One Fifty at One Seventy | 1. Our Early History

Article XVI

of the Kirk

As we beleve in ane God, Father, Sonne, and haly Ghaist; sa do we maist constantly beleeve, that from the beginning there hes bene, and now is, and to the end of the warld sall be, ane Kirk, that is to say, ane company and multitude of men chosen of God, who richtly worship and imbrace him be trew faith in Christ Jesus, quha is the only head of the same Kirk, quihilk alswa is the bodie and spouse of Christ Jesus, quihilk Kirk is catholike, that is, universal, because it conteinis the Elect of all ages, of all realms, nations, and tongues, be they of the Jewes, or be they of the Gentiles, quha have communion and societie with God the Father and with his Son Christ Jesus, throw the sanctification of his haly Spirit: and therefore it is called the communioun, not of prophane persunes, bot of Saincts, quha as citizenis of the heavenly Jerusalem, have the fruitioun of the maist inestimable benefites, to wit, of ane God, ane Lord Jesus, ane faith, and ane baptisme: Out of the quhilk Kirk, there is nouther lyfe, nor eternall felicitie.[1]

‘Ane God, ane Lord Jesus, ane faith, and ane baptisme.’ The words of the Scottish Reformers’ Scots Confession of 1560 declare that the ‘ane Kirk’ is ‘ane company and multitude’. But this ‘aneness’ has not been without its divisions. You might be familiar with this overwhelming chart. It tracks the major developments of the Church in Scotland from the Reformation in 1560 to the present day. The story of the developments over these last three centuries is very much part of the story of Queen’s Park Govanhill. With each one of these divisions and unions came divisions and unions within our historic church family.

With this eclectic history in mind, before we can get to the founding of Queen’s Park Free Church in 1867, we must first look into the history of the United Secession Church of Scotland. This denomination can be traced back to the First Secession from the Church of Scotland in 1733, the result of a series of events put in motion by the institution of the Church Patronage (Scotland) Act 1711 (its Sunday name being ‘An Act to restore the Patrons to their ancient Rights of presenting Ministers to the Churches vacant in that Part of Great Britain called Scotland’ – a mouthful, to say the least) by the newly-united Parliament of Great Britain.

The Treaty of Union (1706), signed by the parliaments of Scotland and England, guaranteed the continued separation of the legal systems of the two nations, the basis of which was the Act of Security (1704), passed by the Parliament of Scotland. But the changes made with the Patronage Act re-established the non-Presbyterian practice of the appointment of ministers by the nobility and other patrons (as opposed to the preservation of the rights of individuals within congregations to vote for their minister). This was seen as a direct contradiction to the Act of Security. According to eighteenth-century Scottish historian Robert Wodrow, in a meeting of the Commission of Assembly, the Patronage Act was described as ‘a very great grievance, and sinful in the imposers, and a breach of the security of the Presbyterian constitution by the Union.’[2]

The growing dissatisfaction and division among many ranks with regard to the practices of the Church of Scotland continued to fester at the General Assembly of 1730, where the ‘artful tyranny’ of the Commission of Assembly (a body first appointed by the General Assembly of 1690, ‘to visit and purify the church, by making inquiry into the state of religion and the conduct of ministers throughout the kingdom’[3]) was demonstrated in the passing of an act that removed the right of members of the Assembly to record dissent. The Rev W. M. Hetherington writes,

It was now all but impossible to prevent an immediate schism. The dominant party might yet have abated in their reckless career of tyranny and oppression, and the aggrieved ministers and people might have laid aside their resentment, and while they defended purity, still have been ready to accept peace. But pacific measures appear not to have been contemplated by either.[4]

Under close inspection, the Patronage Act suggested that, should a parish minister’s post become vacant, the patron had the right to exercise their presentation of a new minister within six months. Should the patron fail to make a presentation, the local presbytery would step in to make the appointment. In this latter instance, it was typical for a presbytery to work with the local elders in order to make a suitable appointment. At the General Assembly of 1731, a proposed change suggested that ‘where the patron had failed to act within six months, the right of nomination should lie with the elders and Protestant heritors (feudal landowners) in country parishes, and the elders and town councils in burghs’, undermining what little semblance of Presbyterian polity that remained in the Patronage Act.[5]

In accordance with Church of Scotland’s adoption of the Barrier Act (passed in 1697 to ensure that ‘innovative’ decisions made by a General Assembly will be held accountable by the wider Kirk), the new overture was passed to each presbytery for deliberation. Under the Barrier Act, should the majority of presbyteries approve an overture, said overture is to be presented at the following General Assembly for approval.

