Paisley Old & New Photographs  by past president G. Grant                                                                                                 Page 1 of 6

© 2008 Alamo Burns Club.

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The first documented settlement at Paisley is said to be that of the Irish monk St. Mirin, who established a chapel close to a natural waterfall in the River Cart, in the sixth century. Nothing more is heard of the area until David I granted the lands to Walter Fitzalan, his High Steward. In 1163 Walter decided that he wanted to establish a monastery on his lands, and thus negotiated with the Cluniac order. They agreed to send thirteen monks from Wenlock to take over the site, close to Mirin’s original settlement, which Walter had chosen. The priory was soon doing so well that in 1219 it was promoted to the status of Abbey.

In the early fourteenth century the lands were still in the hands of the Fitzalan family, who had by now changed their name to Stewart in honour of their hereditary office. At that time a Walter Stewart married the daughter of Robert the Bruce and, though Marjory herself died in childbirth at Paisley Abbey, their child survived to take the Scottish throne and found the line of Stewart kings.

Paisley prospered under the Stewarts. James II created its lands a single regality, a status that was raised under James IV to Burgh of Barony, the charter being granted in 1488. This gave Paisley rights to hold fairs and markets, right which traditionally had been held locally by Renfrew. This occasioned much dispute, culminating in the burgesses of Renfrew breaking down and carrying away Paisley’s new market cross!

After the Reformation Paisley, freed from ecclesiastical domination, began to thrive as a town. Mediaeval trades in the town were recorded as farming, weaving, dyeing, malting, masonry, woodworking, smithing, tavern-keeping, cooking, tanning, shoemaking, tailoring, bleaching and baking. Professional men included doctors, notaries and lawyers. The first school in the town (other than one run by the monks) was established by the town council in 1577, and the first hospital was built in 1618. The main problems faced by the Council in these early years were preventing Sunday desecration, controlling trade and regulating the town’s folk’s morals! Much improvement of the town was undertaken in the eighteenth century, new roads were made, others were improved, the river was cleared and new areas of housing were feued to the east of the Cart. Trade guilds were established for tailors, shoemakers, weavers, maltmen, wrights, merchants, masons, fleshers, hammermen, bakers and brewers.

By the early nineteenth century, weaving was the towns principal industry. It was a quiet occupation allowing the men time to think and discuss, as a result of which the weavers gained a reputation as radicals. Paisley was also a town of widely differing religious opinions. By the mid-nineteenth century the town boasted congregations of Baptists, Methodists, Episcopalians, Congregationalists, Evangelical Unionists and Swedenborgians, as well as the first Catholic chapel of any size to have been built in Scotland since the Reformation. There was also a reputation for literary ability. A story is told that at a public dinner in nineteenth century Paisley a toast was proposed to the ‘Paisley Poets’, and every man present rose up to answer it! Textile industry had already become important in the seventeenth century. A census taken for tax purposes in 1695 showed that the weavers already formed the largest group of tradesmen. Their products during the following century were lawns, silks and muslins, and the skills gained in the working of these fabrics laid the foundations for the intricate work required in Paisley’s most famous nineteenth century product, the Paisley shawl. This was an imitation of an Indian garment first brought to Europe by East India Company in the mid-eighteenth century. It  immediately became fashionable but was extremely expensive, so imitations from Edinburgh, Norwich and ultimately Paisley were in such demand. The shawl was to be the principal product of the town for almost three quarters of a century. Two by-products of the shawl trade were also to become important to the town. The first was thread. Thread had been made in Paisley since the eighteenth century. So, during the Napoleonic War, when supplies of silk thread to make heddles or looms were scare, the Clark brothers experimented with a cotton substitute. It proved highly successful and was also taken up by local housewives as a sewing thread superior to the older linen thread. Clarks were followed by Coats, and there can have been few seamstresses throughout the world in the last 150 years who have never used the products o one or other of these two firms. Another process in the weaving of a shawl required the use of a starch paste to strengthen the warp. The starch was provided by the firm of Brown and Polson, who later further refined it and developed household cornflour.

