The Barony of Glasgow: A Window onto Church and People in Nineteenth Century Scotland

The Barony of Glasgow: A Window onto Church and People in Nineteenth Century Scotland

The Barony of Glasgow: A Window onto Church and People in Nineteenth Century Scotland

The Barony of Glasgow: A Window onto Church and People in Nineteenth Century Scotland

Synopsis

The Barony Parish was one of the most important parishes in 19th-century Scotland since it covered almost one third of 'the second city of the Empire.' The Parish encompassed middle-class suburbs to the then West End of Glasgow, the commercial heart of the city, industrial areas around Port Dundas, and working class slums in the East End. The Barony Parish Church was located in the center of the Parish next to Glasgow Cathedral and by the 1880s claimed the largest Presbyterian congregation in Glasgow. This book analyzes the Parish, examining the congregation and moving beyond social class to examine patterns of adherence relating to gender, family ties, households, and the links between employer and employee. The book also moves beyond the Barony Parish Church to examine similar features of religious adherence in churches and denominations across Scotland, building the first national profile of church and people in 19th-century Scotland.

Excerpt

In his novel Hard Times, Charles Dickens wrote of the fictional Coketown, 'the perplexing mystery of the place was, who belonged to the eighteen denominations? Because, who ever did the labouring population did not.' Fiction reflected reality for many people concerned with religion in nineteenth century Scotland. In 1827, Glasgow City Mission expressed its concern over the numbers of people with at best a loose connection with any form of religion:

No one passing along our streets on the Lord's day, and seeing
the crowds of people going to and from the places of public
worship, would ever imagine that there were such a vast multi
tude concealed in the shade, who never enter the house of God,
or consider that the Sabbath ought to be observed, and kept
holy.

John G. Paton, a missionary employed by Great Hamilton Street Reformed Presbyterian church to work the Calton area of Glasgow, recorded that he found the area 'very degraded'. Many families claimed that:

they had never been visited by any Minister, and many were
lapsed professors of religion who had attended no church
for ten, sixteen or twenty years. In it were congregated many
avowed infidels, Romanists and drunkards living together and
associated for ever without any counteracting influence. In
many of its closes vice and sin walked about openly — naked
and not ashamed.

Contemporary commentators saw a clear causal link between nonchurchgoing and a range of social problems from intemperance to poverty, with these concerns concentrated in working class areas. And yet, the churches themselves claimed a substantial working class membership. In the 1836 Royal Commission into Religious Instruction ministers were asked to estimate out of their congregations 'how many … are of the poor and working classes, under which last term . . .

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