Out of 67 Presbyteries, 31 rejected the proposal, arguing instead for the rights of congregations to nominate and call their minister. Six presbyteries voted in favour of the overture and a further 12 stated that they would be prepared to accept it ‘if certain changes were made’.[6] Another 18 presbyteries did not respond, and the General Assembly of 1732 determined that these 18 non-responses should be counted as expressions of support. Adding these to the presbyteries in favour of the change, the Assembly sustained the proposal.

At a meeting of the Synod of Perth and Stirling, the Rev Ebenezer Erskine, minister of the West Church in Stirling and Synod Moderator, expressed his condemnation of the actions of the General Assembly, appealing to the Presbyterian polity expressed in the Books of Discipline (1560 and 1578) for the preservation of the rights of congregations to call their minister. Following the General Assembly of 1733’s passing of some ‘act of sufficiently ominous title’, four ministers registered their protest: Mr Erskine, the Rev William Wilson of Perth, the Rev Alexander Moncrieff of Abernethy and the Rev James Fisher of Kinclaven. The four were ordered by the Commission of Assembly to retract their protest, but did not comply. They were suspended from their posts though, again, they refused to bow to the wishes of the Commission.

Because of this defiance, in November, the Commission sought to proceed to a higher censure. Hetherington writes, ‘This course was opposed; the question was put, “delay” or “proceed;” the votes were equal; the moderator, Mr John Gowdie, one of the ministers of Edinburgh, rose; a death-like stillness reigned; the cause of mercy and truth, and the peace of the Church and community… seemed wavering on the balanced point of that passing moment: he gave his casting vote, “proceed,” and the fatal deed was done’.[7] As a result of their treatment, on 6 December 1733, the four ministers constituted themselves as the Associated Presbytery – the First Secession.

This Associated Presbytery was summoned before the General Assembly of 1739 and came with a document entitled ‘Act of the Associate Presbytery, finding and declaring that the present judicatories of the Church are not lawful nor right constitute courts of Christ; and declining all authority, power, and jurisdiction that the said judicatories may claim themselves over said presbytery.’ Brevity seems not to have been their strong suit. By the following General Assembly, the Associate Presbytery included eight ministers and the Assembly determined that each was to be stripped of his position as a minister of the Church of Scotland.

The following years would see the Associate Presbytery grow, but then itself divide into smaller factions. The Burgher (or Burgess) Oath of 1747 held that public burgesses, including ministers, affirm the religion ‘presently professed in this realm’. Within the Associate Presbytery, some saw the oath as an affirmation of the Church of Scotland, while others felt as if the oath carried no such implication. And so, the Associate Presbytery split into the Burghers and the Anti-Burghers.

The two Secession churches would then find themselves split again in response to the challenges to traditional Calvinism posed by liberal theology in the eighteenth century, resulting in the Auld Licht (Scots for ‘Old Light’) Anti-Burgers and the New Licht Anti-Burghers (1798), and the Auld Licht Burghers and the New Licht Burghers (1806). In 1820, the New Licht Burghers and New Licht Anti-Burghers saw fit that their positions with regard to the Burgher Oath need no longer divide them, and they formed the United Secession Church.

