John Wesley made the first of 15 visits in 1753 at the invitation of Dr John Gillies of the College Kirk, who held class meetings and provided a canvas pulpit for Wesley's outdoor preaching. Thomas Taylor formed a society and rented a room in 1765 in the Barber's Hall in Stockwell Street. The first chapel was opened in John Street in 1787 by John Pawson, who angered Wesley by appointing seven 'elders' to lead the society, a move swiftly countermanded. WM immigrants from England and Ireland divided the society in the 1830s, with the Scots forming the John Street and Calton societies and the immigrants chiefly at Bridge Street and Anderston. In 1840 the circuit membership totalled 1,224, with congregations developing in the Clyde shipbuilding towns to the west and in mining towns inland. John Street, compulsorily sold in 1881, is now the site of the City Chambers. The new chapel in Sauchiehall Street (1882) was replaced by Woodlands in 1974. Methodism expanded in the mid- and late-Victorian period of Glasgow's economic optimism, with WM chapels opening in the suburbs.

In 1825 the Carlisle PM Circuit sent James Johnson to mission Glasgow. By 1827 it had become a circuit, missioning Paisley in its turn. English PMs came from the Black Country to establish and work in the iron foundries and blast furnaces around Wishaw, where they built a chapel in Young Street (1858). Pollokshaws, missioned from Paisley, was built in 1883. The great success of PM, however, was in open-air work and gatherings in rented premises.

The MNC had a chapel in East Clyde Street from 1814 to 1828. The WMA. WR and IM also had societies and buildings c.1830-90.


John Wesley's Journal:

April 1753: 'At seven I preached about a quarter of a mile from the town; but it was an extremely rough and blustering morning, and few people came either at the time or place of my preaching; the natural consequence of which was that I had but a small congregation. About four in the afternoon a tent, as they term it, was prepared: a kind of moving pulpit, covered with canvas at the top, behind, and on the sides. In this I preached near the place where I was in the morning, to near six times as many people as before; and I am persuaded what was spoken came to some of their hearts, "not in word only, but in power."

[Next day] 'I had designed to preach at the same place, but the rain made it impracticable. So Mr. G[illies] desired me to preach in his church, where I began between seven and eight. Surely with God nothing is impossible! Who would have believed, five and twenty years ago, either that the minister would have desired it or that I should have consented to preach in a Scotch kirk?

'We had a far larger congregation at four in the afternoon than the church could have contained. At seven Mr. G[illies] preached another plain, home, affectionate sermon. Has not God still a favour for this city? It was long eminent for serious religion; and He is able to repair what is now decayed, and to build up the waste places.

[Next day] 'I had designed to ride to Edinburgh; but, at the desire of many, I deferred my journey till Monday. Here was now an open and effectual door, and not many adversaries…

[Sunday] 'It rained much: nevertheless, upward (I suppose) of a thousand people stayed with all willingness while I explained and applied "This is life eternal, to know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent." I was desired to preach afterwards at the prison, which I did about nine o'clock. All the felons, as well as debtors, behaved with such reverence as I never saw in any prison in England. It may be some even of these sinners will occasion joy in heaven.

'The behaviour of the people at church, both morning and afternoon, was beyond anything I ever saw but in our congregations. None bowed or courtesied to each other, either before or after the service; from beginning to the end of which none talked or looked at any but the minister. Surely much of the power of godliness was here, when there is so much of the form still.

'The meadow where I stood in the afternoon was filled from side to side. I spoke as closely as ever in my life. Many of the students and many of the soldiers were there; and I bear them witness they could bear "sound doctrine." '

June 1757: 'In the evening the tent … was placed in the yard of the poorhouse, a very large and commodious place. Fronting the pulpit was the infirmary, with most of the patients at or near the windows. Adjoining to this was the hospital for lunatics; several of them gave deep attention.

[Two days later] 'At seven the congregation was increased, and earnest attention sat on every face…

[Saturday] '… I was much pleased with the seriousness of the people in the evening, but still I prefer the English congregation. I cannot be reconciled to men sitting at prayer or covering their heads while they are singing praise to God.

[Sunday] 'At seven the congregation was just as large as my voice could reach, and I did not spare them at all.. So, if any will deceive himself, I am clear of his blood… After preaching [in the evening] I met as many desired it of the members of the praying societies. I earnestly advised them to meet Mr. Gillies every week, and at their other meetings not to talk loosely and in general (as their manner had been) on some head of religion, but to examine each other's hearts and lives.'

May 1759: 'I found the little society which I had joined here two years since had soon split in pieces. In the afternoon I met several of the members of the praying societies and showed them what Christian fellowship was, and what need they had of it. About forty of them met me on Sunday the 27th, in Mr. Gillies's kirk, immediately after evening service. I left them determined to meet Mr. Gillies weekly at the same time and place. If this be done, I shall try to see Glasgow again; if not, I can employ my time better.'

