Free Seats

During some time I spent in England in 2010 I happened to come across a shop that sold old maps. It was a very small shop with lots to see throughout. Maps from all over the world, and of varying histories, were displayed on the walls, and others were available to pick up and hold and purchase. There were some incredibly detailed and very old drawings. My fascination with history was enthused and so I spent a good hour looking around.... then I discovered a small staircase leading upstairs. There was even more to see.

The upper room held different artifacts, though. Here there were clippings from old newspapers and books. Many of them were fascinating drawings of historical events, some cartoons, and others of a more serious nature. 

Then I found it. An absolute gem of a picture that I knew I had to have.

It was the eyes of the woman and small child in this picture that immediately captured my attention. Here it is. It's entitled "Free Seats" (drawn by Hal Ludlow) and is a clipping from Illustrated London News Christmas Number, 1887.

Free Seats by Hal Ludlow
There's so many questions that I want to ask about this picture. Why do they look so sad? Where is the "father" in this picture? The Christmas decorations on the pole in the background suggest a time of celebration, but this small family seems to be far from celebrating. Why? Is the boy bored? The mother is holding him close to her side. Is that for   comfort, or to "keep him in line"? What does this picture say about Christmas (given it's in the Christmas edition)? They say a picture paints a thousand words. It's probably better said that it draws a thousand questions!

It's such a fascinating picture, and there is so much that can be seen in it.

But there's something further. Salvationists would be aware that during this time (the 1880s) in England there were "pew rents". People paid for the best seats in church and this left the poor either in the "cheap seats" or out of church all together. We speak of our history (often with a glowing sense of pride) and recall how Salvation Army "meetings" were open to, and indeed specifically targeting, the poor. Here in this picture, aptly entitled "Free Seats", there seems to be some evidence that The Salvation Army was not the only people who saw a problem with pew rents in church. Perhaps Hal Ludlow was making a political statement with this drawing? I wonder.

There is one last thing that made this picture a "must have" for me. The poem found at the bottom of this picture which so beautifully captures the essence of this drawing, and indeed the Christmas message. I'm so glad I stumbled across this picture and I share this with you in order to rescue it from oblivion. Enjoy!
Enter here both rich and poor, 
Come in simple hope and faith;
leave behind you at the door
Love of life and dread of death.

Come on this the day of days,
Humbly pray on bended knee;
Sing the fervid song of praise.
All the seats in heaven are free.


  1. Thanks for sharing this Adam. What a great picture and profoundly simple poem. A great find indeed!


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