The birthplace of Sectarianism

History often throws up dark secrets as any family historian could tell you. Once they are uncovered though there is a choice:- ignore them, downplay them or face and understand them. The spirit of this website has been to face history's secrets and to show that the vibrant history of Drumchapel mirrors that of Scotland as a whole.

Just like those family historians I have uncovered Drumchapel's darkest secret....

Drumchapel can be considered the birthplace of sectarianism in Scotland.

Note the phrase 'can be'. For this claim rests squarely with one man; Rev. Dr. John White (1867-1951), who started his ministerial career in Drumchapel as an assistant to Dr. King, already mentioned elsewhere.

The New Kilpatrick Parish which contained Drumchapel was a large area. It contained Temple at one end and Milngavie at the other. Hence the minister Dr. King employed assistants to minister in each area. These assistants were generally the brightest students that the University of Glasgow Divinity faculty had to offer; Duncan Robertson in Drumchapel; a short historical sketch notes that Dr. King could offer higher wages for assistants than other places. One such assistant was John White who spent two years (1891-3) administering Drumchapel, first as student then as licentiate.

In fact, Rev. Dr. John White was more than just bright. Most reports refer to him as brilliant man,even a genius. He worked for twenty years to unite the Church of Scotland and the United Free Church which he achieved in1929 becoming the Moderator of the first General Assembly of the united Kirk in that year. He founded and was the first convener of the Church and Nation Committee. However beneath that genius lay a sectarian bigot.

By the time of the first World War, John White had qualified to his own ministry first in Shettleston, then South Leith, then to the Barony in 1911, at the High Street in Glasgow where there is a plaque to his memory. During the war he served on the Western Front as chaplain to the Cameronians.

George Rosie in his Curious Scotland quotes an Edinburgh professor and an Irish historian to set the beginnings of the rise in anti-Irish sentiment among the Scots to be caused as follows:-

Rev. John White stirred up this sentiment. In 1922 a Protestant mob stoned and bottled buses carrying Catholic women and children to the Eucharistic Congress in Morningside, Edinburgh. Yet White was not a radical of the Kirk but central to its movement, a guiding light. The Church of Scotland detailed in a 1923 report:

"Already there is a bitter feeling among the Scottish working classes against the Irish intruders. As the latter increase and the Scottish people realise the seriousness of the menace to their own racial supremacy in their native land, this bitterness will develop into a race antagonism which will have disastrous consequences for Scotland."

Mentioning 'racial supremacy in their native land' the report sounds like it could have been written by Hitler's propagandists or in apartheid South Africa. Yet this report was accepted by the General Assembly and Rev. John White's Church and Nation Committee was to form a sub-committee to fight the anti-Irish cause.

However White was to make poor political progress. (He did however introduce Stanley Baldwin to his favourite brand of tobacco, now called Presbyterian Mixture! ) White's figures of Scotland being swamped by Irish Catholics were not accepted by the government. This did not stop him however. In 1928 he was still claiming Scots were "corrupted by the introduction of a horde of Irish immigrants" and the 1931 Church and Nation committee encouraged employers not to hire Irishmen or Irishwomen .

In 1932, Sir Robert Horne, former university classmate of John White and ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer warned that - in George Rosie's words - "Home Rule means Rome Rule". Worse rhetoric was to follow by the newly formed Church Interests Committee urging the Church of Scotland to join the International League for the Defence and Furtherance of Protestantism (ILDFP). Based in Berlin this was Nazi-dominated and anti-Catholic. The Nazi associations though eventually woke the Church of Scotland and the anti-Catholic agenda pursued by Rev. Dr. John White was scrapped.

White was to die in 1951. The sectarianism which he started unfortunately has not. Whilst the Church of Scotland has gradually steered itself free from White's legacy, other institutions notably the Old Firm football clubs Rangers and Celtic have struggled to break themselves away. In Drumchapel, like most of the rest of west central Scotland, sectarianism is at its height when those clubs meet.

The situation is improving. Dr. White was a popular figure among Drumchapel residents. Duncan Robertson's Drumchapel notes that he made a deep impression on Drumchapel as assistant minister, raising money for a church organ to accompany the singing of hymns. A visit to St. Andrews Church war memorial shows the many men of Drumchapel that lost their lives during the two World Wars. As has been stated elsewhere the communion roll of the old church in 1910 numbered 101. So perhaps only a score or two men were fit to fight in the Great War; yet most gave their lives. The disproportionate loss felt by Scots that led to anti-Irish sentiment suggested earlier would have been keenly felt in the small village that was Drumchapel. This and owing to the affection that the parish had for the man leads to the conclusion that his bigoted views would have been echoed here.

Likewise Dr. John White had a deep affection for Drumchapel and the New Kilpatrick parish that remained with him throughout his life. In Knightswood, he opened the St. Margaret's church in 1932 and was involved in the stone laying ceremony to open St David's in 1938. It opened October 1939. In Drumchapel, he presided over the committee that approved the building of St. Andrews church and convinced the Baird Trust to help finance the construction in 1935. He gave the opening service of the new church in wartime December 1939. The time he spent here during his formative years as an assistant even led him to write the introduction to James McCardle's The Parish of New Kilpatrick on Christmas Day 1948.

Yet today Rev. Dr John White M.A. C.H. D.D. little known. Perhaps in years to come when sectarianism is dead in Scotland, another assessment of the man can be taken. Until that time his reputation and Drumchapel's - the formative scene of his ministry career and the place that was intertwined with his life - can only be associated with his vile bigotry.