Sussex

Eastbourne's Salvation Army riots to hit the big screen

Salvation Army
Image caption The Salvation Army initially used its Christian brass band music to drown out the voices of hecklers

From its earliest days, the Salvation Army has had a link with Christian brass-band music, but its association with an East Sussex town is not so well known.

It was founded in the East End of London in 1865 by William Booth, a Methodist preacher, who wanted to offer practical help to the poor and destitute as well as preaching the Gospel to them.

Music was initially used to drown out the voices of hecklers, but was soon seen as a more effective way of carrying the Christian message.

But by the early 1890s persecution of the Salvation Army in various towns had increased so much that a bylaw was passed in Eastbourne making it illegal for the army to march and perform its music.

'Embarrassing history'

The Salvationists defied the ban, much to the anger of locals who formed a "skeleton army" with the aim of attacking them and destroying their instruments.

Many people were injured and many Salvationists were jailed in Lewes Prison for their defiance.

Image caption Instruments belonging to the Salvation Army bandsmen were destroyed during the riots

Now a film about the riots made by a local group from Eastbourne, using local actors, residents and members of the Salvation Army, is set to hit the big screen.

The Riot Film Group's docudrama, which was filmed in various locations around the town, will premiere Marching To Music at the end of this month.

Producer Malcolm Webster said it was known that thousands of people travelled to Eastbourne from London, Brighton and Hastings to watch the rioting.

"They [the Salvation Army] were really put to the test but they remained defiant and felt that it was their right to march with their music."

He said since working on the film, many people had said they had known nothing about the Eastbourne riots.

"It's been a part of Eastbourne's history that perhaps some people have been a little bit embarrassed about and have wanted to keep the lid on it.

"But hopefully this film will take the lid off and show that probably both sides had a degree of support and were right in some of their beliefs at the time," Mr Webster said.

The premier of Marching To Music will take place at the Birley Centre in Eastbourne on 28 January.

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