Early swimmers and the German clergyman-photographer

A sepia photograph of a group of 13 men and one boy, some seated, outside the Arlington Baths in 1896, dressed in suits and wearing caps or bowler hats

This is the oldest photograph we have of members of the Arlington Baths Club.  

It dates from 1896 and is captioned Early morning swimmers at the Arlington Baths.

The name of the photographer – Pastor Geyer – is also written on the caption.

But who was he?

Some of our members have done a bit of digging to learn more about him and in the process we discovered some fascinating facts about Glasgow at that time.

The photographer, Adolphus Hanns Geyer, was born in Austria in 1857. In 1891, when he was 33, he was the Pastor of the German Protestant Church in South Woodside Road, in Kelvinbridge, in Glasgow.

Woodlands road PC
Postcard of Woodlands Road circa 1904. The German Protestant Church (now demolished) is the red building with the onion dome spire to the left. St. Mary’s spire can be seen in the centre background and Burnbank Bowling Club to the right.

At this time he was living at 20 West Bank Terrace in Hillhead with his wife Annie Ellen (Nellie) Geyer who was born in England in about 1865. They had two children, Adolph R H, aged four, and Hildagard E, aged two. Also living there were Hermann K E Stellar, an 21-year-old relative  – the specific relationship is not recorded – from Hungary (which was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) who was a marine engineer, and August R Abe, also 21, who was a lodger and an engineering draughtsman, plus a young women servant.

In 1901 the family had expanded, so as well as Adolph aged 14, and Hildagard 12, there was now also Ernest W, aged eight, Annie E, aged six, and Westall Stelber, aged two years old. They now lived at 20 Smith Street South in Partick.

Although Adolph Hanns Geyer was the pastor of the German Protestant Church he seems to have also been a photographer, etcher and painter, who exhibited with the Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts. The National Galleries of Scotland hold one of his etchings of Loch Achray in the Trossachs.

PGP R 2092
A H Geyer, Loch Achray and Ben Venue 1923, National Galleries of Scotland. Scottish National Portrait Gallery

He also spoke on photography including  two lectures at the Lizars’ Challenge Photographic Exhibition 1897 entitled ‘Amongst the High Alps’ and ‘A Visit to the Carpathians and Other Eastern Heights’.

Lizars Exhibition
Programme of the Lizars’ Challenge Photographic Exhibition 3 – 18 October 1897 as reported in the British Journal of Photography No.1966 Vol. XLV pg. 637
Pastor Geyer - Canal Dordrecht
Canal Dordrecht – etching by Pastor Adolph Hanns Geyer. Picture credit and watermark: Photograph RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History, The Hague.

There’s a mention of him on the RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History – website.

The website also has copies of two of his etchings, printed in a book around 1912, depicting a church and a canal (pictured) in Dordrecht.

There was a significant German population in Glasgow in the late 19th century and early 20th century.

Professor Stefan Manz explains in a 2016 article entitled “Germans like to quarrel” Conflict and belonging in German diasporic communities around 1900 (published in Interdisciplines. Journal of History and Sociology, Volume 7, number 1) that he identified 1,053 Germans in Glasgow in the 1901 census, largely involved in trade and commerce but other occupations included “teachers, musicians, brewers, restaurateurs, hairdressers, miners, butchers, and a range of craftsmen such as watchmakers and bottle makers”.

“During the 1880s, a former engineer turned pastor, Hanns Geyer, built up a congregation both for German transmigrants on their way to America, as well as the local migrant community. The United Free Church in Scotland praised the “continued and increasing success of his mission labors.” His services were attended by up to 80 churchgoers. In 1884, he was also employed as a seamen’s missionary for Glasgow by the newly founded General Committee for German Seamen and Emigrant Mission in Scotland.”

(Interdisciplines, pg 49)

The Arlington Baths did have members from the German community. We do not yet have evidence that Geyer was a member of Baths or for how long but it seems unlikely he would have taken the photograph and presented a copy to the Club if he hadn’t known the Baths and its members well.

One of our earliest members was Carl Hugo Roemelle, a German born in either Baden or Heidelberg in 1851 who settled here in the 1870s working as a clerk with an iron merchant.  He became a naturalised British subject in 1877 and later become an iron merchant himself. He was a Life Member of the Arlington Baths and his sons Herman, Harold and Max joined the Baths when they were schoolboys.

In his article Professor Manz explains that though there was a significant community of Germans in Glasgow they were not a homogenous group and did not always agree.

“In the long run, however, Geyer failed to gather support from the wealthier middle classes, crucially the ethnic leaders. He mainly appealed to the working class segment, and class reservations can be detected behind negative comments. Pastor Wagner-Groben from Edinburgh reported to Berlin that he had heard “discouraging judgments from very respectable people” about Geyer’s abilities and character, and merchant Carl H. Römmele came to the conclusion that Glasgow needed “a missionary or preacher for the poor, and one for the better classes.” [letter, 1885] Indeed, in 1898 a second congregation was founded with a clear agenda of class differentiation. In the words of timber merchant and leading ethnic figurehead Johannes N. Kiep, this was “established at the initiative of the better German circle” [letter, 1886] and for some time it had the reputation of being a “church for the rich.”

(Interdisciplines, pg 49/50)

Though artisans did join the new church it remained very much the preserve of richer merchants and businessmen. And there was a tense, sometime quarrelsome, relationship with Pastor Geyer’s more church with its more working class congregation.

Manz describes how “Middle-class voices continued to refer to former engineer Hanns Geyer as a “locksmith.” (Interdisciplines, pg 50)

We don’t know much more about the Geyer family except that three of the children went into the medical professions.

Adolph Robert Hanns Geyer received his medical qualifications from the University of Glasgow in 1914.  His younger brother Westall Stelbar qualified, also at Glasgow, in 1922. They are both listed in the 1925 medical Directory – Adolph at 39 Smith Street in Hillhead and Westall at 282 Woodlands Road, with the qualifications Bachelor of Medicine (M.B) and Bachelor of Surgery (Ch.B).

Adolph had served in the Royal Army Medical Corps as a captain and was a member of the British Medical Association. Westall later married and moved to Yorkshire.

Annie became a registered nurse in October 1925, following training at the Royal Infirmary in Glasgow. In 1938 she and her mother were still living in Glasgow, at Novar Drive.

Pastor Geyer died in the Royal Infirmary of stomach cancer on August 3rd 1931.

We still have much to discover about the German community in Victorian and Edwardian Glasgow and their connections with the Arlington Baths. Watch this space for more!

Many thanks to Arlington members Mark, Lindsay, Jon and Will for their research into Pastor Geyer.


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