A Short History of The Glasgow Medical Missionary Society

A meeting of ladies and gentlemen interested in the formation of a Glasgow Medical Missionary Society was held in Glasgow on 20th May 1867, the Chair being occupied by John Ramsay, Esq., Lord Dean of Guild for the City of Glasgow. At the meeting a resolution was passed in the following terms:

"That a Society be now formed on evangelical principles, to be called the Glasgow Medical Missionary Society’, with the following objects:

(I) to encourage a missionary spirit among medical students in Glasgow,

(2) to co-operate with kindred societies in training and supporting medical missionaries, and

(3) to carry on medical mission work among the poor in Glasgow."

The meeting then proceeded to the election of office bearers and Dr. Andrew Anderson was elected as the first President of the Society. Thirteen Directors were also elected consisting of six doctors, three clergymen of various denominations and four lay members. Two Secretaries were appointed one of them being Dr. Alex. R. Simpson, afterwards Professor of Midwifery in Edinburgh.

To appreciate the reasons for the formation of the Society reference may be made to a speech made by Dr. Cameron, M.P., at the Annual Meeting of the Society held in 1883. He stated that some years previously he had looked into the mortality returns for the City of Glasgow and had been deeply shocked at what he found. A very large number of the sick poor of the city received no medical attention whatever and when they died the cause of death was registered as "uncertified ". In 1876 almost 22% of the entire number of deaths in the city were uncertified. These unfortunates died without a single effort being made to relieve their sufferings or prolong their lives. There were many cases of illness caused by the terrible housing conditions of the people, many sufferers from deficiency diseases due to destitution and epidemics of infectious disease swept through the slums and when, in addition, there was a total lack in many instances of medical attention it was not surprising that people of Christian principles were led to set up a Medical Missionary Society in the city.

A hall was put at the disposal of the Mission, free of rent, by the Free Bridgegate Congregation, and there Dr. Pine, the first Medical Superintendent, carried on the dispensary work until September, 1868, when more suitable premises were rented in Spreulls Court, 182 Trongate.

The premises in Spreulls Court were occupied until 15th May 1869, and the next move was to a hail at 68 Nelson Street called the Lyceum. In 1873 the receipt of two legacies enabled the Society to acquire premises at 29 Havannah Street (off the High Street) at a cost of £1836.


In 1870 Dr. John LyeIl was appointed superintendent and had, for a time, the assistance of Dr. Sommerville and Dr. Templeton, both of whom became missionaries in India. In 1875 Dr. R. Laidlaw became Superintendent and held the appointment for the ten following years.

In the meantime the growth of the work had been spectacular. In the first year of its existence the Mission was open

three days a week at noon each day and there were 8059 consultations. In 1875 consultations numbered 29,378 and a

full-time Medical Superintendent, an assistant Superintendent and two Bible Women (who acted also as nurses) were actively employed.

The annual revenue of the Society had risen from £289 in 1868 to £826 in 1874, largely due to the efforts of a well-organised Ladies’ Auxiliary in collecting subscriptions from the public.

In September 1875, a dispensary was opened in the South Side at 19 South Coburg Street, and these premises were exchanged for a hall at 132 Norfolk Street in 1877. Dr. J. D. Reid took charge of the South Side Dispensary. In 1879 the Havannah Street premises were sold to the North British Railway Co., at the large price of £4000, and the proceeds of the sale enabled the Society to erect a building designed for the work at 123 Moncur Street. The opening ceremony was presided over by the Earl of Glasgow and was attended by the Lord Provost and many other prominent Glasgow citizens. There was still some money remaining from the sale of the Havannah Street property and in 1883 a site for a new Mission building was acquired in Oxford Street. On 1st October 1884, the building was declared open by the Earl of Shaftesbury, K.G., the Hon. President of the Society. The work previously carried on at the Norfolk Street premises was transferred to the new building in Oxford Street and Dr. Archibald Templeton, who had been assisting in Norfolk Street since 1880, was appointed Superintendent in charge of the Oxford Street Dispensary.

In 1885 Dr. Laidlaw resigned and Dr. G. M. Connor was appointed Superintendent at Moncur Street.