The founding of the Associate Presbytery was not the last major demonstration of disquiet regarding the Patronage Act for the Church of Scotland in the eighteenth century. The year 1752 saw another significant division. The Rev Andrew Richardson, minister of Broughton, was presented by the patron of the parish of Inverkeithing against the wishes of the parishioners. While the Presbytery of Dunfermline hesitated to install Mr Richardson, they were threatened by the Commission of Assembly that, should they not admit the new minister, they would face ‘very high censure’. Six members of Dunfermline Presbytery refused, among them the Rev Thomas Gillespie of Carnock, who had his ministry stripped from him on grounds of contumacy. Upon the pronouncement of his sentence, Mr Gillespie responded, ‘I rejoice that to me it is given, in behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake’.[8]

The Second Secession was thus born and Mr Gillespie proceeded to form the Presbytery of Relief (known as the Relief Church), their ‘relief’ being from the Patronage Act. He was joined by the Rev Thomas Boston of Oxnam and the Fife-born nonconformist minister, the Rev Thomas Colier of Westmoreland. The Relief Church grew rapidly, thanks in part to their acceptance of broad theological and ecclesiastical persuasions. Notably, in 1794, the Relief Church became the first church to produce a hymn book. The trend would not be followed until 1851, by the United Presbyterian (UP) Church, a descendant of the Relief Church.

The earliest congregation that went into what we know today as Queen’s Park Govanhill was Eglinton Street United Secession Church (1825), which was established by a congregation that had been worshipping at the Lancastrian School in Portugal Street in the Gorbals since 1823. The eventual fit-for-purpose church building was located at the corner of Eglinton Street and Bedford Street. Nearly a century later, the site was converted into a picture house and then into a bingo club before its current incarnation – the O2 Academy.

Eglinton Street

Eglinton Street United Secession Church (called Eglinton Street United Presbyterian Church at the time of this photograph) as it appeared in 1875. Glasgow University Library.

The second oldest direct ancestor of Queen’s Park Govanhill was established in 1833. Building upon a church expansion campaign led by the Rev Dr Matthew Leishman of Govan Parish Church (part of the Church of Scotland), a licentiate was appointed to work at a new mission station in the growing village of Strathbungo. At this time, the Church of Scotland was embroiled in what became known as the ‘Ten Years’ Conflict’. During these years, a growing number of ministers and elders were seeking to overturn that longstanding practice of the appointment of local ministers by wealthy patrons. At the General Assembly of 1834, more than a century after the First Secession, the Act on Calls (known popularly as the Veto Act) was passed, which gave local church members the right to reject a minister nominated by their patron. This was heralded as the return of a ‘free and reforming Assembly’.[9]

In the coming years, the Scottish Court of Session undermined this act time and time again. The Court insisted that the Church of Scotland, being created by an Act of Parliament, had no power to impose the Veto Act. But in the midst of this turmoil, the congregation of Strathbungo continued to thrive and had raised nearly enough funds to erect a church building. On 28 May 1838, the General Assembly granted a deed of constitution for Strathbungo Church. Between 1839 and 1840, the first church at Strathbungo was built.


By 1843, longstanding tensions within the Church of Scotland regarding the appointment of ministers had boiled over. On 18 May, the opening day of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the outgoing Moderator, the Rt Rev Dr David Welsh made an unusual announcement:

According to the usual form of procedure, this is the time for making up the roll; but, in consequence of certain proceedings affecting our rights and privileges—proceedings which have been sanctioned by her Majesty’s government, and by the legislature of the country; and more especially, in respect that there has been an infringement on the liberties of our constitution, so that we could not now constitute this court without a violation of the terms of the union between church and state in this land, as now authoritatively declared, I must protest against our proceeding further. The reasons that have led me to this conclusion, are fully set forth in the document which I hold in my hand, and which, with permission of the house, I shall now proceed to read.[10]

