18th May 1843 - The Disruption

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18th May 1843 - The Disruption

The Disruption broke up the most important Scottish institution of its day and was one of the most momentous events in nineteenth century Scotland.

On 18 May 1843, the Established Presbyterian Church of Scotland was split in two. One third of the clergy and almost half of the laity walked out of the General Assembly and formed the new Free Church of Scotland. This meant that there were two parallel Presbyterian churches in operation.

The dispute centred on the relationship between the church and the government, with the dissenters opposed to such outside ‘interference’. They recognised Jesus Christ as the head of the church, not the government. 

Those who left forfeited homes and salaries, and had to create and finance a national church from scratch. One of the leaders was Thomas Chalmers, who had been minister of The Tron Church and St John’s in Glasgow.  

In 1929 the majority of the Presbyterian dissenters rejoined the Church of Scotland, after the government enacted legislation to recognise the full independence of the Church in matters spiritual.

Glasgow City Archives holds many sources that tell the story of the Disruption and its aftermath. You can find out more on our family history website​.

​​Image 1 - Act of Separation 2.jpg

​The Act of Separation and Deed of Demission was executed on 23 May 1843, shortly after the walk-out. This explosive document formalised the split.
​                                  Image 2 - The Churchman 2.jpg

​This anti-disruption periodical ‘The Churchman’ is a fantastic contemporary account of the challenges that the Established Church faced. It criticises the seceders heavily throughout; for example, stating that, ‘to peril the very existence of an ancient institution, that all must confess has been productive of so much good, merely because of some speculative opinions, recently started, about its government, was the consumation of folly.”
               ​Image 3 - Wellpark Free Church 1964.jpg

​Wellpark Free Church, taken before its demolition in 1965. The City Archives holds the records of this church and many others. We are the official repository for the Church of Scotland (Glasgow Presbytery), which includes many of the seceding churches that subsequently reunited with it in 1929. We also hold the records of other denominations, including Episcopalian, Methodist, and Congregational and Evangelical Union.
Image 4 - St Matthew's FC 2.jpg

​Architectural drawings of St Matthew’s Free Church at Queen’s Cross, 1897. The drawings were made by the firm Honeyman & Keppie but the design is accepted as Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s, who was a young assistant in the practice. The City Archives hold many of Mackintosh’s original drawings.
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