General Booth's Farming Scheme

News from Hadleigh

Learning to milk a virtual cow on General Booth's farm
Illustration thanks to John Willson

Long before Morrisons there was the Salvation Army to take over and ‘improve’ Hadleigh, except that the Army’s objectives were not guided by profit margins, but by the noble doctrine of helping fellow man. General Booth, the leader of that campaigning ‘Army’ had identified honest toil as the antidote to ruined health and wasted lives. He would take the down-and-outs and rough-sleepers of London and set them to work on their self-confidence and give them skills that would serve not only the men themselves, but also the wider Commonwealth:

This is a report taken from Essex Newsman of Saturday, 11 April 1891:


The home colony in the Rochford hundred.

It may now be taken for granted that the site for the “home colony” of General Booth’s “Darkest England” scheme will be at Hadleigh, about four miles from Southend. It is proposed to acquire 1,000 acres of land, and up to the present five different properties, mostly in Hadleigh parish, have been purchased; two through Messrs. Baker & Sons, the London land agents and auctioneers, and three through Mr. T. W. Offin, jun., of Rochford;  making altogether about 650 acres. The ruins of Hadleigh Castle are included in the purchase, and some uneasiness had been felt in the neighbourhood from the idea that General Booth would have them pulled down. Mr. Offin, however, pointed out to the “Army” authorities that this would cause a great deal of local dissatisfaction, inasmuch as the Castle has been a great attraction, especially for excursionists to Southend, and its destruction would particularly affect the proprietors and drivers of vehicles at that place. He also pointed out that if the ruins were pulled down the value of the property would be affected if they should wish at any time to dispose of it. These arguments seem to have been availing, and it is now proposed that the ruins shall be inclosed, and a small charge made for admission.

The carrying out of this scheme will be of great benefit to the surrounding neighbourhood, as there is no doubt that in course of time a considerable town will grow up at Hadleigh. It is proposed to send about 500 people to Hadleigh as soon as sleeping accommodation can be provided for them. The centre of the settlement will be at Hadleigh and Castle Farms, and when the first 1,000 acres is in thorough working order General Booth proposes to add another 1,000 acres to the colony. The first thing to be done will be to get it in order for the reception of settlers, and it is anticipated that this will cost between £10,000 and £15,000. As soon as the colony is fairly on its feet the settlers will be wholly responsible for its working. Before deciding on the purchase of this land the opinion of those experienced in the various branches of work to be undertaken was obtained, and the services of Mr. Harold E. Moore(?), consulting land agent, were retained. Under the instructions of General Booth, Mr. Moore visited various labour colonies in Holland and Germany during Easter week. The farms at Hadleigh have been selected in consequence of their adaptability for producing the dairy and other produce required for consumption, both on the settlement and in the various organisations carried on by the Army, while they are very accessible by rail and water, are very healthy for residence, and the land is capable of much improvement by spade culture. The Army will probably be in possession of the farms early in May.

Research thanks to Karen Bowman

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  • My grandfather, John Ethelbert Sims came to New Zealand from the Hadleigh Colony in 1929. I have a photo of the group, he came to New Zealand with a chalkboard notice in front of them saying ‘ Hadleigh Colony Emigration Boys New Zealand 1929’. Where can I find specific information about his time there and why he was at the colony?

    By Rosanna Grattan (06/08/2015)
  • Remember Sayers cottage well in the late 1930s as it was opposite my Grandfathers [Alfred Hawks} house, Holbro House. We use to walk across the Salvation Army fields from Castle Road coming out into Chapel Lane next to the cottage.

    By Ian Hawks (16/09/2012)
  • Hi, David Guy, your story and memories deserve a page of their own. You ought to tell us some more, or talk to someone from the Archive. If you have any pictures, that would be even better.

    By Robert Hallmann (15/09/2012)
  • The picture of the dummy cow is one that my parents had. My father was the Head Dairyman at the Colony Dairy at the bottom of Chapel Lane from 1929 until 1942/3 until we moved to Kent, but returned to the Colony about 1945. He used this appliance to train what we knew as immigration boys, who when trained went to Canada, South Africa, Australia & New Zealand. He was awarded certificates when the Milk Marketing Board was formed for the production of clean milk, quite an achievement as everything was done by hand, even lighting the tilly lamps before work could commence. There was no electricity until the Royal Artillery built a gun site in 1939. I was born at 9 Seaview Terrace in 1929 and after moved to Sayers Cottage to be nearer the Dairy. This cottage was on the site that is now occupied by Abbeyfields home and when my mother died my father became the first resident in the home. I attended Hadleigh Junior School, my first teacher was Miss Leafield, the headmistress of the infants was Miss Calderbank; Mr Tutt was the the Headmaster and remember him as being a very fair man. I wonder if there are any of the other pupils that remember me.

    By David Guy (12/09/2012)
  • I have no doubt the the Salvation Army has had a very positive influence on Hadleigh, economically, socially and spiritually. However, I note with a cocked eyebrow the comment from an 1891 newspaper report that Hadleigh Castle was deemed under threat and that residents felt moved to petition the SA for its salvation. This has some resonance for today, as Salvation Army Headquarters continues to train its sights on the present rather than the future and, consequently, other heritage buildings in its custody continue to come under threat. Hadleigh Park Farmhouse is a glorious exception for, after laying derelict for decades, it has recently been found a new and exciting purpose.

    By David Hurrell (02/07/2012)

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