April 1765: 'This evening I preached in the hall of the Hospital; the next dy, morning and afternoon, in the yard. So much of the form of religion is here still as is scarce to be found in any town in England. There was once the power too. And shall it not be again? Surely the time is at hand.'

June 1766: 'This evening we were in the house, but the next I preached abroad to many more than the house could contain. On Friday the number was greatly increased, but much more on Saturday. I then enlarged upon communion with God, as the only real, scriptural religion; and I believe many felt that, with all their orthodoxy, they had no religion still.

'What a difference there is between the society here and that at Dundee!... Here are seventy-four members, and near thirty among them lively, zealous believers…

[Next day, Sunday] 'At seven I was obliged to preach abroad and the word sunk deep into the hearers… At five I preached on "Oh that thou hadst known, at least in this thy day, the things that make for thy peace!" … In the close I enlarged upon their prejudices, and explained myself with regard to most of them. Shame, concern, and a mixtue of various passions were painted on most faces; and I perceived the Scots, if you touch but the right key, receive as lively impressions as the English.'

April 1768: 'On Thursday and Friday I spoke to most of the members of the society. I doubt we have few societies in Scotland like this. The greater part of those I saw not only have found peace with God, but continue to walk in the light of His countenance. Indeed that wide and good man Mr. G[illies] has been of great service to them, encouraging them, by all possible means, to abide in the grace of God.'

April 1772: '…The frost was exceeding sharp; so I preached within, both this evening and on Sunday morning. But in the evening the multitude constrained me to stand in the street. My text was, "What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common." Hence I took occasion to fall upon their misrable bigotry for opinions and modes of worship. Many seemed to be not a little convinced; but how long will the impression continue?'

[Four days later] 'In the evening, when I began …, the congregation being but small, I chose a subject fit for experienced Christians; but soon after a heap of fine gay people came in. Yet I could not decently break off what I was about, though they gaped and stared abundantly. I could only give a short exhortation in the close more suited to their capacity.

[Next day] '… was the fast before the Lord's Supper… As it rained in the evening, I preached in the Grammar School - a large, commodious room. I know not that ever I spoke more plain, nor perhaps with more effect.

[Next day] 'We had a large congregation at five, and many of the rich and gay among hem. I was aware of them now, and they seemed to comprehend perfectly well what it is to be "ashamed of the gospel of Christ." '

May 1774: '[I] preached on the old Green, to a people the greatest part of whom hear much, know everything, and feel nothing.

[Next day, Sunday] '… In the evening a multitude of people assembled on the Green, to whom I earnestly applied those words, "Though I have all knowledge … though I have all faith … though I give all my goods to feed the poor,' &c., "and have not love, I am nothing." …

'How is it that there is no increase in this society? It is exceeding easy to answer. One preacher stays here two or three months at a time, preaching on Sunday mornings and three or four evenings in a week. Can a Methodist preacher preserve either bodily health or spiritual life with this exercise? And if he is but half alive, what will the people be?'

May 1779: 'I went to Glasgow and preached in the house, but the next evening by the river-side.

[Next day, Sunday] 'At seven I spoke exceeding strong words in applying the parable of the Sower… After church [at the English chapel] I preached again by the river-side, to a huge multitude of serious people; I believe full as many more as we had the Sunday before at Newcastle. Surely we shall not lose all our labour here.'

May 1788: 'Our new preaching-house will, I believe, contain about as many as the chapel at Bath. But oh the difference! It has the pulpit on one side, and has exactly the look of a Presbyterian meeting-house… Perhaps an omen of what will be when I am gone. I preached at seven to a tolerably large congregation, and to many of them at five in the morning. At six in the evening they were increased fourfold; but still I could not find the way to their hearts.

[Next day, Sunday] 'I preached at eleven on the parable of the Sower, at half-past two on Psa I.23, and in the evening on "Now abideth faith, hope, love; these three." I subjoined a short account of Methodism… The Methodists alone do not insist on your holding this or that opinion; but they think and let think. Neither do they impose any particular mode of worship; but you may continue to worship in your former manner, be it what it may.'

May 1790: 'The congregation was misrably small; verifying what I had often heard before, that the Scots dearly love the word of the Lord - on the Lord's day. If I live to come again, I will take care to spend only the Lord's day at Glasgow.'

  • Phoebe Palmer, Four Years in the Old World (1866), Ch. IX
  • Methodist Recorder, 28 Mar 1912
  • J. Ritson, The Centenary of Glasgow Primitive Methodism 1826-1926 (Leominster, 1926)
  • George Sails, At the Centre: the story of Methodism's Central Missions (1970), pp.64-6
  • O.A. Beckerlegge in WHS Proceedings 29 pp.161-2; 30 pp.7-11