In 1883 on a Saturday evening the Salvation Army ‘opened fire’ in Highbridge and Burnham. Their first meeting in the Puzzle Gardens went off fairly quietly. People going to their places of worship on a Sunday were concerned that the Salvation Army turned out with a brass band. Not only did these strangers play loudly they also sang very lustily. They stopped at street corners, offered prayers for people of the district and held open-air services. There were rowdy scenes when they marched upon Highbridge; one Salvationist said he received a hard blow. Later in the day, they marched back to Burnham to a meeting in the Skating Rink, now the Pavilion.
Many battles have been fought for the souls of people, since those early days. However, the Army has never been very large in the district, although General Edward Higgins (the first General outside the Booth family) came from Highbridge and his leadership of a World Wide Organisation is something to be proud of.
In 1977 the Citadel that had been built in Old Burnham Road, Highbridge held two services every Sunday, also Sunday school under the leadership of Major Iris Mitchin, with the ladies meeting on Wednesdays at 3p.m. The Secretary was Miss Minnie Vowles. In June there was a change of leadership in Highbridge, Envoy & Mrs Tring took over from Brigadier and Mrs. H. Foster who had recently retired. The congregation numbers diminished and services were discontinued on the 1st Sunday in July1996, when Capt. Mike Loveridge took the last service.
The Salvation Army Citadel, which had previously been the scene of many rousing meetings and had in January 1937, welcomed General Edward Higgins, the local man who had attained the highest position in the Salvation Army, is no longer the meeting place where Salvationists could worship
GENERAL EDWARD JOHN HIGGINS
In the mid 19th century Edward and Martha Higgins lived at No 10 Church Street, Martha was the daughter of George Deacon, a Highbridge man. Edward was from a family of ardent Methodists and had a not too successful Saddlers business; villagers said that at one time he had rebelled and ‘He had run rather wild’. On Saturday November 1864 Martha gave birth to her third child, a son; he was named Edward after his father and John after his uncle John Ruskin, the founder and prominent member of the local Wesleyan chapel in Huntspill Road.
In 1872, following the death of his mother, young Edward went to live with his maternal grandfather, whilst his father Edward senior, devastated by the loss of his Martha and his unsuccessful business, moved to Bridgwater. Young Edward was educated at a private school in Burnham and then Dr Morgan’s Grammar School in Bridgwater where he was a boarder. Before he was fifteen year old he passed the Oxford local examination with honours, left school and started working for Nathaniel Harding, a Highbridge provision merchant.
In March1864; eight months before young Edward was born, a man named William Booth founded an organisation known as the Christian Mission later to become the Salvation Army.
Edward senior, who had chosen to become a Salvationist, arrived in London in January 1882 to take up his first appointment with the Salvation Army and over the years rose to the rank of Commissioner. William Booth visited Bristol from Sunday 4th to Tuesday 6th June using the Colston Hall Where a crowd of 2000 struggled unsuccessfully to enter what was an already overcrowded building. Young Edward was alarmed to see people fighting to get into church. He moved to Reading joined the Corp and on September 9th still only 18 years old entered the training home at Clapton; he rose through the ranks serving in a variety of places in the north of England. He had a nervous breakdown before he was 21.
In Wales a young lady of 14 years named Catherine Price was becoming interested in the Salvation Army and by the time she was 17 had entered the training home. She eventually became a Captain at Teddington, London; where the Divisional Officer was Staff-Captain Edward Higgins. They exchanged letters at the start of a courtship and Headquarters officially approved their engagement. Some advised her to wait for at least 14 months, as Edward was a delicate man and she could be widowed within a year; they were working apart, Edward at Oxford and she was at Winchester. On Easter Monday on 2nd April 1888 they were married. On 18th April 1896 Edward sailed to New York being alone for 6 months, later his family joined him, Catherine arriving with their children, the fourth of which had been born only seven weeks earlier.
William Booth the founder died in1912 and the constitution of the Salvation Army stated that a retiring General would appoint his successor, Bramwell Booth was to become the second General and he appointed Edward Higgins as his Chief of Staff. The General’s sister, Evangeline booth, informed him that the Constitution of the Army should be changed so that all succeeding Generals should be elected. He was clearly not happy about such a change of policy; in May 1928 he had a serious breakdown. On February 13th 1929, the High Council of the Salvation Army adjudicated that Bramwell Booth was unfit for his office due to reasons of health. They then proceeded to elect a new General and it soon became evident that the choice lay between Evangeline Booth and Edward John Higgins, this Highbridge boy, who had, some forty years earlier been given just a few months to live. The result of the poll was to reveal that Edward had made it to the top; he was to be the Salvation Army’s third General and the very first to be elected; he won by 42 votes to 17.
On Sunday 16th June 1929 General Bramwell Booth died; it was Edward’s intention to retire when he was 65, but as he neared his 65th birthday, decided to give it 5 more years. He travelled extensively both at home and overseas improving much of the organisation of the Salvation Army. On the 1st November 1934 with some health problems,
he resigned his position; the day of his retirement was marked by a farewell meeting at the Royal Albert Hall to which General and Mrs Higgins had been invited. Ambassadors and Ministers of 23 countries plus dignitaries and leaders of almost every denomination attended; the Duke of York, later to become King George VI, and the Duchess of York supported the meeting.
In January 1937 Highbridge extended a warm welcome to General Higgins when he visited the town of his birth to open the new Salvation Army Citadel.
Edward John Higgins formerly of 10 Church Street, Highbridge.aged 83, died in the 14th December 1947. He was laid to rest in the Salvation Army plot at Kemisco Cemetery. New York.
Mrs Phyllis Walsh, resident of the Clyce, has written a book entitled “The Three Local Pioneers”. This covers the lives of General Edward Higgins, Major Frank Foley and Richard Locke.