Class, gender and Christianity in Edinburgh 1850-1905: a study in denominationalism
Lumsden, Christina Christie
This thesis examines the relationship between denominational affiliation, class and gender in the city of Edinburgh between 1850 and 1905. The period was chosen because socially it was a time of transition from a semi-rural economy to one of rapid population growth, urbanisation and economic diversification. Account has also been taken of the political context, as ministers and elders, especially from dissenting congregations, played a leading role in the movements for social and political reform, both locally and nationally. In ecclesiastical terms, the Established Church of Scotland was recovering from the effects of the Disruption of 1843, which had broken up the unity of the Church and led to intense inter-denominational strife. Towards the end of the period, the first steps leading to Presbyterian reunion were under way, culminating in the union of the United Presbyterian and Free Churches in 1900. This was also a time of religious revivals, first from 1858-60, then with Moody and Sankey, especially their first campaign in 1873-74. The so-called ‘Welsh’ revival of 1905 also impacted on some Edinburgh churches. The thesis also brings out the close links between these revival movements and social welfare concern among church members. Although Presbyterianism was the dominant form of church government in Scotland, other denominations also played their part in the religious life of the city. In the social analysis of congregations, special attention is given to a comparison of contrasting pairs of churches. St. Stephen’s Church of Scotland in the northern New Town is compared with Free St. George’s at the West End. Two Congregational churches, Augustine and Brighton Street, while near neighbours, had a different ethos, with the latter being more aggressively evangelical. Finally, two Baptist churches are examined. Bristo Place, the original Scotch Baptist church, had a plurality of elders or lay pastors, while Charlotte Chapel was founded on ‘English’ lines with one full-time minister. The memberships of these six churches are analysed to ascertain whether particular denominations appealed to different social groups. An important part of my thesis is the position of the poor, who have often been regarded as lacking interest in religion. I will show that, contrary to this perception, many indeed were Christian but preferred to worship in their own environment, attending mission halls rather than the fashionable city churches. These missions were usually operated as evangelical outreach from large charges, with some later becoming independent from the mother church, and calling their own minister. However, they remained firmly based in their own localities. In this way class divisions, which were such a hallmark of Edinburgh, were preserved. Two missions operated on a non-denominational basis, drawing practical and financial support from many different churches. Carrubber’s Close Mission in the High Street worked in the poorest district, while the Edinburgh City Mission operated across the city. These missions were examples of Christianity in action as they sought to improve the social and moral conditions of the poor.