“when thou makest a feast, call the poor…”

As well as ministering to his flock in Woodlands, Pastor Geyer helped people who were misunderstood or marginalised.

In 1887 he went to Greenock to help a Hungarian man detained as a suspected terrorist because of explosives in his luggage. Geyer secured his release by confirming it was an innocent mistake, and then helped Mr Kowatsch continue his homeward journey.

Glasgow Evening Citizen 18 November 1887

In 1906 he asked for kindness and understanding towards a number of Roma families at Vinegarhill. They were part of a group of more than 100 Roma recently arrived in Scotland due to restrictive new laws in Prussia, an event quickly dubbed the “German Gyspy Invasion” by the British press.

“German Gypsies at their Glasgow encampment”, The Graphic, 12 May 1906
© Illustrated London News Ltd/Mary Evans

In Invaders: Mobility and economy in the Lives of the Laubinger family. Eve Rosenhaft and Tamara West, describe how the curious Glaswegians flocked to see them in the east end and even watched Pastor Geyer perform a wedding there. A 400-strong congregation was at the church when he baptised five of the babies when he preached a sermon on the theme of welcoming outcasts to the feast. He later married 15 more couples in his church.

“For Geyer [the weddings] offered an opportunity to perform charity and to mobilise his congregation to do so; two women and two men were regular witnesses at the weddings. Through other kinds public action , like appealing publicly for clothing for the newly baptised babies, Geyer enhanced his reputation as an independent Christian voice when establishment clergymen berated him for “casting pearls before swine”. And the journeys of the families back and forth across the city connected the East and West Ends in a highly dramatic way”.

Invaders: Mobility and economy in the Lives of the Laubinger family by Eve Rosenhaft and Tamara West, in European Roma: Lives beyond stereotypes, Liverpool University press (2022)

Geyer’s focus on the downtrodden did not always find favour with the middle class, and in 1898 a rival congregation was established in Garnethill. Meanwhile more social organisations like the Glasgow German Club – chaired by Paul Rottenburg – were being set up.

In a 2016 article, Professor Stefan Manz explains that though many Germans in Glasgow in the 1901 census were involved in trade and commerce, 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.”

(“Germans like to quarrel” Conflict and belonging in German diasporic communities around 1900, Interdisciplines. Journal of History and Sociology, Volume 7, number 1, pg 49)
The Clyde from the Sailors Home, Glasgow. 1882. Photograph by J Valentine & Sons. Rijksmuseum / Europeana

So though there was a significant community of Germans and German-speakers 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 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)

The First World War

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
Early Morning Swimmers at the Arlington Baths, by AH Geyer, 1896

But the First World War brought the conviviality of the German Christmas celebrations and other socialclubs in the city to a sudden end.

Suspicion against foreigners in Glasgow was channelled by the Anti-Alien League which gained support from local politician – and Arlington Baths member – Sir Samuel Chisholm.

Many non-naturalised Germans in Scotland – like Fritz A. Schreiber, Managing Director at Tennents’ brewery – were interned or deported. For those who were naturalised – like Carl Hugo Roëmmele and Adolphus Hanns Geyer – it meant their sons joining the British forces to fight against Germany and Austria-Hungary.

Pastor Geyer’s church is now gone but his photograph of fellow swimmers has remained hanging in the Arlington Baths Club, a legacy of his remarkable story.