We, the undersigned ministers and elders, chosen as Commissioners to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, indicted to meet this day, but precluded from holding the said Assembly by reason of the circumstances herein-after set forth, in consequence of which a Free Assembly of the Church of Scotland, in accordance with the laws and constitution of said Church, cannot at this time be holden,—considering that the Legislature, by their rejection of the Claims of Right adopted by the last General Assembly of said Church, and their refusal to give redress and protection against the jurisdiction assumed, and the coercion of late repeatedly attempted to be exercised over the Courts of the Church in matters spiritual, by the Civil Courts, have recognised and fixed the conditions of the Church Establishment, as henceforward to subsist in Scotland, to be such as these have been pronounced and declared by the said Civil Courts in their several recent decisions, in regard to matters spiritual and ecclesiastical, whereby it has been, inter alia, declared…

We protest that, in the circumstances in which we are placed, it is and shall be lawful for us and such other commissioners chosen to the Assembly, appointed to have been this day holden, as may concur with us, to withdraw to a separate place of meeting, for the purpose of taking steps, for ourselves and all who adhere to us—maintaining with us the Confession of Faith and the Standards of the Church of Scotland, as heretofore understood—for separating in an orderly way from the Establishment: and thereupon adopting such measures as may be competent to us, in humble dependence on God’s grace and the aid of the Holy Spirit, for the advancement of his glory, the extension of the Gospel of our Lord and Saviour, and the administration of the affairs of Christ’s house, according to his holy Word; and we do now withdraw accordingly…[11]

Dr Welsh then led a group of 121 ministers and 73 elders out of the General Assembly. The Free Church of Scotland had been formed. Ultimately, 474 of some 1200 Church of Scotland ministers joined the Free Church. These events shook the nation and left a tear in the fabric of Scottish society that remains to this day. These events also play a major role in the history of Queen’s Park Govanhill. That year, our first Free Church of Scotland ancestor, Hutchesontown Free Church, was established by a group of dissenters (including the Rev Alexander S. Paterson) from Hutchesontown Parish Church. This congregation first met in Hospital Street before a purpose-built church was constructed in Eglinton Street.

Contrary to the expectations of many, the Free Church flourished across Scotland. It established a Voluntary Fund (a fund which was built up by the ‘givings’ of the members) of £400,000 to build new churches and another of £250,000 to build manses (accounting for inflation, nearly £47,000,000 and more than £29,000,000, respectively). In addition, the Free Church sought to build 500 parochial schools and a theological college in Edinburgh. Thanks to the Voluntary Fund, by 1847 the Free Church had 583 ministers and had built 476 churches, 400 manses and 500 schools.

The Free Church also had a strong missionary focus, not only for overseas work, but also for neglected areas of Scotland itself. This was particularly important in the rapidly expanding cities, where the church was at the forefront of establishing new congregations in growing urban districts which were consuming older villages like Strathbungo, Crosshill and Shawlands.

It’s important to note that not every church was dividing at this time. In 1847, the union between the United Secession Church and the Relief Church resulted in the establishment of the aforementioned United Presbyterian (UP) Church. With this union, Eglinton Street became Eglinton Street UP Church. This also paved the way for the founding of Elgin Street UP Church in 1852.

At this time, churches within these three denominations—the Church of Scotland, the United Presbyterian Church and the Free Church—began to multiply. In 1853, East Gorbals Free Church was established (which was renamed Victoria Free Church in 1864).

Despite the upsurge of Free Churches and UP Churches, the Church of Scotland at Strathbungo continued to grow. By 1848, an allowance for a stipend secured from the Home Mission Committee enabled the Rev Alexander Sutherland to be admitted as the first full time minister.


By the 1860s, the South Side of Glasgow was expanding at a tremendous rate. With the addition of imposing tenements, local amenities became more necessary. In 1867, an enthusiastic group of church planters from Victoria Free Church persuaded the Presbytery of the need for a Free Church near Queen’s Park. It was agreed to establish a mission station at the north-western edge of the park. A plot of land was bought from the Glasgow Corporation and the leaders of the new congregation set about building a temporary brick-built church on the site, capable of seating 300 people.

At the first communion of Queen’s Park Free Church, held on 7 April 1867, 48 people were present. The following month, the Free Church General Assembly granted the mission station full congregational status. A stipend of £250 per annum was made available and on 11 July, the Rev William Scott, then minister at Campsie, was inducted to the charge. His first task was to establish a Kirk Session and a Deacon’s Court. Five elders and five deacons were duly ordained. In December, a Sunday school was formed with 130 children in attendance.

