Castle Street, Townhead

The second Barony Church sits to the left of the Cathedral.

The Barony Parish was in existence from at least 1595 until 1985, a period which saw it develop into one of the most prestigious and important parishes of the Church of Scotland, then to decline and vanish back to where it originated.  Amongst the ministers to have served the Barony have been included some of the best known clerics and brightest luminaries of the Church; Zachary Boyd (1625-53), Donald Cargill (1655-62), Norman McLeod (1851-72) and John White (1911-1934).  John Marshall Lang, minister from 1873-1900, and father of Cosmo Lang, Archbishop of Canterbury, authored a volume on the history of the parish in 1895.

Towards the end of the 16th century it was acknowledged that the landward part of the Glasgow Parish, that is the rural area outwith the burgh itself, could no longer be effectively provided for within the existing organisation of the newly reformed Church.  Consequently, this extensive area north of the Clyde from Partick in the west, to Lochwood in east, and Bishopbriggs in the North was disjoined from Glasgow as the Barony Parish in c.1595.  It took its title from the ancient feudal patrimony of the Bishops and Archbishops of the Catholic See of Glasgow, the Barony of Glasgow, although the new parish’s boundaries did not extend nearly so far.

The Barony parishioners may have been meeting from as early as 1594 in the disused Blackfriars Church  while repairs were being made to the Cathedral, and the parish division may not have been fully effected until 1599.  However, it is generally taken to have had its parish church, the Barony Church, established in the Laigh Kirk (Low Church) or crypt of the Cathedral in 1595.

The Church in the Crypt - the early Barony congregation.

The Church in the crypt was featured in Sir Walter Scott's “Rob Roy” where it provided the setting for the first encounter between Frank Osbaldistone and MacGregor.  At that period in the novel, about 1715, Scott has his hero describe his entry into the lower reaches of the Cathedral thus;

“Conceive, Tresham, an extensive range of low-browed, dark, and twilight vaults, such as are used for sepulchres in other countries, and had long been dedicated to the same purpose in this, a portion of which was seated with pews and used as a church.  The part of the vaults thus occupied, though capable of containing a congregation of many hundreds, bore a small proportion to the darker and more extensive caverns which yawned around what may be termed the inhabited space.  In those waste regions of oblivion dusky banners and tattered escutcheons indicated the graves of those who were once, doubtless "princes in Israel.”

It is remarkable to note that the congregation spent the next 203 years in this unlikely and increasingly inhospitable location.

The crypt church was one of the Burgh Churches but unlike the others, which were built to serve the Glasgow Parish, the Barony's patron remained the monarch.  This meant that the responsibility for it's church's upkeep stayed with the heritors of the parish because it served a parish of a traditional type and not a burgh.

Two early accounts of the parish were compiled.  One was the Rev John Burn's description of 1796 which he provided for the Statistical Account of Scotland.  The other, describing the Eastern and Western Districts into which it was administratively divided, was James Hopkirk of Dalbeth's hand-written and illustrated manuscript of 1826.  Burns was minister of the Barony from 1773 to 1839.  Hopkirk was a heritor of the parish, elder of the church and Depute Lieutenant for the County of Lanark.

Conditions within the crypt continued to deteriorate over the centuries of usage, becoming increasingly dark, dirty and damp until at last even the most reluctant of heritors had to agree to the building of a new church by 1798.  Hopkirk was one of those delegated the task of selecting a site for the new church.  With one finally being obtained close to the Cathedral, he was also instrumental in engaging the architect James Adam who designed what was to become the replacement Old Barony Church.   Hopkirk observed in his statistical account;

"Mr James Adam being in Scotland, he was dining with me, when I told him were about building a Church, he said though his brother had done several things in Scotland, he had never done any, and he would like to give us a plan, for which he would ask nothing, & he would be glad to see the ground.  I accordingly carried him up to it, when after looking at it for some time, he said that giving a plan for it, would be the most difficult thing he had ever done; for if he made a fine ornamental Gothic building, it would hurt our Cathedral, and if he was to make it a modern building, it was too near the Infirmary; but he would consider when he got to London, and he would write to me."

On 12th January, 1793 Hopkirk received a letter from Adam which stated, "My idea has been to keep everything perfectly plain, both outside and inside, to save expense,....I can venture to assure you, that the external appearance being in a style different both from the Cathedral and the Infirmary, will group in with those buildings and have a picturesque effect..."

The design was unanimously approved of and the foundation stone was laid by Hopkirk himself.  With the opening of the new church in 1799 the crypt reverted to more ancient usage when the Barony heritors employed it as a burying ground until 1844.

As appears to be the case with any new construction in the Cathedral precincts, the new Barony Church attracted comments both favourable and otherwise on its architectural merits.  One of its own ministers, Dr Norman McLeod, is reported to have advised Queen Victoria that it was “the ugliest Kirk in all Europe.”  Others designated it “an architectural gem.”  The debate ended only when time took its toll on the structure and it was decided that a new church was again required.

With the tremendous growth in population which occurred in the years following its establishment, the Barony found itself subject to the same pressures which had given rise to its very own existence - the inability to meet all of the spiritual requirements of its congregation.  In the burgh this had led to sub-division of the closely packed Glasgow Parish.  Well into the 19th century the countryside making up the Barony Parish was still a rough and wild place.  The few roads were little more than dirt tracks and travelling to and from the church proved extremely difficult for many of the congregation at any real distance away, especially during the winter months.  To offset these problems and to facilitate access to divine services, several Chapels of Ease were built through the Barony area, usually by the local people, to supplement the provision of the Barony Kirk itself. 

These Chapels provided considerable relief and by the middle of the 19th century some had even formed the nucleus of new parishes.  The Barony separated off four major independent parishes about this time – Shettleston (1847), Calton (1849), Maryhill (1850) and Springburn (1854) - and within these districts were additional Chapels of Ease and Missions some of which also evolved into fully fledged parishes.

The controversy over the Adam building only ended when a replacement was needed.  A site was acquired on the west side of Castle Street and a magnificent, red sandstone Gothic church by J.J. Burnet & J.A. Campbell raised in 1889 which incorporated architectural artifacts from the old church and a number of other relics.  It provided a superb home for the congregation, which was eventually joined by that of St. Paul's & St. David's (Ramshorn) to form the Barony Ramshorn in 1982.

The sojourn of the joint congregation did not last long.  The last service to be held in the Barony Ramshorn was on 6th October, 1985 and thereafter the historic charge was terminated.  The remaining parishioners were left to choose which church to attend thereafter with some moving to the St. George's Tron, some to Dennistoun Blackfriars  and others back to the Cathedral from which they had originated so long ago. Some relics of the Barony, including the Communion Table, were taken to the Cathedral and a small chapel established in the crypt, the Barony Chapel - very much a return home.

The Castle Street buildings were acquired by Strathclyde University in 1986.  It was restored to its former glory by 1989 and is now utilised as a ceremonial hall, known as the Barony Hall.

Hopkirk, James (1826); “A Statistical Account of the Barony Parish of Glasgow.”  Handwritten manuscript (MS Murray 636), Special Collection, Glasgow University.

Marshall Lang, John (1895); “Glasgow and the Barony thereof.” James Maclehose & Sons, Glasgow.

Scott, Sir Walter (1817); “Rob Roy.” 1929 Edition, A & C Black Ltd, London.

Sinclair, Sir John (1794); “The Statistical Account of Scotland.” Volume 12. Edinburgh, William Creech.

© 2005 Gordon Adams


NOTES: Updated for 1st September, 2010.

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