The activities of the Mission were widespread and about this time the Medical Mission Temperance & Social Reform Society flourished with Dr. Connor as President. Sewing classes for girls were held and there was even a Medical Mission Temperance Flute Band. The Superintendents found that many patients and particularly children were suffering from illnesses due to improper feeding, and demonstration lessons in plain cookery were given. Every effort to publicise the Mission was made. In 1875 "The Medical Mission Messenger" was printed, to be followed by "The Record of the Glasgow Medical Missionary Society" whose first issue was dated December 1891. "Gleaning from the Medical Mission Field" by Janet S. Paterson was also published about this time. In passing it may be observed that many medical students and others destined for service in the foreign mission field have attended one or other of the dispensaries and there received instruction and inspiration. Dr. Connor retired in 1898 and was succeeded by Dr. E. Wright, who was followed in turn by Dr. W. G. Macdonald in 1910. In 1904 Mr. Robert Shaw was appointed as Honorary Secretary, a position which he held for 35 years. Mr. Shaw’s work was of the greatest value to the Society, and his interest was shared by his wife, who for many years was a Director and also Joint Treasurer of the Ladies’ Auxiliary.

In 1905 consultations at the Moncur Street Dispensary numbered 19,914 and at Oxford Street 19,051, and the work continued steadily to increase.


In 1915 Dr. Robert Hannington succeeded Dr. Macdonald at Moncur Street and in 1918 Dr. Templeton, after 38 years of devoted work, had to retire for health reasons. Owing to the lack of funds and the difficulty of finding a successor to Dr. Templeton, the Oxford Street Dispensary had to be shut down for a time. Its closure proved to be a very great loss to the sick poor of the district, and in 1920 the services of Dr. James Sandilands as Superintendent were procured and the Dispensary was re-opened. Dr. Hannington retired in 1927 and was followed by Dr. F. A. M. Nelson who, however, owing to health reasons resigned after a brief term of office and was succeeded by Dr. Vera D. Bruce in 1928. Dr. Bruce remained in charge until the Moncur Street Mission was closed down in 1954. At the closing down ceremony Mr. D. Stanley Dickson, the Vice-President of the Society, paid a well-merited tribute to the work done by Dr. Bruce during her long service at Moncur Street. Dr. E. May Oastler was appointed Superintendent at Oxford Street in 1928, a position which she continues to occupy, having already given thirty years of very valuable service to the Mission.

The passing of the National Insurance Act, 1911, by which a large proportion of employed workers became compulsorily insured against sickness, resulted in a small drop in the numbers attending at the dispensaries as it was made clear that no person entitled to relief under the Act or in receipt of Parish relief would be treated. Women and children have, however, always formed the great bulk of the patients, and these continued to attend at the dispensaries in large numbers.

The National Insurance Act 1946 made a free medical service available to all, and it was obvious that the medical side of the Mission work would be affected. It was found, however, that large numbers of patients attracted by the kindly Christian atmosphere of the Mission continued to attend for diagnosis and treatment.

By 1954 the financial position of the Mission was causing concern to the Directors, and in addition it was found that, with the clearance of the housing area in the Calton district, attendances at Moncur Street were dropping off. It was accordingly decided, with great reluctance, that the work should be concentrated at the Oxford Street Dispensary and the Moncur Street property was sold in June, 1954 to the Glasgow Corporation.

Since 1954 various legacies have been received which have greatly strengthened the financial resources. The Dispensary at Oxford Street continues to perform a work of great value to the community and about 4500 patients are treated annually. On the evangelical side a great deal of work is being done among the children, many of whom have no Church connection. An average number of 135 children attend the Mission Sunday School and about 80 the Children’s Mid-Week "Club" each week. Handcraft classes are held to attract the older boys and girls. Three fellowship meetings are held each week for adults, the Sunday evening service, the Tuesday "Rally" and the Thursday "Bright Hour" Some of the sick people and children are assisted in getting away on holiday. The care of the aged has become a major activity. Many of these people are alone in the world, sometimes bedridden and dependent on friends and neighbours. They are visited regularly by Miss Goldfein, the Mission Bible-woman, and helped where necessary with groceries and fuel. The Glasgow Benevolent Society has, for many years, assisted in this work most generously by providing the Society with food and fuel lines.

