To celebrate the Salvation Army’s 150th birthday the front cover of issue 69 of LeftLion features a mock-up of William Booth’s religious Utopian vision In Darkest England and the Way Out. The Sally’s CV includes providing humanitarian aid across the globe, radically transforming perceptions of the poor, and a charismatic leader with more hubris than Tony Blair. With such an incredible story it was no wonder William Booth was the first literary figure in Issue 1 of Dawn of the Unread.
William Booth was born on 10 April 1829 at 12 Notintone Place, Sneinton. He learned his trade at the Wesley Chapel, opened on Broad Street in 1837. This six pillared colonnade was an imposing structure on the local community and cost £11,000 to be built – a fortune back then. Here he encountered celebrity preachers such as James Caughhey, who would swoop down from the pulpit in a black cloak, a bit like a religious Batman, playing on the fears of his congregation. His histrionics infuriated the conservative members of the religious establishment but Booth was transfixed, realising that the performance was as important as the play.
This attitude is perhaps unsurprising given Booth’s utter contempt for theological study, dismissing the intellectualisation of religion as “egotistical introspection”. As Roy Hattersley notes “William Booth was by nature a soldier, not an intellectual. He wanted to fight the good fight, not study the battle plan.”
Despite his aversion for reading and study Booth found time, with a little help from W.T. Stead, to outline his masterplan for salvation in In Darkest England, and the Way Out. Drawing on the popular travel book by Henry Morton Stanley he made the simple observation that the “foul and fetid breath of our slums is almost as poisonous as that of the African swamp”.
Booth sketches an utterly depressing view of the slums as a drink sodden world inhabited by vice, crime and starvation. A bit like a city in Grand Theft Auto. Over 200 pages are dedicated to the way out of Darkest England which centre around three self-sustaining but overlapping communities. The City Colonies offered basic support and temporary employment for those who had messed up; Once hope had been installed they would return back to society as fully functioning individuals. Those unable to progress to the next level were shipped off to the Farm Colonies, where comfy cottages and a slower pace of life awaited. Acquiring useful skills in cultivating land and self-containment prepared them for potential new lives in the Overseas Colony.
The LeftLion cover gave Paul Fillingham and I the opportunity to take a tongue-in-cheek look at contemporary Nottingham via Booth’s ideology. The city has received a lot of funding and investment recently through the Creative Quarter who’ve made an incredible impact, helping to regenerate derelict areas and transform them into independent hubs, such as Cobden Chambers. At a strategic level they are the people leading Nottingham out of creative darkness.
The downside to this is culture is reduced to a neatly packaged postcode, which, as has happened in places such as Leicester, can push up rental prices so that the locals can’t afford to live there. But there is definitely a real buzz at the moment and consequently new businesses are investing in the city, such as the recent opening of Rough Trade Records on Broad Street. But for every Rough Trade there are at least ten Poundlands. Let us forget the ‘Uncreative Three Quarters’ at our peril.
There have been various attempts to ‘salvage’ Nottingham over the years. In Booth’s Utopian vision the fallen are drowning in a sea of illicit temptations. In our version the fallen are drowning in banality. This is represented by ‘intu’ the British Real Estate Investment Trust who are flatpacking shopping centres so that every city is identical. They have the keys to the Broadmarsh and Victoria Centre, and Derby’s Eagle Centre up the A52. But nothing sums up our lack of imagination quite like the ‘Slanty N’ (rebranded City logo), where we officially declared we were a generic bland provincial town without an ounce of history or individuality.
The message on our front cover is don’t believe the hype. There’s still a lot of work to be done. Nottingham remains a factory city but without any factories. Perhaps the Creative Quarter’s purpose is to create digital lathes? Or perhaps the only industry we can rely on is the education sector, given every new building is converted into student flats.
Nottingham has a rich history of defiant individualism and being a bit rowdy. Our character is shaped out of endless struggles. We flattened our mayor with a cheese in 1766, burned down our castle in 1831, and smashed up our most famous invention in 1811. William Booth was a rebel who was incapable of considering he might be wrong about anything. Basically, he was ignorant; something Nottingham can’t afford to be.
Dawn of the Unread is a graphic novel celebrating Nottingham’s literary history. It was created to support libraries and bookshops. It began life online and won the Teaching Excellence Award at the Guardian Education Awards in 2015 and has since been published by Spokesman Books (2017). All profits go towards UNESCO Nottingham City of Literature.
- UNESCO: City of Literature feature – William Booth (leftlion.co.uk)
- Calm Down, It’s Only An Abookalypse (dawnoftheunread.com)
- The Secret Of James Caughey’s Success (sermonindex.net)
- Roy Hattersley: Blood And Fire Review (theguardian.com)
- Creative Quarter Dawn of the Unread feature (creativequarter.com)
- Nottingham’s Creative Quarter Is Better Than B******S (bakersbusiness.blogspot.co.uk)