouse. Until recently, I didn’t know it was once the family home of William Booth, founder of the world-famous Salvation Army.
For an organisation that provides practical help it is fitting that the William Booth Birthplace Museum, at Notintone Place, is part of the city’s Salvation Army complex which offers community activities and worship. 2015 is also a landmark year for the organisation as it celebrates its 150th anniversary with a congress in London between 1st and 5th July. Around 16,000 Salvation Army members from around the world will attend – and many are expected to make the short pilgrimage London to Nottingham to see where is all began.
With the anniversary looming I thought there was no better time to visit the Birthplace Museum and discover how his formative years shaped his beliefs. The museum is set across three adjoining houses and has existed in some form since the 1930s, although it has also been used as a women’s shelter and cadet training centre. In 2011 it re-opened following an extensive restoration.
I was met by Museum Officer Julie Obermeyer who told me that Booth, who was born in 1829, had lived here until he was two-years-old. At this time his family had suffered severe financial hardship and moved to the Nottinghamshire village of Bleasby where his father worked as a farmer. He returned to Sneinton where he once again experienced dire poverty, both in his own family life following the death of his father and through his work as a pawnbroker’s apprentice.
Describing the importance of the museum, Julie said: “For Salvationists it is a pilgrimage. The Salvation Army is active in 126 countries so it’s a very international organisation. We also get a lot of officers from India, Korea, South America, Sweden and Africa.”
The museum has been faithfully reconstructed in the uncluttered style of a Georgian house, with muted colours and period furniture. My tour took me around the family’s living quarters, which include a parlour, kitchen and bedrooms, and I was surprised to see no signs of a religious upbringing – Julie told me however that Booth’s faith had been a revelation after he he listened to the charismatic Methodist preachers of the day.
“He writes about coming home one night and having those beliefs suddenly,” she added.
The top floor of the house is dedicated to William’s later life and his work with the Salvation Army. There is an exhibition on his wife, Catherine Booth, who was also a passionate preacher and social reformer. There is also a chance to see what impact Booth had during his life-time, including a film reel of his funeral which shows the many thousands of people who lined the streets to pay their respects to this revolutionary man.
William Booth’s Birthplace Museum is open to the public by appointment on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. For more details or to book call 0115 979 3464. Entry is free but donations are welcome.