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Second City of The Empire: 1830s to 1914

Learning and Beliefs


By Peter Hillis

Old Barony Kirk, 1889 Until the closing decades of the 19th century this period marked a golden age for presbyterianism. Much of the wealth created by the city's economic growth was channelled into presbyterianism as witnessed in the grand and ornate church buildings that provide Glasgow with a rich architectural heritage. The number of churches and the size of congregations grew apace. By 1914, the Barony Church had a congregation of just over 2,800 with St. George's-in-the-Fields recording 1,675 people on its roll. Nonetheless, much of this growth came in the rapid expansion of presbyterian dissent from the established Church of Scotland. By 1870 the Free Church was the largest denomination in terms of bricks and mortar, followed in second equal place by the United Presbyterians and the Church of Scotland. Dissent did not lead to a loss of respectability - quite the opposite - with the United Presbyterians attracting many of the city's wealthiest citizens. At the opening service of Lansdowne United Presbyterian Church in 1863 the congregation gave £1,231.00. This sum in turn was far exceeded at the opening service of Wellington Street United Presbyterian Church when £11,000 was collected.

 Rev Norman MacLeod Presbyterian Ministers enjoyed considerable social status with stipends to match. Thomas Chalmers of the Tron Church and Norman MacLeod at the Barony were the city's most famous ministers during this period. MacLeod was Queen Victoria's favourite preacher. Their status reflected the importance of the church in society with influence extending into education, the Poor Laws, temperance, politics and daily life. Sunday remained a predominantly religious day. However, the period also witnessed the first stages in the declining influence of the Presbyterian Churches. The 1872 Education Act transferred control of most schools to School Boards. The increasing role of central and local government weakened the voluntary principle that underpinned presbyterianism and religious doctrines were increasingly challenged by the march of scientific thought.

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