West George St Chapel

James Gillespie Graham, 1818

Etching of West George St Chapel

The West George Street chapel sat just south of the modern Queen Street railway station. Constructed at a cost of £10,000 for the Congregational Church and capable of holding 1,600 people, its first pastor was the Rev. Ralph Wardlaw (1779-1853), one of the founders of the Glasgow Anti-Slavery Society in 1823. By 1830, Wardlaw had rejected the moderate stance which saw the abolition of slavery as a gradual process and became the leading Scottish campaigner for immediate abolition.

Rev. Dr. Ralph Wardlaw

Wardlaw’s sermons and speeches about the evils of slavery were not always popular because of Glasgow’s longstanding connections with the West Indies and led to a decline in membership of his church and attacks in the press. Nonetheless, he became active in the campaign for global emancipation after the Emancipation Act of 1833. He became a Vice Director of The Glasgow Emancipation Society, which focused its attentions on America. Wardlaw was central to a campaign that became truly international in its scope. David Livingstone (1813-73) attended his lectures on slavery and he hosted various abolitionists in Glasgow such as William Lloyd Garrison (1805-79) and Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-96).