Wilson photo detail

Detail of ‘View from the Flagstaff, South Side Park, looking north west’, by George Washington Wilson, c. 1878.  The first building to house Queen’s Park Free Church can be seen in the centre of the image above, with the current building, at 170 Queen’s Drive, in the right foreground.[12]

That same year, Queen’s Park Church of Scotland (in the parish of Cathcart) was established at the other end of Queen’s Drive. The first building was made of wood, with a capacity of 450 worshippers. The congregation continued to grow, requiring extensions in 1869 and 1871, and eventually, the construction of a new church building in 1873, this time made of stone. This new building would serve the congregation, which, by then, had gained parish church status, well. On the second Sunday of October, Queen’s Park Parish Church, led by the Rev Donald McCorquodale, opened for worship. Another ancestor, Candlish Memorial Free Church was also established in 1873.


Queen’s Park Parish Church (called Crosshill Queen’s Park Parish Church at the time of this photograph) as it appeared in 2000. Reproduced with the permission of the National Monuments Record of Scotland.

By the early 1870s, the Queen’s Park Free Church congregation that had been meeting in the temporary church building was ready for the next chapter in their story and hired William Thomson, a prominent Glasgow architect and member of the congregation, to design a new church building. With the help of the Voluntary Fund, the sum of £6,000 (adjusted for inflation, some £600,000 in 2017) was raised. An ambitious young designer called Daniel Cottier undertook the task of completing the interior of thechurch, including the north-facing stained-glass window (in the strict abstract style to which the Free Church adhered) and the north wall frieze pattern. This frieze was painted over unaccountably in later years. However, during a later renovation of the sanctuary, part of this frieze was uncovered and restored patiently by artists Nagham Wylie and Brian McLaughlin with the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund.

North Wall Queen's Drive

The original­­ Cottier frieze pattern on the north wall at 170 Queen’s Drive. Photograph by John Henderson, presented to Queen’s Park West Parish Church by Mrs Henderson in 1968.

Before the completion of the new church, there was one final obstacle to be overcome. With the backing of the Kirk Session, Thomson’s original design did not incorporate a spire. But the city fathers insisted on a spire which they saw as more in keeping with the grandeur of the townscape being planned around Queen’s Park. It was their thinking that a spire at each end of Queen’s Drive gave the area a fitting sense of symmetry, but many church elders saw it as ‘a waste of money.’ In the end, and with great reluctance, the Kirk Session relented and Thomson incorporated the spire into the design. No one could have foreseen that more than a century later, the spire would house mobile phone antennae, with financial benefit to the work of the local church!

With the final design having been decided, the building of a church at 170 Queen’s Drive was set to begin. On 28 February 1874, the foundation stone was laid by Patrick Playfair, Lord Dean of Guild, and in an astonishingly short period of time, the church building was dedicated and opened for use on 16 May 1875. The preacher at the service of dedication was Rev Dr George Reith, father of Lord Reith, first Director General of the BBC. The adjoining church halls were opened four years later. These halls widened the scope of congregational activities immediately.

Invitation Queen's Drive

Invitation to the laying of the foundation stone at 170 Queen’s Drive, 1874.

At this time, there were 400 members on the roll and a large number of adherents helped to boost attendance at worship. However, things did not always run so smoothly at Queen’s Park Free Church. There is, for example, the case of the drunken church officer!

Chosen from a large number of applicants, and possessing glowing testimonials, the church officer was thought to be a real find and, indeed, when he began his duties this was the impression he gave – until one day he was found drunk on the premises. In a spirit of Christian forgiveness, he was admonished and allowed to remain in his post. However, it was not long before the same offence was repeated. Again, he was forgiven, but the final warning given was very clear: any repetition of the offence would result in instant dismissal. And that was precisely what happened only a week or so later.

