Paisley Central Hall, bringing the community together since 1908

03 October 2023

Paisley Central Hall near Glasgow is the last remaining Central Hall still used by a Methodist congregation in Scotland. At the heart of Paisley, in the Glasgow suburbs, the hall remains a vibrant testimony of how lively and resilient Methodism is in Scotland. On Scottish Heritage Day in September 2022, more than 500 people came to visit the hall.

Methodism spread quickly in Scotland during the nineteenth century, thanks to English canal workers who were building the Glasgow, Paisley and Ardrossan Canal (1806-1811). Methodists would meet at home or outside to talk, pray and share stories.

By early 1900, the congregation in Paisley had dwindled to the point that the Glasgow circuit was going to forego it when Revd W. H. Rolls insisted he should become Paisley’s minister. He quickly started a Sunday school and open-air concerts, attracting many new Christians to the Methodist faith.

The increasing congregation was met with a problem: there was no Methodist church in Paisley. So, Revd Rolls started to raise money along with John Slack – an auctioneer and entertainer who struggled with addiction before converting to Methodism in 1904.

The desire for a church was strong in the community and John Slack was instrumental in securing the funding.  The money was soon raised and the first stone was laid on 10 September 1907. One year later, the Central Hall was having its first service.

The Forward Movement inspired the construction of central halls, buildings to house worship, meeting and social work (poverty, social rights and temperance). Putting the accent on comfort, central halls looked quite similar to music halls to catch the attention of a different crowd and respond to their needs.

Paisley Central Hall was designed by architects Watson and Salmond in the free Renaissance style. Its main entrance has architrave, panelled pilasters and urns. The main church auditorium could seat up to 1,400 people (750 since the 1983 refurbishment). It is designed with circular seating facing the platform and a pulpit with a balcony.

More than churches, Methodist central halls were built to be part of the local community. They had a clear evangelistic purpose to reach out to people and provide alternative entertainment to music halls and public houses.

Between 1886 and 1934, around 100 Methodist central halls were built in Great Britain. Paisley is the last one used for Methodist worship in Scotland, among the 16 still active in the country are London, Manchester and Plymouth, to name but a few.

Paisley Central Hall has space for four shops on the ground floor, meeting rooms on the second and third floors, the sanctuary on the second floor and an attic flat for the caretaker. Music, being  central to Methodism, the main room has the best acoustics in town and held concerts, community singing and, until 1920, even had a cinema.

One of the first organisations to use the meeting rooms was the campaign to achieve votes for women, many of them members of the congregation. They followed the line of the Women’s Freedom League that supported peaceful protests, withholding taxes and the refusal to complete census forms.

After the Second World War, congregations all over the country started to diminish which made the maintenance of Central Halls increasingly challenging. The vast majority of them have been sold, modified or demolished.

Paisley Central Hall is still standing, tall and proud. Faithful to its original message, the building offers its local community an array of activities, such as Men Zone, Saturday Get, Warm Spaces, U Zone, Family Zone and Bouncy Church.