It has always been the practice to ask for a small contribution from patients at the Dispensaries unless in cases of destitution, when medical treatment is given without charge. The charge for admission was originally Id. but this was raised in 1911 to 2d., and in more recent years to 3d. In addition patients and others attending at the Mission have contributed in a remarkable way to the Mission funds. Almost a third of the total annual revenue of the Society is being provided by the Mission people through admission payments, donations, etc. It is not possible to mention in detail all the many doctors, nurses and others who, from time to time, have given invaluable assistance to the medical superintendents. It is only fitting, however, that reference should be made to the distinguished men who have served as Presidents and the list is as follows:—

1867/1870 Dr. Andrew Anderson.
1870/1901 Dr. J. D. McLaren.
1901/1909 Dr. David Yellowlees, LL.D.
1909/ 1932 Dr. W. L. Reid.
1932/1937 Mr. A. E. Maylard, MB., B.S.
1937/1955 Professor I. K. Monro, M.D.
1955/ Dr. Robert Aird.

In conclusion it may be said that, while the scope of the work carried on by the Society has, with the passing of time, changed to some extent, the Directors feel that a medical service which is still of great value to the community is being carried on and that the religious and social work which is being done is having a most beneficial effect. The Directors are accordingly satisfied that the Society has an important part to play in the future well-being of the City.


1957 Onwards

With the arrival of the National Health Service in Britain in 1947, the work of the Mission radically changed. The country enjoyed the benefits of free medical services and therefore the need for the medical side of the work obviously declined. Although there were still patients who consulted Dr Mae Ostler at the Mission in Oxford Street, in the early 1950s Dr Ostler, who had continued giving her services to the Mission for over 25 years, retired. She was a great loss to the people of the Gorbals and she was fondly remembered by them for many, many years after her death. The work which she carried out cannot be measured this side of heaven, but her heart of love touched the Gorbals deeply.

During this period along with Dr Osler’ the spiritual side of the work at the Mission was being carried on by a young lady, Miss Celia Goldfein. She along with her band of workers did a truly magnificent work in the Gorbals for the Lord. ‘Goldie’ as she was affectionately known, was a very small, frail-looking lady but she carried on the work of God in a warrior-like fashion. She had the knack of getting people to volunteer to help. She was assisted from time to time in God’s work by many people who have kept up that contact with the Mission to this day. They all agree that you could not say ‘no’ to Goldie.

She was passionately interested in the people and children of the Gorbals. There was so much poverty, poor housing and crime at that time in Glasgow. She held camps, children’s meetings, Sunday schools and clubs, women’s meetings and other services regularly. She also instituted a system of following up these services with regular home visits where she was able to help in a great many very distressing situations. Eternity alone will tell the scope to the work carried on by Miss Gloldfein.

Following the retirement of Dr Ostler, the National Health Service was now fully operational and it was decided by the Board of Directors of the Glasgow Medical Missionary Society, that the post should be filled on a part-time basis only, and Dr Jean Wilson, a retired GP, was asked to carry on such work as was required. She quickly became a real trusted friend to the folks at the Mission and was always willing to give her advice and help to those who came to see her. She was a real fount of wisdom with her knowledge and ability to diagnose illnesses. Although in the 1990s she became housebound, yet she was always willing to be of assistance through her "phone ministry". Dr Wilson passed away in December 2000 and she is fondly remembered and sadly missed.

From the late 50s and early 60s, Gorbals underwent dramatic changes with the pulling down of the old buildings and replacing these with high-rise blocks which could house hundreds of people. It was not only the population which changed, the very face of Gorbals was altered and with it the building in Oxford Street was knocked down to make way for the new Sheriff Court standing today. The new premises were situated at 37 South Portland Street and one of the last things Miss Goldfein did before retirement was liase with Glasgow Council along with the new superintendent, Mr William Gilvear about the layout of the premises. On completion of the new building in 1974 it was dedicated to the Lord and He has continued to bless it up to the present day.



There have been a number of different pastors involved over the past 20 years but the Board have ensured that the ministry of the Medical Mission has continued on the same footing as it commenced and God has blessed in some remarkable ways. Though the medical side has diminished there are still the same needs in the area as there were. Poverty abounds and sin also abounds. At times it has seemed that the work could not survive God but has preserved it and sent in His servants to maintain it. We are thankful today for a team of dedicated workers who love the Lord and look forward to holding on to what has been handed down to us from men and women of faith in generations gone by.

In 2003 The Medical Missionary Society was reformulated as a Company limited by guarantee and is now known as GMMS ltd.

The Centre is known as Gorbals Christian Centre and a Church Fellowship is serving and worshipping there.