Collection STU - Study Circle records

Identity area

Reference code

GB 249 STU


Study Circle records


  • 1894 - 1942 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

2 volumes + 2 folders

Context area

Name of creator

(Founded 1914)

Administrative history

The Study Circle was a Christian Fellowship established by the pacifist, Christian reformer and political activist, Robert Shanks (1870-1921). Shanks was born in Bridgeton and brought up in the East End of Glasgow. He was President of the Glasgow Eastern Branch of the Young Scots Society, which met in the Liberal Association Rooms in Whitevale Street. When the Great War broke out in August 1914, the Society temporarily ceased its activities, but Shanks and several of his fellow members wished to continue. Utilising the same venue, Shanks took it upon himself to deliver a series of addresses on ‘The War and Foreign Policy’. This initiative developed into a regular weekly meeting held under the name of the Eastern Study Circle ('Eastern' was subsequently dropped from the title). The weekly meeting was rescheduled to Sunday morning so that more people might attend and, at Shanks’ behest, a religious service was also incorporated.
The Study Circle proved so successful that it moved to progressively larger venues: a hall in Hillfoot Street in September 1916, the Central Halls in Bath Street in April 1917, and in December 1917, the Masonic Hall at 100 West Regent Street, with a capacity of 400. The primary purpose of the meeting, which now attracted people from all over Glasgow and the surrounding area, was to discuss the principles and problems of national and international life and the pressing social and political issues of the day, in the light of Christianity. A charismatic speaker and inspiring personality, Shanks delivered addresses and conducted the Study Circle's services for six years until his death in 1921. He also invited a variety of distinguished local, national and international guest speakers to address the meetings, which were always informal, non-sectarian, tolerant and humanitarian in tone. The Study Circle established its own Sunday School, a Current Topics Club and a Country Rambles Club for young people, and held occasional special lectures and an annual Peace Demonstration. It also instituted sewing parties, prison visiting and regular Sunday collections of clothing and food for the relief of distress both at home and abroad. After Shanks' death, William Niven, a Glasgow businessman who was one of the original members of the Study Circle, took charge of its weekly meeting, which continued until at least 1942.

Name of creator


Biographical history

Robert Shanks was born in 1870 in Bridgeton, Glasgow to John Shanks, master slater, and Margaret Cross Shanks (nee McMillan). He was brought up in the East End of the city, where he was to live and work for the rest of his life. From 1892-1907, Shanks was employed as a clerk and traveller for Messrs. P.S. Brownlie & Co., Crown Fire Clay Works, East Nelson Street, Glasgow. He subsequently became a partner in the firm of Messrs. J. Steele and Shanks, fire-clay manufacturers. By the time of his marriage to Catherine Reid Hovell on 8 September 1911, Shanks was living at 3 Whitevale Street, Glasgow.

Throughout his life, Shanks strove to combat social and political evils and to improve the living conditions of those in the East End of Glasgow. A committed Christian and pacifist, he was involved from a young age with the Camlachie Institute, which was the local centre of religious and philanthropic enterprise, and was closely associated with the Institute’s Sabbath School, Bible-Class and Young Men’s Christian Association. A proponent of Scottish Home Rule, Shanks’ political sympathies were Liberal, and he was active early on in the Camlachie Liberal Association, in the Scottish League for the Taxation of Land Values, and in the Young Scots Society, serving as President of its Glasgow Eastern Branch from 1909. In 1906 Shanks became chairman of the Liberal Election Committee, and in 1910 he resisted the party's calls for him to contest the Camlachie seat on its behalf. A year later, at the municipal elections of 1911, he was returned as local Councillor for the Whitevale Ward of Glasgow. While his protests against imperialism and militarism led to Councillor Shanks being lampooned and cartooned in the local press, his dignity and sincerity also won him admirers within the Council chamber. When he came to seek re-election in November 1914, the Great War had broken out and, unsurprisingly, the pacifist Shanks lost his Council seat. He had been selected as the Liberal Candidate for the Camlachie Division, but withdrew on the grounds of his pacifist principles. Several years later, he joined the Independent Labour Party.

Shanks’ activities subsequently became more firmly focused on education, and he was one of the first people in Scotland to join the Union of Democratic Control, serving both as Chairman of its Glasgow Branch and of its Scottish Federation. He actively supported the No-Conscription Fellowship (of which he was briefly Chairman) and worked tirelessly to provide practical assistance to conscientious objectors and their families. After the war, when many conscientious objectors remained imprisoned, Shanks was instrumental in circulating an appeal for their release throughout the West of Scotland, which, duly signed by representative citizens, was then submitted to the government. His greatest achievement, however, was the Study Circle (originally known as the Eastern Study Circle), a Christian Fellowship formed by Shanks shortly after the outbreak of the First World War. The Study Circle attracted hundreds of people from across the city, who met in Glasgow on Sunday mornings to discuss the principles and problems of national and international life and the pressing social and political issues of the day, in the light of Christianity. A convincing, charismatic speaker and an inspiring personality, Shanks delivered addresses and conducted religious services at the Study Circle's weekly meeting for six years until he died on 16 July 1921, following a period of illness. Shanks, whose final residence was 134 Onslow Drive, Dennistoun, Glasgow, had no children, and was survived by his wife, Catherine and his nephew, Dr John Shanks.

Archival history

These records were formerly catalogued as part of the Robertson Collection, one of the Andersonian Library Special Collections (former catalogue reference: D 289.9094). However, they were probably not included in the original Robertson donation as they contain no Robertson bookplates. It is likely that they were added to the collection at some later stage and, as they comprise manuscript material, would more appropriately be considered archives. They have now been withdrawn from the Robertson Collection so that they may be re-catalogued as a discrete archive collection.

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

Content and structure area

Scope and content

Study Circle minute book, 1919-1937; envelope of newspaper cuttings, telegrams, letters and other ephemera collected by or associated with the Study Circle, 1909-1942; album containing character testimonials, tributes, letters, election leaflets, newspaper and magazine articles and other ephemera relating to Robert Shanks, founder of the Study Circle, 1894-1921.

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None expected

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Language of material

  • English

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