Much more serious was the case of the missing treasurer. Shortly after the congregation began to function it became obvious that there was something seriously amiss in the accounts, in fact, a very large sum could not be accounted for. The finger of suspicion pointed at the treasurer (who at that time was also serving as the Session Clerk). It was resolved to confront him with the facts, but before this could be done the man in question seemed to vanish. Despite an extensive search over several months, no trace of him could be found. There was, however, to be a final twist in the tale. More than a decade later, the minister, Mr Scott received a letter from the minister of a Presbyterian church in New York. In this letter, the American minister stated that he had a man from Glasgow called Mr X in his congregation who claimed membership of Queen’s Park Free Church and requested that Mr Scott please send him his ‘lines’! One can only guess the content of the letter Mr Scott sent in reply.

At the other end of the current parish, in 1874, Govanhill South Parish Church was established and Elgin Street UP Church became a mission church. At this time, Govanhill was often referred to as ‘No Man’s Land’ due to the fact that the area did not belong to its neighbouring burghs. On the evening of 29 November 1875, in the heart of this unincorporated patch of Lanarkshire, a faithful few met at Govan Colliery Schoolhouse on Cathcart Road to discuss the necessary arrangements for a UP church to serve the Govanhill area. A small congregation of 29 ‘intending members’ grew out of this gathering and, with the permission of UP Presbytery of Glasgow, Cathcart Road UP Church was formed. On 9 October 1876, the Rev Andrew Alston was called to serve this new congregation. Mr Alston only stayed for a short while, paving the way for the 29-year ministry of the Rev David M. Connor in 1879.

At Strathbungo Church, roll numbers were increasing greatly. Mr Sutherland continued to serve at Strathbungo until his death in 1875, when he was succeeded by his assistant, the Rev Alexander Clark on 20 January 1876. But Mr Clark’s ministry at Strathbungo would be short-lived as he accepted the call to a charge at Wick only a matter of weeks after his induction at Strathbungo. By the summer of 1876, the congregation had chosen the Rev Robert McMillan to lead them forward. Only eighteen days after his induction, on 24 July 1876, a joint meeting of the Kirk Session and the Board of Management discussed how they might improve and expand their church building. This resulted in, among other changes, the construction of a gallery which would provide seating for 300 more worshippers.

While these works were being carried out, the exceptional relations between neighbouring churches was demonstrated in the hospitality offered by Queen’s Park Free Church at 170 Queen’s Drive, who permitted the Church of Scotland at Strathbungo to use their earlier brick-built church. During this time, Strathbungo first employed instrumental music in their worship – in the form of a harmonium. Eventually, the works at Strathbungo Church were completed and, by 1879, Strathbungo was granted parish church status.


[1] John Knox, et al., The Scots Confession of 1560 (Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 1960), 36-37.
[2] W. M. Hetherington, History of the Church of Scotland, from the Introduction of Christianity to the Period of the Disruption in 1843 (Robert Carter & Brothers: New York, 1856), 331.
[3] Ibid, 307.
[4] Ibid, 351.
[5] Finlay Macdonald, From Reform to Renewal: Scotland’s Kirk Century by Century (Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 2017), 101.
[6] Ibid, 102.
[7] Hetherington, 352.
[8] Nathaniel Morren, Annals of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, from the Final Secession in 1739, to the Origin of the Relief in 1752 (Edinburgh: John Johnstone, 1838), 271.
[9] Hetherington, 399.
[10] Ibid, 463.
[11] Ibid, 492-3.
[12] John R. Hume and Tessa Jackson, George Washington Wilson and Victorian Glasgow (Keighley, West Yorkshire: Kennedy Brothers Publishing Ltd., 1983), 32.

1. Our Early History
2. The Late 19th Century: a Period of Rapid Growth
3. Into the 20th Century
4. The Great War & its Aftermath
5. A Second World War
6. The Post-War Era
7. The Late 20th Century
8. The Millennium
9. Queen’s Park Govanhill
Conclusion: Beyond 150 at 170