JAC Online

The Gunpowder Plot
by Colonel Edward H. Joy

This is a selection from the unpublished manuscript,
'Our Fathers Have Told Us',
some early-day stories from The Salvation Army

It was really not a matter for wonder that the publicans and pawnbrokers of the town were up in arms, for, since the coming of The Army, their respective businesses had fallen much below par, and as others of their regular customers were thought to be following in the footsteps of those who had already enrolled themselves with us, it was high time for them to take steps to check the movement.  It may be for the easier telling of the tale if I say I took place in Hillroyd, my chance name for a small manufacturing town in the West Riding of Yorkshire.

Nor many months elapsed before a fully organized ‘Skeleton Army’ put in an appearance, and nightly attacks on us began.  The ‘Skeletons’ treated us with all the fierce cruelty which drink inspired hate could suggest.  Not only on those evening when we were ‘on the march’ did these assaults occur, but on other occasions injury was done to individual Soldiers, and to the Hall, which, in the phraseology of those days, was termed ‘the Barracks’. 

That ramshackle place was in the lower part of the town, hidden away behind factors, and approached by a winding back lane.  You couldn’t say ‘it was not much to look at’, for so hidden in was it, that apart from the front door, no part of its outside was visible except from surrounding backyards.  It was the best the DO (divisional officer) had been able to discover in his reconnoitering, and he had only obtained it by guile, making sure of the lease before he disclosed that the despised Army would be the occupants.  It was well that he had it all ‘signed, sealed, and settled’, for many were the efforts made to shorten and to break the tenancy.

But such a dingy, draughty half-wooden structure, would never have been dreamed of for a ‘Citadel’ in those days, although night after night it was filled with a host of folks, some of them shouting and praise God, and some shouting and screaming in efforts to disturb the proceedings.  And souls were saved, added to The Army daily, and consequently, to put it in the words of the old song:

‘The publicans were going about, Glory! Hallelujah! Saying they were driving us out, Glory! Hallelujah!’

The landlord of the ‘Bull and Chickens’, at the top of the entry-passage through he had done much to lessen our audience when he tarred his side-wall and induced his over-the-way neighbor to do the same, so that all who desired to tread the way to Salvation did so at the risk of spoiling their clothes.  But that did not stem the flow, though the dyers and cleaners felt the benefit. 

What was to be done about it?  The landlord would not turn out his tenants, and the ‘Skeleton Army’ demonstrations only seemed to make the Salvationists more enthusiastic.  It was tauntingly annoying, too, for the publican to hear our crowd singing as we marched down the lane:

‘Storm the public-houses Bring the sign-boards down!’

One night a plot was hatched.  November the 5th was approaching, a festival always boisterously observed by the rougher element of the town, and the remembrance of tis near approach suggested something to our neighbor the publican.  He laid it before a gathering of his pals in all its ruddy glory; it was not less a scheme than to “burn out T’ ‘Allelluyers!”

It was to be done on the Saturday night, the night of the ‘Fifth’, so that when the Salvationists came along for their ‘knee drill’ Sunday morning, they would find themselves smoked out, - fired, so to speak.  Only three or four conspirators were allowed in the plot, and these were asked to gather the necessary materials.  It would never have done for too many to be in the secret, else somebody would have told us, or told the police, and then the game would be up.  The probably danger to the surrounding property did not enter into the thoughts of these modern Catesbys and Guido Fawkeses. 

Shavings and waste and paraffin were the chief materials, and these were stored in a shed at the rear of the ‘Bull and Chickens’, from whence they were to be taken by stealth and placed at any vulnerable part of our building.  And, as you may have imagined from by description of the old rag-store, not much encouragement would be needed to make it a fine bonfire.

Of course, such a plot could not be carried through without much liquid refreshment, and, naturally, the conspirators expected, and received, free drinks in such abundance as to make them less careful than the deed demanded.

And then whoever thought of a conspirator, particularly on the Fifth of November, without a pipe?  It was a pipe that exploded the mine, so to speak, for one of the landlord’s minions, overloaded with drink and underloaded with caution, ventured to light his pipe among the pile of shavings and soaked waste which he was handling preparatory to shifting it to the scene of the action.

You can guess what happened!  In a moment the dropped smoldering match had set light to the inflammatory store, and, almost quicker than it takes me to write, the whole heap was a roaring flame, and the landlord’s shed was the bonfire instead of the ‘Barracks’.  From the shed the flames leaped to the house, itself ancient and far from fireproof, until that, too, was a raging furnace.

Fifty years ago and more municipal fire brigades were not as highly organized as now, and the amateur firemen did not respond too quickly to the call, and then it came about that fully half-an-hour had elapsed before there was any real effort to fight the flames, by which time all hope of saving the ‘Bull and Chickens’ was a thing of the past.  It was as much as they could do to save the neighbouring houses, and by a providential direction of the wind not a flame nor a spark came near ‘the good old Army’. 

But that wasn’t the whole of the calamity so far as the landlord was concerned.  The brewer-owners got to hear of the plot and refused to stand by him when he made his insurance claim.  The only thing they did for him was to keep the police out of it, not too difficult an understanding when a plot against the Salvationists had miscarried, or misfired, shall we say?

As for the Salvationists, well, of course they rejoiced in their deliverance, but the Soldiers thought there were doing nothing more than their duty when a little later they ‘clubbed round’ amongst themselves and paid a month’s rent for a house for the landlord, so that he should have a shelter ‘when his wife’s time comes’. 








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