One other nationally known food product originated in Paisley, when a grocer named James Robertson experimented with a glut of oranges and produced Golden Shred Marmalade. At the other end of the industrial spectrum however, Paisley was also known for its shipbuilding and engineering industries. The latter thrived because of the demands for large machinery from the thread mills and other factories, but recession in recent years has closed all Paisley’s heavy engineering firms. Shipbuilding also had a period of importance, with several yards using the waters of the Cart, which led to the Clyde. The local specialism was dredgers, and even though the last shipyard closed some twenty years ago, Paisley-built dredging equipment can still be seen in many of the world’s major ports. New industries have been brought to Paisley which have helped to replace the ones disappearing, including the blending and bottling of whisky, which ironically reintroduced a long defunct nineteenth century industry to the town. Since 1975 Paisley has been the administrative headquarters of Renfrew District, part of the Strathclyde Region of Scotland. In this way it continues the domination of the surrounding area that it has enjoyed since the late fifteenth century.

Standing on Saucel Hill about 1890 and looking towards the Campsies, this was the scene that would confront the eyes. Paisley was by this time well and truly industrialised, and factory chimneys mingle with every landmark. Almost at the centre of the view there is no problem picking out the towers of the Town Hall. To right of it stands the, as yet unrestored, Abbey. An interesting feature of this view is the group of buildings in the immediate foreground. These are the premises of (on the left) Saucel Brewary and (on the right) Saucel Distrillery. These were in production right through the years of the nineteenth century and into the early twentieth century.

Paisley is here seen from the top of the Gleniffer Braes looking in a north-easterly direction. In the middle distance can be seen the tower of Stanely Castle almost surrounded by the water of the mid-nineteenth century reservoir. To the left in the distance can be seen the mills and chimneys of the Ferguslie thread complex. To right can be seen the large houses of Paisley’s ‘nouveaux riches’.

This 1930 view of the Paisley skyline was taken from the hill in Barshaw Park to the east of the town. Interesting landmarks on the skyline are, from left to right, the bell tower of the Clarks’ Mile End Mill, the Abbey tower, the two towers of the Town Hall, the crown-of-thorns spire of the Coats’ Memorial Church, then close together the spires of the high and Sherwood churches, and finally further to the right the spire of St. James’ Church in Underwood and the tower of the Wallneuk Church.

This view, taken around the turn of the century, shows the buildings which formerly occupied Paisley Cross. Various businesses had their premises here, including the Caledonian Railway  Company. Also to be seen is one of two cafes run by R. Yielder and company. The Cross Café was one of a number of temperance establishments around the town which sold no alcoholic beverages.

Paisley’s War Memorial stands in the open space created by the demolition of the Cross buildings in the block bounded by High Street, Moss Street, Dyers Wynd and Gilmour Street. The memorial itself is one of the finest in Scotland, and was designed by the distinguished architect Sir Robert Lorimer. It consists of a granite pylon 25 feet high, topped by a 10 foot tall bronze statue of a mounted Crusader surrounded by four British soldiers in full war kit. The sculptor was Mrs. Meredith Williams of Edinburgh, who tried to portray that the idealism, and spirt of determination shown in the trenches had been equal to that of the old time Crusaders. The memorial was unveiled in a ceremony on 27th July 1924.

This view of Paisley High Street taken from The Cross must have been taken in the final few years of the nineteenth century. Most of the extremely fine buildings that can be seen on the right were erected in the late 1870’s and 1880’s. At the extreme right can be seen the local branch of Liptons, tea suppliers to Queen Victoria. It is interesting to note their delivery van standing outside. Next door but one to Liptons is the Masonic Temple, distinguished by the status of King Solomon in a niche at first floor level. Erected as a Masonic Hall in 1882 the building was used by several local Masonic lodges.

The Young Men's Christian Association first came to Paisley in 1832 in the guise of the Paisley Young Men’s Sabbath Morning Society for Prayer and Religious Improvement. For many years rented premises were used in various parts of the town, notably in Causeyside Street. But the need was felt for the YMCA to have premises of its own. A fund was launched, and eventually this site at the corner of New Street and High Street was purchased. The foundation stone was laid in 1907 and the building was opened in 1908. Various commercial premises were included in the building to provide income to help in maintenance. The building still functions for its original purpose.

The top view of New Street and High Street was taken in 1902 shortly before the buildings at this corner were taken down. Watson’s the butcher shop, had quite a long history on the site, and after the demolition of this old cottage, they employed a well known local architect of the Art Nouveau tradition. He erected a fantasy building of turrets and Tudor style beams set into white plaster. Unfortunately this little architectural gem had but a short lifespan, being demolished some five years later as part of a road widening and rebuilding scheme. Watson’s however, remained on the same site taking one of the shop units below the new YMCA where they are still to be found to this day.